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.’’
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.
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.
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.
Josh Reddick hit a two-run homer Monday, but his ninth-inning walk had equal importance.
August hasn’t been terribly kind to the A’s, so when Chris Carter hit a two-run, two-out homer on an 0-2 pitch, an A’s fan could be forgiven for thinking, “here we go again.’’
Then Josh Reddick stepped up against Tony Sipp, the Astros lefty reliever who was brought it because Reddick and the man following him in the Oakland batting order, Eric Sogard, are both left-handed.
Reddick isn’t much for walks, but he worked Sipp for one on a 3-2 pitch. And just like that, the Astros’ momentum was blunted. Sipp is a decent reliever, but all of a sudden he could not find the strike zone. He walked Sogard. And Andy Parrino. And Coco Crisp, driving in a run.
Later in the inning Josh Donaldson and Derek Norris would each drive in two runs. And it all came back to that walk.
Small things can get ignored, but this walk that helped get the A’s to 11-12 this month shouldn’t be one of them.
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.
Jeff Samardzija got bailed out by A’s offense Friday against Baltimore
For most of Friday night, you could forgive Jeff Samardzija if he’d started to wonder where this vaunted A’s offense he’d heard about had gone to.
With the Cubs, for whom he made his first 17 starts, Samardzija knew he wasn’t going to get much offense.
It’s not supposed to be like that with the A’s, who have scored more runs than 28 of the other 29 big league teams.
But Oakland got him four runs his first time out, just two runs in his second start and the A’s had just two runs through eight innings Friday before Josh Donaldson turned that around with a walkoff three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.
Samardzija was in the clubhouse when he saw it. What followed next, creation of the walkoff tunnel down the third base line, the pie in Donaldson’s face and the dumping of the Gatorade container, is something that Samardzija could get used to.