With a week remaining before the All-Star break, manager Bob Melvin said the A’s focus over their next two series should be on getting their overall record as close to .500 as possible. Given the deficit the A’s created for themselves during the first six weeks of the season, evening their record is a respectable – if modest – goal.
This weekend’s series against the Seattle Mariners illustrated why that remains a challenge. After beating Mariners ace Felix Hernandez at home on Saturday for the first time since 2008, the A’s were stymied by rookie Mike Montgomery in a 2-1 loss Sunday and settled for a split of the four-game series, thus making up no ground on the wild-card leaders and finishing where they began – nine games under .500.
Such is the depth of the hole the A’s dug early in the season that entering Sunday’s game they held the best record (24-16) in the American League since May 23, and still had the league’s overall worst winning percentage. If the A’s hope to make a run in the second half – at a .500 record and beyond – they consistently must win series.
“We’ve been on the verge of looking like we can get that much closer, and then we get swept by Kansas City, and now we’re playing a little bit better again,” Melvin said before Sunday’s game. “It’s trying to stay consistent throughout. It’d be nice if we could put a winning streak together.”
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The A’s won five straight games to end their last trip, but as Melvin noted, they promptly returned home and were swept by the Kansas City Royals. It was the start of a 10-game homestand on which the A’s went 4-6, dropping their record at the Coliseum this season to 18-26. Sunday marked the end of a stretch in which the A’s played 15 of 18 games at home; they went 10-8, making more of a dent than a divot in their overall deficit.
“On the whole it’s frustrating,” said outfielder Sam Fuld. “We expect to play a little bit better at home. Again, we lost a lot of close games, and those are even more frustrating, especially given that seems to be our kryptonite. If you take away the Kansas City series, I think it’s a lot easier to take. But you have to look at the whole series.”
Fuld provided the extent of the A’s offense on Sunday with a third-inning home run off Montgomery, a left-hander who had thrown shutouts in his previous two starts. A’s starter Chris Bassitt held that 1-0 lead until the sixth, when one errant pitch unraveled his otherwise strong outing.
Bassitt – making his second start in place of Sonny Gray, who was hospitalized last week because of severe gastroenteritis and will rejoin the rotation Tuesday – retired the first two Seattle hitters in the sixth before throwing a two-strike cutter that hit Robinson Cano on the right ankle. Bassitt later said he overthrew the cutter in an effort not to hang a pitch to Cano.
“I tried to back-foot him,” Bassitt said, “and I front-footed him.”
Nelson Cruz laced Bassitt’s next pitch down the left-field line for a double, sending Cano to third. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz had just begun warming up in the A’s bullpen and was not ready to face the left-handed-hitting Seth Smith. Bassitt got ahead of Smith but threw a full-count slider that Smith lined into center field, scoring both runs.
Bassitt was not expected to accompany the A’s to New York after the game and likely is headed back to Triple A because of Gray’s return. In his two spot starts, Bassitt allowed three runs in 102/3 innings – and was the losing pitcher both times in 2-1 games.
“Pitched great,” Melvin said. “He’s done exactly what we’ve asked him to do since he got sent down. He’s throwing the ball over the plate, throwing strikes. Gives up two runs, and a lot of times you’ll be in a good position if you only give up two runs.”
The A’s entered the day batting .395 with runners in scoring position over their past 11 games but went 0 for 3 in those situations Sunday. They have scored the fourth-most runs in the A.L. but were held to three or fewer in six games on the homestand. Consistency, as Melvin said, remains elusive.
“I don’t think our mentality is suffering,” Fuld said after Sunday’s loss. “I don’t think there’s a lack of focus. I don’t know what else to point to, but I know that our effort and our focus is there. It’s the right sort of focus and energy that creates consistency. It’s just a matter of catching some breaks, and that’s about it.”