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A’s powering down as their season is winding down

Josh Donaldson has struggled along with the rest of the A's hitters.

Josh Donaldson has struggled along with the rest of the A’s hitters.

There are only so many ways to ask the A’s about their frustration level and if their supply of moxie evaporated at the end of July.

Oakland is simply not the same team it was six weeks ago.

For four months, Oakland had the best record in the game, the best run differential, the most runs scored and ranked in the top five in the fewest runs allowed.

The pitch has remained relatively constant, but all the other numbers have fallen off a cliff, mostly because the offense has gone from awesome to awful.

“We were one team for the better part of four months,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “Then for the last month and a half it’s been different.’’

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A’s have nothing but respect for new-look Mariners

Felix Hernandez leads a Mariners' team that is the best it's been in a decade.

Felix Hernandez leads a Mariners’ team that is the best it’s been in a decade.

Once the A’s prime competition in the American League West came from Southern California.

Now with the Angels having steamrolled the West while Oakland slumped, the A’s must look to the Pacific Northwest, where the Seattle Mariners would like nothing better than to knock the A’s out of the Wild Card race.

The A’s and Mariners play three games this weekend in Safeco Field.

And while the Mariners haven’t seen the post-season since the world was young, the A’s are facing a team that could either join them in the Wild Card game or knock Oakland out of it.

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They still like Shark in Chicago, even if A’s can’t win for him

Jeff Samardzija threw seven shutout innings Wednesday, but for A's it wasn't enough.

Jeff Samardzija threw seven shutout innings Wednesday, but for A’s it wasn’t enough.

Jeff Samardzija spent much of the first half of the season fielding questions from the media about whether or not the Cubs would trade him.

Once they did, on July 4 to Oakland, the questions got turned. When he came to town this week with the A’s, everybody wanted to know if he’d like to come back to Chicago.

After the crowd dispersed, Samardzija having said how much he liked his time in Chicago, he just shrugged his shoulder and grinned. They couldn’t wait to get rid of him, now they can’t wait to have him back.

The fact is, there is much about the man his teammates call Shark to like, particularly when he pitches against the White Sox. He’d thrown a two-hit shutout in his only previous start against the Sox, and when he stepped to the mound Wednesday with a career 1.24 ERA against Chicago, he lowered it to 1.00 with seven shutout innings.

He has now made four consecutive starts of seven or more innings, giving up two runs or less in three of the four starts. That the A’s have lost three of those four says much more about the sad state of the Oakland offense than it does about the value of Samardzija as a member of the A’s rotation.

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Norris gives up on home runs, but the hits are coming back

Derek Norris's home run swing is a thing of the past for the time being.

Derek Norris’s home run swing is a thing of the past for the time being.

A’s catcher Derek Norris was winged by a foul ball Tuesday and needed a few moments to shake it off, but he said afterward he was fine.

He also announced he’s no longer trying to hit home runs. He’s hit 10 this year, but none in his last 99 plate appearances.

His average had been sliding a bit as he got up in the desire to go deep. Since his last home run on Aug. 9, he’s averaged just .217 and his overall mark has slid from .299 to .277 entering play Wednesday.

“I’ve been swinging on `E’,’’ Norris said of his month-long homer drought. “I’m going to leave that to the other guys.’’

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Lester’s 8th inning effort vs. Viciedo doesn’t go unnoticed

Jon Lester came up big in the eighth inning Tuesday for the A's.

Jon Lester came up big in the eighth inning Tuesday for the A’s.

Even in blowout wins, there tend to be moments where the game is on the line.

For Jon Lester, that moment was in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s 11-2 win over the Chicago White Sox.

The A’s had just scored single runs in the seventh and eighth innings to take a 6-2 lead that should have been comfortable. But a walk and a single had Lester looking at Dayan Viciedo in the batter’s box where one swing could make the game close.

And Viciedo had given Chicago its first run when he’d homered an inning earlier.

“It was a big moment in the game, and I think he knew it,’’ catcher Derek Norris said of Lester. “He reached back and blew a couple of fastballs by him.’’

Norris said those were two of the hardest balls thrown by Lester, who threw 119 pitches in his eight innings.

“That was impressive the way he reached back right there. He really wanted it.’’

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A’s need Doolittle badly, but they won’t rush him off DL

Sean Doolittle wants to come back badly, but the A's won't rush him, even in a bullpen crisis.

Sean Doolittle wants to come back badly, but the A’s won’t rush him, even in a bullpen crisis.

How much do the A’s miss closer Sean Doolittle?

It’s not just that Oakland has blown one-run leads in the ninth inning the last two days and have lost 11 times in their last 15 games with their closer out to see a once firm grasp on the playoffs start to squirm away.

It’s that the A’s whole bullpen works better when he’s around. Over a longer stretch the A’s are 8-19, but the bullpen was holding together when before Doolittle landed on the disabled list with an intercostal (right side) muscle problem.

The A’s were 4-8 in the stretch from Aug. 10 to the time of Doolittle’s injury two weeks later. When he was around, the A’s had a 1.53 ERA in those dozen games. The team was losing, but not because of the bullpen.

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High anxiety for A’s with bases full central to current skid

While there are many mysteries surrounding the collapse of the A’s entering the start of this next-to-last road trip of the season Monday, none is more puzzling than Oakland’s sudden inability to convert bases-loaded situations.

Back when the A’s were still the winningest team in the game, the A’s owned a .318 batting average with the bases full. That was through Aug. 2. Oakland was 67-42 at the time, 25 games over .500 and, despite having slumped some with the Angels making a furious charge, still considered a shoo-in to the playoffs.

Oakland is 13-20 since then, seven games behind the Angels, and the Wild Card seems the only entry open to the A’s. Even that’s being tested.

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A’s find some life and energy after long dry spell

Scott Kazmir saw energy in the A's Saturday that had been lacking for a while.

Scott Kazmir saw energy in the A’s Saturday that had been lacking for a while.

For five weeks, the A’s were performing a number straight out of Jackson Browne, Running On Empty.

They showed up daily at whatever ballpark was on the scheduled, convinced they were playing hard. But something was missing.

That something showed up again Saturday in a 4-3 walkoff win over Houston. The Coliseum crowd could sense it almost from the time Josh Donaldson led off the ninth inning with a single.

The A’s were down 3-1 at the time. In recent weeks, scaling Kilimanjaro was easier for the A’s by far than putting together a ninth-inning rally.

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A’s aren’t same as three months ago, but they need to be

Celebrations like this May 27 grand slam from Derek Norris have been hard to come by for the A's lately

Celebrations like this May 27 grand slam from Derek Norris have been hard to come by for the A’s lately

The A’s could get Coco Crisp and John Jaso back this weekend and Sean Doolittle back early next week.

When they do, the A’s will start looking a little more like themselves.

This team is not the team it was at the end of June.

Back then they were trotting out a three-catcher platoon, with Jaso, Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt all major contributors. Yoenis Cespedes was in left field. Brandon Moss was at first base.

Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz and Brad Mills were all in the starting rotation.

With such a drastic makeover, it’s small wonder that the A’s aren’t playing like they did in April, May and June.

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Hits with men in scoring position may signal A’s turnaround

Brandon Moss was one of four A's hitters to deliver with a runner in scoring position Tuesday.

Brandon Moss was one of four A’s hitters to deliver with a runner in scoring position Tuesday.

There’s no masking the fact that the A’s lost again Tuesday, their second game of September looking very much like two-thirds of their games in August.

The A’s didn’t score for seven innings, which is the norm of late. But then something happened that was unexpected. They knocked Mariners’ starter James Paxton out of the game and came up with enough big hits to get the winning run to the plate in the ninth before losing, 6-5.

Oakland wound up with four hits with men in scoring position, all of them in the eighth and ninth innings.

Adam Dunn singled with men on first and third in the eighth.

Craig Gentry doubled with man on second and third in the eighth.

Brandon Moss doubled with a man on second in the ninth.

And Sam Fuld doubled with Moss on second in the ninth.

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