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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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Donaldson willing to risk it on defense to cut down run at plate

Third baseman Josh Donaldson decided the risk of throwing to the plate in the eighth inning was worth it.

Third baseman Josh Donaldson decided the risk of throwing to the plate in the eighth inning was worth it.

There are consequences to a low-output offensive streak like the one the A’s are going through that have nothing to do with run production, batting averages or working over a pitcher.

Once such showed up in the eighth inning Friday after a double and a grounder got the Phillies’ Freddy Galvis to third base with one out.

Oakland had a 3-1 lead at the time, and the club seemed very unlikely to score more. Knowing that, the A’s still didn’t pull the infield in, willing to give up a run to get an out on a ground ball.

The A’s got the ground ball when Carlos Ruiz hit a hard chopper directly to Josh Donaldson. The third baseman could have taken the easy out at first. Instead he gambled and threw to the plate where catcher Derek Norris caught the ball and slapped the tag on Galvis.

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A’s: Bullpen is bullying opposing offenses these days

Ryan Cook is on a major roll, unscored upon in his last 18 games, pacing a red-hot a's bullpen.

Ryan Cook is on a major roll, unscored upon in his last 18 games, pacing a red-hot a’s bullpen.

In the middle of a tight pennant race there’s a tendency to look at the things that should be better than they are.

The things that are better than they should be can get glossed over.

That brings us to the A’s, who, it is true, have been struggling to score runs. And that’s an issue.

Equally a part of the equation, however, is just how difficult Oakland pitchers are at making it difficult for other teams to score.

Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle combined to throw 3.1 perfect innings in relief of winning pitcher Jason Hammel Tuesday.

It’s just part of a bigger picture.

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Johnson’s woes notwithstanding, help on way for A’s pen

Jim Johnson hasn't had close to the results he'd hoped for in coming to Oakland.

Jim Johnson hasn’t had close to the results he’d hoped for in coming to Oakland.

The A’s are one-third of the way through the 162-game season, and after 54 games, they have no idea what’s up with Jim Johnson.

The right-hander, a 50-saves man the last two seasons with the Orioles, has not found it in Oakland. His sinker isn’t sinking, and the flurry of ground balls that used to get him out of trouble are finding their way to the outfield in unprecedented numbers.

The A’s bullpen was supposed to be the bedrock of the club. Instead it has been the Achilles’ heel. Johnson (3-2, 6.55) is the most glaring problem, but he’s not the only issue. Luke Gregerson has good overall numbers (1-1, 2.70) but eight of the 13 base runners he’s inherited have scored.

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Blanks hopes to answer the call now that he’s with A’s

Kyle Blanks exited for new opportunity in big leagues with A's.

Kyle Blanks exited for new opportunity in big leagues with A’s.

Kyle Blanks was just getting settled in for a mid-morning snooze when his cell phone rang.

It was San Diego assistant general manager A.J. Hinch. The former A’s catcher was calling to let Blanks know that he’d been traded to Oakland.

Just like that, Blanks life and livelihood changed. He’d been destined to return to Triple-A El Paso when the Padres found they no longer had a spot for him. Instead he would be heading to join the A’s in Cleveland to be their right-handed hitting first baseman.

“I was trying to take a nap, and I get a phone call that brings me here,’’ Blanks said. “It’s definitely an interesting change of scenery. The change will be for the better.’’

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A’s catch big break with news Cook isn’t headed for surgery

#A's setup man Ryan Cook got some good news -- he doesn't need surgery

#A’s setup man Ryan Cook got some good news — he doesn’t need surgery

A’s reliever Ryan Cook said there was never a doubt in his mind that the forearm pain he was feeling was not serious.

He might have been the only one. Forearm pain in hard-throwing pitchers is generally the precursor to Tommy John-style surgery where a ligament from the arm or a leg is attached in the elbow.

It means a recovery period of 12-15 months, and losing the hard-throwing Cook for that period of time would have been a severe blow to the Oakland bullpen.

And there were expectations that he might well be on his way to join teammates Jarod Parker and A.J. Griffin as members of the A’s Tommy John club for 2014.

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Concerns over bullpen issues downplayed by A’s

Jim Johnson is the likely closer for the A's Sunday should one be needed.

Jim Johnson is the likely closer for the A’s Sunday should one be needed.

For a team that came into the season with the consensus best bullpen in the big leagues, the A’s have had more than their share of rocky moments in the first three weeks of the season.

Overall the base number isn’t bad, a cumulative 2.67 ERA, which ranks first among the American League bullpens. Nothing to complain about there.

But relievers have taken six of the club’s nine losses. The bullpen has more blown saves (six) than saves (five). And the man who had opened as the closer, Jim Johnson, is now in a closer-by-committee setup with Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle.

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For one night, Johnson was set to be A’s closer again

Jim Johnson was in position to get the save Friday, only the A's scored too many runs.

Jim Johnson was in position to get the save Friday, only the A’s scored too many runs.

In case you were wondering, yes, Jim Johnson was going to get the save opportunity in the ninth inning Friday.

For that to happen, Oakland would have had to score one, two or three runs. Instead they scored seven runs and Johnson wound up not pitching at all.

But the one-time closer would have gotten the call, manager Bob Melvin said.

“It was set up for Johnson tonight,’’ Melvin said. “It was his game to close.’’

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Rangers’ Washington respects the strength of A’s bullpen

Jim Johnson could be closing again for A's the way Rangers' manager Ron Washington sees it.

Jim Johnson could be closing again for A’s the way Rangers’ manager Ron Washington sees it.

It’s by no means clear that the A’s want to go long term with the closer-by-committee that has marked the first month of the 2014 season.

Texas manager Ron Washington doesn’t know if Jim Johnson will reclaim his job as closer or if A’s manager Bob Melvin will have Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson (and possibly Ryan Cook) will continue to take the job on an ad hoc basis.

Washington sees no reason why the A’s can’t do it if they want to.

“They are above the norm as far as bullpens go,’’ the Rangers manager and former Athletics third base coach said. “They go 100 mph from the left side. They can go 100 mph from the right side. They can throw breaking balls from the left side. They can throw breaking balls from the right side.

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Sooner or later, Johnson will move back into closer’s role

Jim Johnson would like nothing better than to be the A's closer again

Jim Johnson would like nothing better than to be the A’s closer again

Is Jim Johnson the closer of the A’s future?

Probably. Almost certainly.

And when would that future be?

Well, it could come as early as Friday when the A’s play host to Houston to start a two-team homestand in the Coliseum.

Johnson, deposed as closer about two weeks into the season because of his inconsistencies, has pitched five innings of scoreless baseball in his last three games and has won two of them.

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