Royals celebrate their AL wild card win over the A’s on Sept. 30.
Why is Kansas City the team that’s waiting for the San Francisco Giants in the World Series?
You can blame it on (or thank, depending on how you feel about it) the Oakland A’s. So says Don Wakamatsu, the former Seattle manager who is now the bench coach for the Royals, working under manager Ned Yost.
After ending a four-game losing streak on July 22, the Royals had steamrolled everyone through Sept. 7. Kansas City used a blistering 31-13 run to go from eight games out in the American League Central to 1½ games up on the Detroit Tigers
The Royals ran out of juice at that point, falling out of the Central lead while limping home with a 10-10 record in the final 20 games. If the Mariners (9-11) and the A’s (8-12) had done even a little better over the same stretch, Kansas City’s stretch of missing the post-season would have made it to an even 30 years and Oakland and Seattle would have been the American League’s wild card combatants.
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.
Jeff Samardzija threw eight shutout innings Wednesday, but it wasn’t good enough for a win.
If there isn’t a theoretical limit to the number of times the A’s can tell themselves they’re in good shape just because the American League Wild Card standings say they are, there should be.
By imploding in the ninth inning Wednesday, Oakland fell into a tie with the Kansas City Royals in the AL Wild Card derby, both teams at 83-68, two games up in the race over the 81-70 Seattle Mariners.
It’s technically true that the A’s can make their way in to the playoff by following the old Al Davis dictum, “Just Win, Baby.’’
The trouble is, they seem to have no remembrance of how to win, or even how to hit. Time and again in the last couple of weeks they’ve gotten brilliant starting pitching and have lost because the offense hasn’t made an appearance or because the defense had regressed to high school levels.
Already this month:
–Jon Lester gives up two runs (seven hits, no walks) in eight innings and loses 2-1 (Sept. 3)
–Jeff Samardzija throws scoreless ball for seven innings, turns a 1-0 lead over to the bullpen and Luke Gregerson gives up two runs in the eighth (Sept. 10).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jim Johnson helped get the A’s a win in 14 innings, even if he couldn’t finish.
There is no question that Jim Johnson hasn’t gotten much love in his first three months with the A’s.
Except from his teammates. They know what it’s like to struggle. They’ve all been there, and there hasn’t been any thought that Johnson hasn’t been doing everything he can to fight his way out of his struggles.
And the 2.1 innings of scoreless relief he threw Saturday was especially well thought of by the A’s.
A’s closer Sean Doolittle is on a roll that should land him in the All-Star Game.
At his current rate of production, there doesn’t seem much that A’s closer Sean Doolittle can’t do.
If you’d like to do something Doolittle can’t or won’t do, just dwell on his statistics for a bit.
–He’s 11-for-12 in save opportunities.
–He has not allowed a run in his last 23 games, a total of 25.1 innings. It’s the longest active streak in the American League and fourth-best streak in A’s history.
–He’s walked 1 and struck out 53. No pitcher since 1900 had struck out 45 before issuing a second walk.
–He’s faced 64 batters since May 60 and has retired 60 of them, allowing three hits and one walk.
Will the force be with the A’s bullpen and it’s Darth Vader helmet?
If the A’s bullpen was looking for an identity, it may have found it with a little help from George Lucas, Darth Vader and Co.
Sitting in the clubhouse Tuesday was a full-sized green-and-gold helmet worn by villain deluxe Vader in the Star Wars franchise.
Speaking for the bullpen, A’s closer Sean Doolittle said “it’s going with us everywhere.’’
The helmet originally caught the eye of reliever Evan Scribner in spring training who saw an A’s fan carrying it. Scribner asked what it would take to get one, and eventually he and the fan worked out a deal.