The A’s have spent much of the first quarter of this season insisting they are better than their record indicates. Right now, that record says they’re the worst team in baseball.
The A’s 7-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday was their 26th in 39 games. They have as many one-run losses (13) as they have wins. Players have pointed to that record in close games as something that they believe will even out over the course of a season. But there have also been a handful of games like Sunday’s, in which the A’s made four errors to increase their MLB-leading total to 42 in 39 games. Manager Bob Melvin later described them as "ugly-looking games."
"It affects how you play," Melvin said. "It affects your confidence."
Melvin stated confidently at the end of the A’s last road trip that they would play better once they returned home to the Coliseum. Instead, they went a combined 1-5 against the Red Sox and the White Sox, who swept them in a series in which Chicago ace Chris Sale did not even appear.
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The A’s have yet to win a home series this year and are 2-12 in their last 14 games at the Coliseum. They have lost nine of 10 overall and are staring at an 8 ½-game gap between them and the first-place Houston Astros. That gap could grow even wider as the A’s start a three-game series in Houston on Monday.
The silver lining for the A’s is that, as bad as they’ve played, they still have three-fourths of the season to make it up. But already, Melvin said, it’s to the point where they cannot be waiting around to make a move.
"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 where everybody feels good about the pace of the game, how we’re playing."
Right fielder Josh Reddick agreed the A’s need to start winning games, "the quicker the better."
"The season always goes by fast, and here we are mid-May and we’ve got 13 wins, we’ve got the worst record in baseball," Reddick said. "Something does need to change fast. At this point wins have got to come in bunches. We can’t win one (game) a series and expect to get above .500. We’ve got to start winning some series -- and that’s both home and on the road. We’ve got to step it up all around, and that’s all there is to it."
The A’s have played the entire season thus far without their closer, Sean Doolittle, who’s in the last stages of his recovery from a shoulder injury. Leadoff hitter Coco Crisp missed the first month due to injury and has not hit at all since his return. Arguably the lynchpin of the lineup and defense, Ben Zobrist, has played just 14 games due to arthroscopic knee surgery. Their starting rotation actually has the third-best ERA (3.56) in the league.
But the bullpen has been a minefield. The league’s third-highest-scoring offense hasn’t been enough to cancel out their other shortcomings. And defensively the A’s have made 10 more errors than any other team -- and as catcher Stephen Vogt said Friday night, the A’s opponents seem to "smell blood, and just go for it."
Asked what the A’s must do to correct course, pitcher Scott Kazmir said: "We’ve just got to stay positive. That’s all you can do is stay positive. I feel like we’re putting together good at-bats, and our pitchers are doing their job, it’s just the crucial moments that we need to make a pitch, we need to make a play, that we’re falling short."
Melvin said before Sunday’s game he doesn’t want players looking beyond the current day, as thinking about what they need to do to get back to .500 can be "a little daunting." Similarly, Kazmir said after the game that the A’s "can’t pay attention" to their record right now.
"When you get in there, you’re competing, that’s the last thing you’re thinking about is, ‘We’re too far behind,’ or anything like that," Kazmir said. "We feel like we’re on the verge of making something happen, it’s just tough. It’s been a tough stretch."
* Kazmir’s assessment of the A’s 7-3 loss was that: "Most of it was on me." He referred partly to his mishandling of Emilio Bonifacio’s first-inning bunt, one of two A’s errors in the inning that led to an unearned run, but also to his role in Chicago’s four-run fifth.
The A’s had taken a 2-1 lead in the fourth, but the White Sox collected four hits the next half-inning, the costliest an Alexei Ramirez two-run single on a comebacker that nicked off of Kazmir’s outstretched glove and into left field. Had Kazmir not touched the ball, it might have been an inning-ending double play.
"The big play was the one that I felt like I had, felt like it was in my reach, and ended up deflecting off," said Kazmir, who also forced in a run in the inning with a bases-loaded walk. "Just got to put my team in a better position. I didn’t get it done."
The A’s committed three errors with Kazmir in the game -- including Kazmir’s -- which helped drive up his pitch count. Kazmir threw 103 pitches before leaving with one out in the fifth, his shortest outing of the season.
"He battled," Melvin said. "Sometimes it’s tough to keep your concentration, which you obviously have to as a pitcher, but when we’re not playing clean. Now we have a chance to turn a double play (in the first inning), we don’t turn a double play to get out of it, and it bothers you some. But I thought he battled. The four-run inning, pitch count, had to get him out of there. But I thought his stuff was better than the last couple times out."
Kazmir now has a 5.70 ERA in four May starts after going 2-0 with a 0.99 ERA in April. He said it seemed like the fifth inning "snowballed" on the A’s, "(But) same time, I could have 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 said. "Just wish I could’ve been a little bit more efficient in the early going, and a couple plays I wish I would’ve made -- I think that would have been the difference in the ballgame."
* The loss soured the moment for Max Muncy, who hit his first big-league home run off Jeff Samardzija in the fourth inning. Muncy got an 0-2 fastball up that he hit just beyond the reach of Chicago’s Adam Eaton over the wall in right-center.
Muncy got the silent treatment in the dugout -- while everyone congratulated Coco Crisp, who had walked and scored on the homer. And then the A’s crowded around Muncy for high fives and pats on the back.
"I tried to have a little fun, go through a ghost home-run tunnel," said Muncy, who knew what to expect. "Then they all came up and started pounding on me. So it was fun."
With Ike Davis going on the disabled list Sunday, Muncy figures to get plenty of playing time at first base along with Mark Canha -- or at third, if Brett Lawrie needs a day off. So seeing Muncy contribute was a rare highlight for the A’s on Sunday.
* Two of the A’s errors belonged to shortstop Marcus Semien, one fielding and one on a throw. Plenty has been written about Semien’s defense recently -- his 13 errors lead the majors -- so here’s Melvin’s comment about Semien after the game in full:
"There are times you have to battle through some tough times, and defensively he’s going through a bit of a tough stretch. We feel like he has the ability to do it. This is the first time he’s had the opportunity to play shortstop every day.
"Offensively he’s doing great stuff, there are times defensively he’s doing good stuff. It’s just being a little more consistent on a day-to-day basis -- getting through a couple games where you make some nice plays and get your confidence rolling. We just haven’t gotten there yet with him. But I’ll tell you there’s nobody on our team who works harder than he does."
* While Crisp has dropped out of the leadoff spot amid a 2-for-40 start, Billy Burns has filled in effectively. Burns had three singles Sunday and went 8-for-20 over the six-game homestand with two walks and four runs scored.
The White Sox, though, seemed to have a definite plan when it came to running on balls that traveled to center (Burns) or left field (Crisp) on Sunday. Adam Eaton and Carlos Sanchez both turned singles into doubles on softly-hit balls that Burns fielded, fearlessly challenging his arm and winning.
Burns, meanwhile, held up at second base on a Marcus Semien single to right field in the third inning instead of trying to go first-to-third. Chicago right fielder Avisail Garcia does have six assists this season, but it seemed an odd decision given Burns’ speed. And it left Burns on third instead of scoring when Josh Reddick then grounded into a double play.
* The A’s now travel to face the Astros, who not only lead the A.L. West, but have the best record in the American League. The pitching probables:
Monday: LHP Drew Pomeranz (2-3, 4.42) vs. RHP Lance McCullers (0-0, N/A)
Tuesday: RHP Sonny Gray (4-1, 1.61) vs. RHP Roberto Hernandez (1-3, 4.12)
Wednesday: RHP Jesse Hahn (1-3, 4.42) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (5-0, 1.87)