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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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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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Reddick, A’s frustrated after Friday night gets away

Josh Reddick couldn't have been more frustrated than he was after failing to get runs home in the sixth inning Friday vs. the Angels.

Josh Reddick couldn’t have been more frustrated than he was after failing to get runs home in the sixth inning Friday vs. the Angels.

When Josh Reddick flew out to left field to end the sixth inning Friday, he slammed his bat down so hard if his name was Jed Clampett he would have struck oil.

Reddick has been on a nice run since coming off the disabled list five weeks ago. Coming into Friday he had a .299 average since July 22 with eight doubles and six homers.

He would have given those extra base hits all away to have come up with a bleeder over the infield in the sixth inning Friday.

Oakland was in a 2-0 hole after Coco Crisp’s valiant try for an over-the-wall theft of a Chris Iannetta had gone for naught. The ball fell out of Crisp’s glove as the center fielder hit the wall so hard he knocked himself out of the game, giving the Angels a 2-0 lead.

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A’s may be in right, but probably won’t get protest upheld

Collision or obstruction? There is an excellent chance that the A’s and the Angels will play down to the final weekend of the season before deciding the American League West.

If that’s the case, I wouldn’t want to be umpire Greg Gibson, whose call against the A’s forced Oakland to play Thursday’s game under protest. If the protest isn’t upheld and the A’s finish one game behind, or even in a tie with, the Angels, Gibson will have had as much impact on the race as any player on either team.

The A’s see it as a potential win denied them, the Angels winning 4-3 in 10 innings. The A’s need all the wins they can get at this time of the season, and being denied one could be the difference between winning the division and advancing to a five-game division series or winning a wild card berth and having to win one game for the right to advance or be eliminated.

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Moss fights power skid with surge of run-generating walks

Brandon Moss is walking more of late as he waits for his power slump to end.

Brandon Moss is walking more of late as he waits for his power slump to end.

Brandon Moss walked twice on Wednesday.

He walked once on Sunday in Atlanta and three times on Saturday against the Braves.

Meanwhile, he hasn’t had any hits over that stretch, going 0-for-12 since a single in the eighth inning last Thursday in Kansas City.

The slump isn’t a good thing. Neither are his 21 games without a homer, his worst stretch as a member of the A’s. In that period he has just five RBIs.

“I know I’m in a pretty good home run drought,’’ Moss said, then looking at his two doubles over the same period, he added, “really, it’s an extra-base hit drought.

“I feel like it’s one of those stretches where I go and look at video and I have nothing other to look at than pitch locations. Pitchers miss their spots very often, and when they do, it’s in a count where I’m trying to battle, or they miss to the complete opposite side where I’m looking. They’ll throw away when I’m looking down and in.

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A’s: Norris’s homer swing keeps showing up with men on

Derek Norris's power number skyrocket with multiple men on base

Derek Norris’s power numbers skyrocket with multiple men on base

Derek Norris doesn’t expect to hit home runs in the kinds of numbers that Josh Donaldson or Brandon Moss might put up.

He does expect that his home runs will have an impact. Time and again, they have, including Saturday when he capped a 9-4 A’s win over the Twins with a three-run homer in the sixth inning.

The score when he hit it was 6-2, and the extra three runs that made the differential seven runs was vitally important to the A’s in cruising home in this one.

It was the seventh time this year he’s hit a home run with at least two men on base. Three-run homers and grand slams are game-changers, and Norris has those locked in.

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A’s: Moss’s one last at-bat dissolves a night of frustration

Brandon Moss bounced back from pop-fly central Tuesday to deliver the go-ahead hit in 7-4 win over the Astros.

Brandon Moss bounced back from pop-fly central Tuesday to deliver the go-ahead hit in 7-4 win over the Astros.

Brandon Moss didn’t believe he could get much more frustrated in one game than he did in the first eight innings Tuesday.

The A’s right field flew out to left field four times. And the words “flew out’’ scarcely describe the at-bats.

“It had been a pretty frustrating day for me so far; I hit four straight weak, weak popups to the left,’’ Moss said. “ Two of them should have been to the shortstop. It hadn’t been a very good day until the last at-bat.’’

Moss had a career-best 10-game hitting streak come to an end Sunday. Since the single that got him to double digits, he’d gone hitless in 14 consecutive at-bats before coming up in the ninth. He was given the chance because Yoenis Cespedes’ single to right fell in to tie the game.

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A’s: Verlander’s velocity dropoff not slowing him down

So what does Wednesday’s clash between the A’s and Detroit starter Justin Verlander mean if the A’s and the Tigers meet again in the post-season?

A third consecutive meeting is a reasonable possibility. After all, Oakland and Detroit lead their respective divisions now, and it’s not clear that either has a sufficiently powerful divisional opponent to change that between now and October.

Last August the A’s hit Verlander. Last October, he dominated them.

Verlander isn’t the same now as then. Even with Wednesday’s win, he’s only 7-7 with a 4.71 ERA. Scouts say he doesn’t throw as hard. The A’s reached him for nine hits and were on the verge of knocking him out of the game, but he persevered.

And Oakland hitters say they’d expect no less in a rematch, reduced velocity or not.

“It’s definitely weird seeing him pitch in the upper 80s and low 90s,’’ A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “I’m used to the guy who reaches back and all of a sudden it’s 97 at your hands. But that is the transitions guys have to make as they get older. You see guys like (the Giants’ Tim) Lincecum doing the same thing.

“Verlander still throws the ball well. He keeps you off-balance. He mixes his pitches. He still pitches. He’s going to be tough.’’

A’s batting coach Chili Davis said the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Verlander, who just eight months ago struck out 10 A’s batters in eight innings in as dominating a Game 5 as Oakland ever wants to see thrown at it.

There was none of that Wednesday, just a solid six-inning performance that, coupled with A’s pitching breakdowns, did in Oakland.

“He’s become more finesse than power,’’ Davis said. “When he came into the majors, he was known as a power pitcher. He still has a good arm – he just didn’t pitch the same way (Wednesday).’’

How does a power pitcher make the change? In a two-decade career, Davis saw plenty who did, and he’s seeing it in Verlander. The right-hander is only 31, but he’s thrown the most pitches by far of any pitcher in the big leagues the last few years.

“He throws sliders to righties, changes and curves to lefties, shows the fastball up, tries to get strikes on the outer part of the plate, gets two strikes every once in a while and tries to surprise you inside,’’ Davis said. “And that’s pretty much what I saw today,” Davis said. “Hitters know he can get his fastball to 97. But are they strikes? Numbers will say his fastball is 91 to 97, but he doesn’t pitch at 97. He pitches 88-to-93, and if I’m a hitter, that’s what I’m looking for.

“I think he can keep winning games. The fastball is going to move; it’s not going to be straight. You might see the curve a little more often. As pitchers evolve, they’re learning new pitches, they’re learning hitters. He’s going to mix it up a lot more now. I’m not saying that’s bad. He’s still a presence on the mound, and guys have to respect his ability to get you out. He’s just evolving into a certain type of pitcher.’’

Brandon Moss’s day Wednesday might suggest that Verlander can be had, at least a little. Moss was 11-for-18 career against Verlander – 11 strikeouts, that is. On Wednesday he homered, singled and doubled while Verlander was on the mound, although the single was just a blooper that fell in left field where no defender was guarding against him.

Moss said it was wrong to dismiss Verlander’s potential impact. He looked back to last August, when Verlander’s power seemed to be on the wane a bit, again to last October, when the man who throws bullets reappeared.

“When he gets guys on base, he can dial it up to 97,’’ Moss said. “He’s a finesse pitcher with a power package.

“For most top-line starters, there’s a regular-season version and there’s a playoff version. We know that about him. He’s done well against us in the regular season, but in the playoffs, he’s going to be dominant.’’

It will be time for the A’s to step up their game.

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A’s: Mills giving club a chance to win as fifth starter

Lefty Brad Mills has gone from minor leagues to making an impact in A's rotation

Lefty Brad Mills has gone from minor leagues to making an impact in A’s rotation

For someone who was toiling until the last couple of weeks in the minor leagues, Brad Mills looks like the Major Leagues are somewhere he could prosper.

After a four-inning, 94-pitch start against the Red Sox after the A’s picked him up from the Brewers, the left-hander has come back with starts of 6.1 and 6-plus innings in which he’s allowed three runs each time.

The numbers aren’t awe-inspiring, but when you pitch for the team that generates more runs than anyone, that’s at least enough to keep a guy competitive.

And the A’s are more than impressed by what Mills has done.

“He’s done a great job,’’ right fielder Brandon Moss said. “He pitched into the seventh, he gave us another good performance.

“But at some point we have to score a run for him, and we just didn’t do that.’’

Manager Bob Melvin came away impressed once again by Mills, who retired the first eight men he faced, striking out four of them, and only seemed troubled by cleanup hitter J.D. Martinez, whose double in the fourth set up the first run and whose two-run homer in the sixth locked the game away for Detroit.

“He gives up three runs to a team like this, and one of them’s on a ground ball and another’s on a homer,’’ Melvin said. “Really, the only bad pitch he made was the homer. But when you give up three and you don’t get anything …

“It’s a pretty well-pitched game by him. We just couldn’t help him out.’’

For his part, Mills seems to be settling in, although he second-guessed a couple of the pitches he threw, in particular the Martinez homer.

“I felt like I came out throwing strikes, making them swing,’’ Mills said. “There were a couple of pitches I’d like back. The homer was a changeup first pitch. I couldn’t locate it like I wanted.’’

He said the fact that Rick Porcello was putting the A’s away inning after inning didn’t impact his job.

“I don’t worry about what their guy is doing,’’ Mills said. “I’ve got a job to do. That doesn’t change what I’m trying to do, which is going out and trying to get strike one.

“The last two games I’ve gone out and given the team a chance to win. That’s my job, so I feel like the last two have been good.’’

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A’s: Giancarlo Stanton puts on a BP show like no one else

Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton has fans all over the place, including the A's clubhouse.

Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton has fans all over the place, including the A’s clubhouse.

Brandon Moss, John Jaso and some of their A’s teammates bolted out of the visitors’ clubhouse early in the afternoon Saturday on a mission.

They wanted to see Marlins’ right fielder Giancarlo Stanton take his swings in batting practice. Jaso was laughing when he came back. Moss was simply in awe.

“I feel like a child,’’ Moss said. He rarely goes out to watch another team’s player hit, but Stanton is the exception. “No one can do what he can do.’’

His teammates flung names at him – Jose Abreu, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera. Moss wasn’t buying. Good hitters all, but none has the batting practice power that Stanton showed Saturday.

Moss later pointed to a screen in dead center about 35 feet off the ground and behind the 502-foot sign.

“He hit it, and it was still moving,’’ Moss said reverentially. “Nobody could hit the ball out there like that. And he takes such easy swings.’’

It was suggested that, back in the day opponents used to come out to watch Jose Canseco and, particularly, Mark McGwire put on shows like that. Moss was just a kid living an entire continent away, so he never saw those. And he doesn’t think they measure up.

“To be fair, there was some juice in those arms,’’ Moss said, referring to performance enhancing drugs linked to both me. “There’s none here. He can just crush it.’’

A’s manager Bob Melvin said back when he played with the Giants he would upon occasion make it a point to come out and watch Canseco and McGwire. Now, however, he won’t.

“There are times you are on the field and you can’t help but see it,’’ Melvin said. “I don’t want to watch that. I don’t want that to factor in. I’ve seen the numbers.’