Despite their major-league-worst record, the A’s have maintained that as long as they play good baseball, their lopsided record in close games – especially games decided by one run, in which they’re 1-13 – will even out over the course of the season.
But the A’s also have played a handful of games like Sunday’s 7-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox, in which they doomed themselves with four errors and several other defensive miscues, looking very much the part of a team that has lost two-thirds of its games (13-26) nearly a quarter of the way through the season.
Sunday was the second time this season the A’s have made four errors in a game, and it raised their major-league-leading total to 42 – 10 more than any other team. The result Sunday was two unearned runs – 29 unearned runs allowed by the A’s also leadthe majors – and it extended the team’s streak of games with at least one error to 14, the longest in franchise history since a 17-game stretch in 1982.
“It’s just snowballing on us right now, where I think guys are thinking about it quite a bit, don’t want to make an error, and we end up doing it,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We’re not playing clean games at this point. They’re ugly-looking games, and it affects how you play; it affects your confidence.”
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Chicago speedster Adam Eaton led off Sunday’s game with a chopper up the middle that he turned into a double, running in the face of center fielder Billy Burns. Emilio Bonifacio then executed a sacrifice bunt that A’s starter Scott Kazmir mishandled, leaving both runners safe.
The runners stayed put as Melky Cabrera grounded out, and after Kazmir walked Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia hit a chopper back to Kazmir, who flipped to catcher Stephen Vogt for a forceout at home. But Vogt’s throw to first base sailed over Max Muncy, allowing Bonifacio to score the game’s first run on the A’s second error of the inning.
Muncy’s first major-league home run gave the A’s a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning. But they gave the lead right back the next half-inning, when as Chicago scored four runs with a rally that started, again, with an Oakland fielding error.
This time it was shortstop Marcus Semien, who couldn’t handle a sharp grounder off Eaton’s bat. It was the lone error of the inning, but the fifth still unfolded like a defensive nightmare for the A’s. Bonifacio singled, and two batters later, Abreu hit a sharp grounder that skipped past third baseman Brett Lawrie’s backhand attempt to tie the score.
Garcia then singled on a chopper to the right side that Eric Sogard bobbled before throwing late to Kazmir covering first. That loaded the bases for Gordon Beckahm, who took a full-count pitch low to force in a run. When Alexei Ramirez hit a comebacker that Kazmir tried to snag only to see it ricochet off his glove and into left field for a two-run single, giving Chicago a 5-2 lead, Kazmir nearly yanked off his hat in disgust.
Asked if the inning “snowballed” on the A’s, Kazmir said: “It seemed like it. (But) at the same time, I could’ve made pitches, and we wouldn’t even be talking about this. A lot of it’s on me; most of it’s on me.”
Kazmir dismissed the idea that the A’s defensive issues have worked their way into players’ heads.
“I don’t feel like we’re pressing or whatever,” Kazmir said. “We’re just going out there playing the game … Of course if you’re sitting back just watching, it looks that way. But we’re out there giving it everything we have, and stuff’s just not going our way.”
The four-run fifth inning was enough to put the A’s away, before Semien made his major-league-leading 13th error of the season on a low throw to first in the eighth. Melvin reiterated the A’s believe Semien, who is playing his first season as an everyday shortstop in the majors, “has the ability to do it” and just needs to be “a little bit more consistent on a day-to-day basis.”
“We just haven’t gotten there yet with him,” Melvin said. “But I’ll tell you that there’s nobody on our team who works harder than he does.”
Melvin has made defensive work more of a priority by dedicating time before batting practice on select days to fielding drills. The A’s did so before Tuesday’s game against the Boston Red Sox – and then made several highlight-reel defensive plays in a 9-2 win. It was their only win of a six-game homestand.
“You look at our record right now, and we’re behind the eight ball,” Melvin said. “You can talk all you want about, ‘It’ll turn, it’ll turn.’ We have to make it turn. And it starts with playing cleaner games.”