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Soto catching on for A’s during race to post-season

Geovany Soto's big swing in the first inning Monday was A's biggest hit of the night in 8-4 win over Angels.

Geovany Soto’s big swing in the first inning Monday was A’s biggest hit of the night in 8-4 win over Angels.

Some deals get more notoriety than others.

But for the final 10 days of the season, the trade that brought Geovany Soto to the A’s could rank there with any of them. Oakland picked him up from the Rangers in a little-noticed Aug. 24 transaction. Since then the A’s have been down two starting catchers, Soto and Derek Norris.

And for Sunday and Monday at least, it was just Soto. Norris is dealing with a shoulder problem and has taken a wild pitch off his jaw, so he could use the break.

All Soto has done has been to deliver three RBIs for the A’s in Sunday’s 10-inning win over the Phillies, then get the key hit of the game Monday, a bases-loaded single that drove in the middle two runs of a six-run first.

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Donaldson’s torrid defense has Samardzija all fired up

Josh Donaldson's play at third base Monday had the A's singing his praises.

Josh Donaldson’s play at third base Monday had the A’s singing his praises.

You get the feeling that Josh Donaldson really wants back into the post-season.

On Sunday he hit the walkoff homer in the 10th inning that gave the A’s a series win over the Phillies.

On Monday he made some spectacular defensive stops in helping control the Angels offense as Oakland won for the third time in four games, the first such stretch for the A’s since Aug. 19-22.

As a result, Oakland seems to have righted the ship and seems to be closing in on a Wild Card berth, although the A’s have a week’s worth of tough baseball ahead of them to make sure it happens.

The play of the day came to close out the seventh inning. Angels’ catcher Chris Iannetta smoked a hard grounder that Donaldson stopped, only to have the ball kick up into the air. He saw the ball hovering, grabbed it out of the air and threw to first for what would be the final out Jeff Samardzija would get.

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A’s woes against lefty starters to be put to test by Angels

How many plate trips can Josh Reddick and other A's lefties expect to get this week with Angels throwing three lefty starters?

How many plate trips can Josh Reddick and other A’s lefties expect to get this week with Angels throwing three lefty starters?

It’s no accident that the Angels are starting three left-handed pitchers against the A’s in a series that starts Monday night at the Coliseum.

There’s nothing much on the line for the Angels, who are in the playoffs as American League West champs, although the more they win, the better positioned they’ll be for having the home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The A’s have lost eight of the last nine times a lefty has started against them, and lefty starters have a 2.32 ERA in those games.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin frequently has to leave some of his best power – Adam Dunn, Brandon Moss, Stephen Vogt and/or Josh Reddick on the bench to get the lefty-vs.-righty matchups that he wants.

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A’s react positively to loud pregame oration from chaplain

Nate Freiman was one of many A's who liked what he heard from team chaplain Donnie Moore.

Nate Freiman was one of many A’s who liked what he heard from team chaplain Donnie Moore.

The game-winning homer hit by Josh Donaldson in the 10th inning Sunday had competition for the loudest, most impactful noise of the day in the A’s 8-6 win over the Phillies.

Before the game there was Donnie Moore, the A’s team chaplain. He dipped into his persona as a motivational speaker to give the A’s some fire and brimstone in an effort to help the club get itself out of a collective funk.

The A’s had lost 26 of 38 games, and time is running out in the season. Oakland either has to win now or spend the winter mulling over perhaps the greatest freefall in baseball history. The A’s were six games up in the AL West at one point and had the best record in baseball.

Now Oakland is trying to find a way to earn one of the two Wild Card entries into the playoffs. Six teams have more wins than the A’s 85.

Moore runs the A’s Sunday chapel sessions, but upon occasion the former Tennyson High quarterback will be given leave to address the whole team. Sunday was one of those.

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A’s home run drought reaching epic proportions

Brandon Moss has the last home run hit by an A's hitter, on Tuesday.

Brandon Moss has the last home run hit by an A’s hitter, on Tuesday.

Whatever happened to the A’s vaunted power?

Oakland’s offense came into Sunday’s series finale with the Phillies having hit just nine home runs for the month of September.

Admittedly there are eight games left to play, but the A’s are in a semi-historic home run drought that even a flurry of homers in the last week won’t cure.

For 20 consecutive months the A’s have hit at least 20 homers every month. And the A’s have been their most productive in recent Septembers, 44 in 2012 and 42 last year.

In the first 18 games of September the A’s have gone deep just once every other game.

That’s just not going to cut it.

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Eight games left, and the unreal gripping continues

There’s not much left to be said about the amazing ability of the A’s to give away ballgames. They let a journeyman pitcher shut them down Saturday on four singles and a walk. And Jerome Williams is such a journeyman, he’s played with three different clubs just this year … and has now beat Oakland with each one — the Astros, the Rangers and Phillies.

They get a terrific, much-needed fill-in starting performance from Drew Pomeranz — five shutout innings, one hit — and can’t score for him. How many pitching performances can this team possibly throw away?

They know about the Kansas City Royals’ loss earlier in the day and their opportunity to gain ground in the wild card. The Mariners subsequently get whipped by the Houston Astros. So the A’s can gain on both teams yet don’t take advantage. Instead, a single game still separates three teams.

They have a bases-loaded situation with one out in the second inning and one of their best situational hitters much of the year (although not lately), Derek Norris, hits into a double play on a 3-1 count. The A’s are now hitless in their last 11 bases-loaded at-bats. Unbelievable and unconscionable.

Finally, the game-winning runs come on a two-run homer by the Phillies’ No. 9 hitter, a little guy named Freddy Galvis, who came into the at-bat hitting a mighty .158. Goodness, at least make Chase Utley or Ryan Howard beat you.

You’d swear this was a bad dream but it isn’t. Oakland has lost 8 of 10 and 16 of 22 at the most important time of the season and over the last 10 games, they’re hitting .182. Jon Lester gave them a shred of momentum Friday night, yet the club couldn’t run with it.

As stated initially, nothing new can be said. There are no signs of a breakthrough, and the games keep peeling away. One more against the Phils, three against the Angels (oh my) then it’s off to Texas, where this thing will surely be decided.

It’s either baseball’s best or worst soap opera at the moment. Whatever, come back tomorrow for another A’s episode of “As The Stomach Churns.”

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Vogt humbled as 2014 winner of the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Award

Versatile Stephen Vogt was named the 2014 winner of the A”s annual Jim “Catfish” Hunter Award on Saturday, which honors a player whose play and conduct best exemplifies the late A’s Hall of Fame pitcher.
Vogt has played four different positions for the A’s this season in addition to designated hitter and has been one of their most productive players, even though he started the season in the minor leagues. Vogt is currently hitting .300 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs and spent time at catcher, first base, left field and right field.
The Hunter award, established in 2004, is voted on by A’s players, coaches and staff.
“Obviously, it just means the world to me to have an honor like this,” Vogt said. “To have your teammates think of you in that regard is the highest honor you can have as a ballplayer. I’m so appreciative.”
Vogt said his inspirational qualities undoubtedly come from his father, who coached him from Little League through high school in his hometown of Visalia.
“My dad was a huge influence for me as far as my leadership,” he said. “With my older brother and me, it was just kind of bred in us that you don’t have to be an outspoken leader, that if you play the game hard and play it the right way, that’s leadership all by itself. So for me, it’s something I’ve always done naturally is just kind of lead by example.”
Vogt, 29, spent five seasons in the minors before finally making his major debut with Tampa. He didn’t get his first major league hit until he came to the A’s last season. He admitted a lot of people have told him his career is an inspiration to them.
“To me, it’s just my life,” he said. “I’ve never looked at it as this huge inspirational story. The way I kind of see it is if one kid looks at Stephen Vogt and says, `Wow, if that guy can play in the big leagues, I think I can,’ that’s kind of what you want. I’m a firm believer if you want something bad enough and you work hard enough for it and make enough people say `no,’ somebody’s finally going to say `yes.’ “
Vogt, who grew up a Giants fan, said his underdog hero was former outfielder Marvin Benard, a 50th round draft pick who beat the odds to play nine seasons in the majors.
Manager Bob Melvin said Vogt was a most deserving winner of the award.
“That’s terrific,” Melvin said. “I think we have several candidates for it, you certainly can’t go wrong with Stephen. I think he embodies the whole spirit of the award, such a versatile guy for us and one of those grinders who just wants to win, no matter how you do it.”

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Donaldson willing to risk it on defense to cut down run at plate

Third baseman Josh Donaldson decided the risk of throwing to the plate in the eighth inning was worth it.

Third baseman Josh Donaldson decided the risk of throwing to the plate in the eighth inning was worth it.

There are consequences to a low-output offensive streak like the one the A’s are going through that have nothing to do with run production, batting averages or working over a pitcher.

Once such showed up in the eighth inning Friday after a double and a grounder got the Phillies’ Freddy Galvis to third base with one out.

Oakland had a 3-1 lead at the time, and the club seemed very unlikely to score more. Knowing that, the A’s still didn’t pull the infield in, willing to give up a run to get an out on a ground ball.

The A’s got the ground ball when Carlos Ruiz hit a hard chopper directly to Josh Donaldson. The third baseman could have taken the easy out at first. Instead he gambled and threw to the plate where catcher Derek Norris caught the ball and slapped the tag on Galvis.

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How long will A’s be able to call Oakland, Coliseum home?

How long will the Coliseum, shown here with the adjacent Arena, be the A's home?

How long will the Coliseum, shown here with the adjacent Arena, be the A’s home?

It was exactly 60 years ago Friday that the A’s played their last game in Philadelphia.

The club, one of the original members of the American League dating back to 1901, would be start playing in Kansas City in 1955, leaving Philadelphia to the Phillies. And 13 years later the A’s would move to Oakland.

Getting to the present day, interleague play brings the Phillies to Oakland for just the third time in history.

The A’s aren’t in immediate danger of moving, but compared to the Phillies, who have been in the same city since 1883, the A’s are veritable baseball transients.

From one year to the next, you never need to wonder where the Phillies will call home. Not so with the A’s. And with just 10 games left on the A’s schedule, you have to wonder where the A’s will be playing in five or 10 years.

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A’s need to loosen up at the plate and work pitchers over

Jon Lester's arrival has seen him pitch well while the A's have struggled.

Jon Lester’s arrival has seen him pitch well while the A’s have struggled.

There are no simple answers for the Oakland A’s.

There are some simple truths, however.

One is that they need to loosen up at the plate.

Oakland hitters spent four months working the count, forcing pitchers into untenable situations, then waiting for the pitcher to wilt under pressure.

Now, it’s not like that.

“What’s going on with their hitters?’’ one Major League scout asked me Thursday. “I saw them a couple of months ago and they knew what they needed to do. Now they’re up there hacking at everything.’’

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