In for John Hickey …
Well, the first game against the Rangers was a bust. It started well for Oakland, with 10 straight first-inning strikes by Tommy Milone and a two-run double by Brandon Moss in the bottom half. But it never got any better than that the rest of the night. Texas is hot right now, working off the fuel of three straight home walk-offs and Yu Darvish striking out 14 on Thursday. Somebody needs to step up and snap them back to reality.
Quite honestly, the Rangers aren’t anywhere near what they once were and it would be disappointing to see the A’s be overhauled by a team that no longer has Josh Hamilton or Mike Napoli in its lineup, has probably lost Lance Berkman for the season, and will likely lose Nelson Cruz for most of the rest of the year come Monday. Liked the tweet I saw tonight that noted Bud Selig’s slow-t0-act pace has cost the A’s again. Cruz and all of the other Biogenesis offenders get a free weekend because MLB is still a bit leery of dropping the hammer on Alex Rodriguez. Sure enough, Cruz hit a two-run homer on a day when he was supposed to get suspended, and the A’s ultimately dropped an 8-3 decision to the Rangers.
I’m baffled by how these two teams have gone up and down this year. Texas leads by seven in early May, the A’s make a 13-game swing and lead by six in late July, and now it appears to be swinging back the other way again. Oakland really needs to make a stand these next two games or risk losing the nice lead it built over the last month. Worse yet, Texas’ schedule the rest of August is incredibly favorable — 24 straight games against losing teams — while the A’s play 15 of 24 against teams over .500.
Some fans seem to be panicking already. They want to see changes. Nah, it’s too early for that, if it’s even necessary at all. No, Milone didn’t have it on this night, and if you’re looking for a prime candidate to be replaced in the rotation at some point by Brett Anderson or Sonny Gray, Milone might top the list. But there isn’t enough separation among the other four young starters to make that determination just yet. Jarrod Parker has been up and down, too. Dan Straily has had good games and bad. A.J. Griffin might be the No. 2 man right now behind Bartolo Colon, but he leads the league in home runs allowed.
Anderson is at least two weeks away from returning to the rotation if the A’s determine that’s where he’s best suited (and quite frankly, putting him in the bullpen would be a waste, considering how deep the bullpen already is). Gray has electric stuff, but he might not be ready for the intensity of a pennant race. So at least until Anderson is ready to go, it’s difficult to foresee any rotation changes.
Lineup-wise, what you see is what your going to get. There won’t be any changes, other than Alberto Callaspo playing second against lefthanded pitching. They just need more from the big guns. Coco Crisp had an RBI double Friday night, which was good to see, because he’s been in one of the worst protracted slumps since he came to the A’s — he’s hitting around .180 over his last 36 games. As for Yoenis Cespedes, he really needs to start hitting some home runs, and more importantly, just driving in more runs. Same for Josh Reddick. It can’t be Josh Donaldson, Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss carrying the offense. They’re complementary contributors, guys who perform best when the most dynamic players on the team — Crisp and Cespedes — have it going. We keep waiting.
But even though the A’s have lost 3 1/2 games to their six-game lead in four days, this doesn’t look like a swoon. It’s more of a lull. The A’s have simply been too good for too long to believe what they’ve done last season and this has been a mirage. Maybe getting slapped around by the Rangers Friday night will stir some angry juices in the A’s clubhouse, and they’ll snap out of their funk over the weekend.
Bottom line, still more than 50 games to go, and the A’s are up 2 1/2, not a bad position whatsoever. But winning a couple Saturday and Sunday would sure relieve a lot of the pressure Texas is applying right now. Oakland was on the verge of delivering an early knockout in the A.L. West, but now it’s a dogfight again.