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A’s trying to fend off Dream Crushing Texas to make playoffs

Stephen Vogt says A's focus remains on fact that the team remains in excellent shape to reach the post-season.

Stephen Vogt says A’s focus remains on fact that the team remains in excellent shape to reach the post-season.

Written on the whiteboard in the Texas Rangers clubhouse Thursday were two words that sum up the final four days of 2014 for the Rangers:

“Dream Crushers’’ it read.

The dream belongs not to the Rangers but to the A’s, who are scrambling to find a way to resuscitate in the final week of the season, claw their way back into the playoffs and then let the chips fall.

The A’s have lost seven of 10, haven’t played well for six weeks and yet still have a decent chance to get to the post-season.

Oakland stranded runners all over the place Thursday – they had a man reach base in every inning but the eighth – then lost when Adrian Beltre hit a walkoff homer in the ninth.

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A’s could make it easy on themselves with two wins, but …

The A’s and the Mariners are taking two very different treks to the same goal.

Only one of them will make it.

Oakland jumped out to the best record in baseball for the better part of four months and has been backsliding ever since.

Seattle was 11 games behind the A’s on Aug. 4 and was only four games over .500. From that point, the Mariners went on a 22-8 tear to get back into the pennant race, relying heavily on the A’s stumbling.

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With the first-half A’s offense, Gray might have 20 wins instead of just 13

Sonny Gray was special Tuesday night. Eight Ks through three innings, 10 through five, and ultimately a career-best 12 strikeouts in seven. He allowed three hits, one a home run on the kind of pitch he was getting outs with most of the night.

And thanks to the nonexistent A’s offense, he lost. Again. Gray is 1-7 since the end of July, though it’s hardly an indicator of how he’s pitched through this tough stretch.

True, Gray has had a few rough outings of late. He gave up four first-inning runs in his last start. He gave up six against Seattle on on Sept. 2 and six against Tampa back on Aug. 6. But in most of his other starts, he has kept Oakland in the game and realistically could have won. He had a 1-0 loss to Kansas City on Aug. 1. He lost 3-2 to the Royals on Aug. 11. He lost 4-3 to Atlanta on Aug. 16. He had no-decisions in three games where he gave up three runs once and two runs twice. And then came Tuesday night.

So that’s seven games he could have won, maybe should have won if the A’s had any offensive thrust when he took the mound. That conceivably could have put him at 20 wins.

For his age, and he’s still just 23, Gray has had a marvelous season despite a few hiccups along the way. He’s now thrown 210 innings, and he dashed any notion against the Angels that he’s wearing down. He struck out Mike Trout three times and Albert Pujols twice. He had all of his pitches working, and in this performance, offered up a killer slider he admitted he hasn’t been throwing much of late.

Even if this season limps to a disappointing finish from a team standpoint, A’s fans can take heart that this kid is going to be around for awhile and a potential staff ace for as long as he stays healthy. He has given up three runs or less in 25 of his 32 starts this year. We’ve already seen what he can do in the postseason, and he has an almost dangerous will to win.

It’s important to remember all this after yet another disappointing defeat. Not all is lost when you have a pitcher like this to build your future around.

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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.”