(OAKLAND)—The Oakland Athletics keep sinking in the standings, despite their best efforts to claw their way out of the American League West basement. A 9-3 hot stretch has now been following by a four-game losing streak. Each loss has been by three runs or less in games the A’s had very good chances to win … but just couldn’t get it done. Tonight’s 2-1 loss at the O.co Coliseum to the Texas Rangers is just more of the same old story for Oakland in 2015.
Sonny Gray gave up two runs in six innings, and the bullpen was effective tonight. As usual, however, one cylinder misfired, and that was the offense. The A’s hitters mustered just one hit in six innings against Nick Martinez, a pitcher who had given up 218 hits in 205 career innings prior to tonight. Oakland left six runners on base in scoring position with two outs tonight, unable to get the big hit they needed. That happens, of course, but it’s frustrating to lose another one-run game when you go 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
The A’s didn’t get a run in the seventh inning when they had runners on second and third with one out. Billy Burns flied to center field, and Eric Sogard didn’t tag up from third base as he should have. That cost the team a run in a game it would lose by the thinnest of margins. When you make mistakes like that in close games, it haunts you. Oakland is now 3-16 in one-run games, but the club is 3-8 in two-run games as well. Put those numbers together—just 6-24 in games decided by two runs or less—and it’s easy to see why the A’s are 23-37 this year.
They just can’t get it done when they need it most, really. Manager Bob Melvin’s odd decision tonight, after the aforementioned play where Sogard didn’t tag up, to remove Josh Reddick from the game to let Josh Phegley hit instead with two outs in the seventh was puzzling. All the Melvin magic from his first three years on the job—the middle of 2011 to the middle of 2014—has disappeared, as Phegley struck out on a third strike way out of the zone. Reddick could have done that, too, probably, and he’s a better defender. Why pull that string in the seventh with two more innings left?
Hindsight is 20/20, and that’s the problem with close losses: Everything is under scrutiny. And the more the A’s struggle in close games this year, the more the spotlight is on every little thing every person does. Why didn’t Ben Zobrist dive for Prince Fielder’s pop up that scored the Rangers’ first run? Why did Billy Butler hit into yet another double play tonight? Why can’t this team win games more commensurate with its Pythagorean projection (at least 30-30 right now, by all measures)?
This is a .500 ball club that’s played so poorly it’s actually 14 games under. That’s the reality. They’ll be back out there again tomorrow night, trying again to make it right. However, it’s starting to hit home (again?) that this team just isn’t able to play its best baseball on a consistent basis, and sooner or later, it’s clear that’s the coaching staff’s fault.