Here is a link to my Thursday column about the latest A’s loss. The full text runs below:
OAKLAND — Give the Oakland A’s credit. They almost won on Wednesday. Almost winning is almost good.
They almost beat the L.A. Angels, losing by the close score of 5-4. They were down 5-0 going into the bottom of the seventh inning and, in a stirring rally that made the fans happy, scored four runs, which was almost enough.
It’s just that they had scoring opportunities — good chances — in the second, third, fourth, sixth and eighth innings and almost scored except they didn’t score. Although starting pitcher Jon Lester gave up five runs, only three were earned because of crummy A’s fielding — they committed three errors, something you don’t expect this late in the season. Stuff like that you see in spring training “B” games.
I expect the A’s to make it to the playoffs – well, to that cockamamie one game they call the wild-card game or the play-in game or the Russian roulette game. I stake my good name on that, something I almost have. But I also say, with four games left, this is no way for Oakland to prep for the wild-card game or to prep for anything. They have lost six of nine games, which is careless and probably worse than that.
Most of the time, they can’t hit. Before they scored those four runs in the seventh, they had gone a combined 16 innings without a run. It’s never a good idea to go 16 innings without scoring. It leads to extreme crankiness.
On Wednesday, the A’s faced a lefty. They don’t hit lefties well because manager Bob Melvin often doesn’t start left-handed batters Brandon Moss and Adam Dunn against lefties – he didn’t on Wednesday. That means the A’s batting order is power-depleted against lefties.
FYI: I wonder if it’s Melvin who does this extreme platooning or if it’s general manager Billy Beane who orders extreme platooning. I also wonder if there’s absolute proof of the existence of God. I don’t expect to achieve clarity on either topic.
So sure, the Angels started a lefty, but he wasn’t exactly Sandy Koufax. He was Hector Santiago, who entered the game with a 5-9 record. In his previous start, according to the Angels’ game notes, he “allowed a season-high seven runs on seven hits in one inning pitched. Allowed three runs in first inning and four runs in the second frame. Marked second straight start lasting two or fewer innings.”
This is a pitcher you handle. With ease. Not the A’s. They scored no runs off him in five-plus innings and he got the win.
After the game, A’s manager Bob Melvin came to the interview room. Lately, it hasn’t been a happy place for him. More like a torture chamber. Someone asked if he took heart from the four-run seventh. “There are no moral victories at this point,” he said. “But we played pretty badly early on and were able to find some fight and come back and get us in a position where we were one swing away from going ahead.”
“Are you concerned the playoffs are right around the corner and you guys are playing up and down?” I asked.
“We have to make it first,” he said. “Once you make it to the playoffs, then everything changes. The whole mood, the whole negativity of the way we’ve been playing, the trying to find who we are again, all that would go away if we get to the playoffs, I believe. So we’re trying to fight our way there.”
“Let me just follow up for a moment,” I said. “Do you feel you’ve found who you are again?”
Melvin cleared his throat. “Not completely. I mean, we’ve played some complete games, but not strung several in a row together. And that’s been a problem for us. It wasn’t a problem for us earlier in the year. Right now, we’re trying to find that. It’s a difficult period to try and find it because everybody’s pressing a little bit. Everybody wants to be the guy. We want to go where we plan to go. But, I did like how we played at the end of that game. We fought as hard as we could fight. Again, we had the winning run at the plate.”
To summarize: (1) Melvin believes – hopes – all the negative vibes will vanish when – if – the A’s make the playoffs. (2) The A’s need to find who they are.
I went to Jonny Gomes at his locker. Gomes is a go-to guy. He hears you out and works hard at his answers. I told him Melvin said the A’s need to find their identity.
“That’s well said,” Gomes said, “It simplifies things to get back to the identity we had. We’re not searching for something we don’t have. We’ve got a bunch of fighters in here. We haven’t played the best ball we could play. With that being said, we’ve lost one-run ballgames. We’re a bloop and a blast or a bloop and a bloop away from winning some of these games. The answer is within, which is real nice.”
“What was the identity the A’s had?” I asked.
“I wasn’t here the whole year,” he said. “I was on the outside looking in before I got here. We’ve got a lot of role players. There aren’t a lot of big power All-Star types. It’s more of one through nine getting on track. It’s not waiting around for that superstar to get the three-run homer. We have a lot of ways to win here. Small ball. Guys can go deep on this team, as well. We just have to get back to being gritty, taking the extra 90 feet and scratching out some runs.”
Gomes is probably right. But the A’s need to find themselves fast.
Before the game, Melvin said he packed extra for the trip to Texas where the A’s finish the season. “This one could be anywhere from four to 10 days,” he said. “And you don’t know where you’re going as far as climate, so probably a little bit more in the luggage today.”
The A’s hope they travel somewhere after Sunday. It could be on the road. It could be back home. If the season ends with a thud on Sunday, that would be almost good. But in this case, almost good isn’t any good at all.