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.’’
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.
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.
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.’’
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.’’
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.
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.
The transition from second to short for Eric Sogard hasn’t been smooth.
The talk since spring training has been about the A’s depth.
It’s easy to see why Oakland wanted to get players like Craig Gentry and Nick Punto and Sam Fuld into the fold. They can play multiple positions, and when injuries crop up, the A’s would be covered.
Not so much right now, though. Starting shortstop Jed Lowrie is on the disabled list with a broken right finger. His backup, Punto, is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
That means second baseman Eric Sogard and minor league callup Andy Parrino have to play short. Sogard, the veteran, gets the bulk of the playing time against right-handed pitchers, but he’s not the player at shortstop that Lowrie is.
Lowrie is not Ozzie Smith. But his defense has been better this year, even if his range isn’t terrific. He can get a ball and start a double play. He makes some errors, but who doesn’t?
Manager Bob Melvin held a pre-game meeting Saturday to loosen the club up, but A’s lost 2-0 anyway
A’s manager Bob Melvin believes in meetings, lots of them.
Pitchers and catchers meet every day. Hitters have a meeting before each series. Sometimes it seems as if here are meetings to schedule meetings.
Melvin is fond of meetings just to make sure everyone is one the right page, and for the most part it works. They are ordinary meetings, expected meetings.
Saturday afternoon, however, he had a meeting of the less frequent kind. The A’s had lost the first two games of the series to the Angels and they’d lost center fielder Coco Crisp to the recurrence of a neck injury in the process.
It was the time for the skipper to step up and say a few words. The A’s had already clinched the first losing month since 2012.
Manager Bob Melvin says a bad August doesn’t define his club.
Win or lose the final two games of the series with the Angels this weekend, the A’s will finish with a losing record in a calendar month for the first time since May, 2012.
Believe it or not, A’s manager Bob Melvin finds some solace in that. Never mind that the A’s are further out of first place heading into Saturday night’s game in Angel Stadium than at any point this year.
“This is the first bad month we’ve had in three years,’’ Melvin said. “Think about that. It’s going to happen to any club.
“You’ve just got to persevere. You have to believe that things are going to turn for us. Because they are.’’