San Francisco Giants

A’s ‘taking the wrong turns,’ but still inching closer to playoffs

OAKLAND -- The announced crowd of 27,989 that came out for the final regular-season game at the Coliseum on Wednesday saw the A’s mostly at their second-half worst.

They squandered scoring opportunities, failing to score in five different innings in which they put runners in scoring position. They made three errors, including two that directly led to unearned runs. They lost 5-4 to the Los Angeles Angels, their 26th one-run loss of the season, and fell to 14-28 since Aug. 10, the second-worst record in the majors during that time.

Yes, the A’s, who at the All-Star Break had the best record and the best run differential by far in baseball have won exactly one-third of their last 42 games. They’ve been a .333 team the last six weeks -- the definition of taking one step forward, two steps back.

And yet, as play began Wednesday, they needed only any combination of three wins or Seattle Mariners losses to at least earn a berth in the A.L. wild-card game. What not too long ago looked like a consolation prize at best is now the respirator on the A’s playoff hopes. Keep playing like this, and there’s a strong chance they will have to go on the road for that game, likely to either Kansas City or Detroit.

It may seem daunting with how the A’s have played recently. Any game right now is a challenge with how inconsistent they have been. But the fact is the A’s remain in position to reach the wild-card game -- and after their latest frustrating loss, manager Bob Melvin seized upon that fact.

“We have to make it first,” Melvin said. “(But) once you make it to the playoffs, then everything changes.

“The whole mood, the whole negativity of the way we’ve been playing, trying to find who we are again -- all of that would go away if you get to the playoffs, I believe. So we’re trying to fight our way there.”

Who are the A’s? For the first four months of the season, they were the team that pitched well and outscored opponents by wide margins with production from up and down their lineup. They used their left-right platoons religiously, and the platoons worked, even with three catchers in the lineup at times. They had some games that featured bad defense, but were mostly able to overcome those.

They have weathered some injuries -- Coco Crisp is less than 100 percent with his neck, Stephen Vogt has battled foot problems, John Jaso likely won’t play again this season with a concussion, Josh Reddick missed significant time. But more hurtful has been the inconsistency of their offense.

Key hitters such as Brandon Moss, Crisp, Derek Norris and even Josh Donaldson have endured second-half slumps. The A’s began Wednesday batting .212 over their last 24 games. They’ve shown signs of breaking out -- like their consecutive wins Sunday and Monday, when they scored a total of 16 runs -- but reverted back to the team we saw on Wednesday, squandering opportunities and stranding runners.

“We just seem to be taking the wrong turns no matter what road we take,” Reddick said. “And we’ve got to start doing something or we’re going to find ourselves in a spot we don’t want to be.

“We know who we are, we’ve all been here long enough. We know what’s going on. We just have to figure it out.”

Is there time? Melvin acknowledged that right now, with four games remaining and their postseason spot still technically uncertain, “It’s a difficult period to try to find it, because everybody’s pressing a little bit and everybody wants to be the guy, and we want to go where we’ve planned to go.”

Or is Melvin’s theory, that the A’s just need to reach the playoffs for a shot of new life, accurate? Could they revert to their early-season ways that quickly, despite being a .333 team for six consecutive weeks?

“I would think so,” pitcher Jon Lester said. “I think we’re all fighting to just make it, and like you said, maybe that’ll give everybody kind of a refresher almost, where everybody is back at zero, not worried about numbers or where their ERAs are or anything like that. So yeah, maybe, but we’ve got to get their first.”

“Hopefully we get to that point,” Reddick said. “We still have the confidence every day that we’re going to get in. We don’t hope or what-if. We’ve just got to get there. When we get there, I think it’s a huge sigh of relief, and when we get there, now we go.”

It’s certainly plausible. Reddick, though, later said something else that seemed pertinent after the A’s performance in their 5-4 loss.

“We’ve played this roughly for long enough, and we’ve been saying we’ve got to do something,” he said. “But right now is the time to act.

“Our words can say it as much as we want. But we’ve got to do it out there.”

* The game story hits the particulars of the loss, including all the scoring chances the A’s left out there before their four-run seventh inning. Melvin credited his players with being “able to find some fight,” but added: “There are no moral victories at this point.”

By the time the A’s got on the board on Reddick’s two-run double, they already trailed 5-0, and Reddick acknowledged the A’s won’t be able to fix their problems digging those kinds of holes.

“You can’t rely on late innings like that to pick you up,” Reddick said. “We’ve just got to take better (advantage of) opportunities to get some runs in. Seems like we get some guys on and we just can’t get the one big hit we need to put us ahead. We’ve just got to figure that out.”

* Maybe the most frustrating inning was the fourth, when Josh Donaldson reached third with no outs on Mike Trout’s error in center field but didn’t score. After Jonny Gomes popped out, Donaldson was thrown out trying to score on Derek Norris’ fly ball to right.

Kole Calhoun’s throw clearly beat Donaldson to the plate, but it looked like he might have eluded Chris Iannetta’s original tag and snuck his foot onto the plate on a second attempt. Melvin came out to talk with home plate umpire Gerry Davis, who initiated a crew chief review of the play.

“Gerry actually said to me, let’s look at 7.13 or whatever it is, to where they look at the whole play,” Melvin said.

Technically, the review was of whether Iannetta had illegally blocked the plate. But with the recent updating of rule 7.13, umpires were allowed to review all aspects of the play, including whether Iannetta had missed Donaldson on the tag. After a review of 3:30, the call stood.

Melvin said he only saw the in-game replay on the scoreboard, and that, “It looked like he didn’t tag him, to me.” Donaldson also said he didn’t think he’d been tagged, but that having watched the replay, he understood why the call was upheld.

“There’s really not a great angle for you to see space,” Donaldson said. “I was the runner and I knew he didn’t tag me. That’s why he was kind of standing there. But the whole replay system, there has to be evidence and I wouldn’t say there was evidence to overturn it -- although I know that he didn’t touch me.”

* Donaldson also made one of two costly errors for the A’s. His throw on to first on a bunt by Collin Cowgill in the seventh was low and skipped past Stephen Vogt into foul ground, allowing Gordon Beckham to score all the way from first. In the fifth, Reddick had dropped a fly ball that gave the Angels a runner on third with one out, which they drove in with a sacrifice fly.

Donaldson’s explanation of his play, on which he had to sidestep Lester while going after the bunt: “We kind of both got trapped in the same position, and I tried to create an angle (to throw). Looking back at it, probably would’ve just tried to eat it. But that’s never really been my mentality. I want to try to make the play.”

And Reddick’s explanation of his: “Just a long run, ball was moving, and I just missed it. That’s all.”

* Lester departed after the seventh having allowed five runs, his most in an A’s uniform, though only three were earned. Melvin said the left-hander had “maybe not his best stuff today, but we didn’t really do him any favors early in the game. A lot of our miscues cost us. Can’t do that this time of year.”

Lester remains on turn to start the wild-card game for the A’s, though he said that has not been discussed with him by Melvin and the A’s coaches. He said he would be prepared to pitch in relief if the A’s needed him in, for example, a do-or-die game 162. But likelihood of that appears slim. If Lester doesn’t pitch again before Tuesday, he’ll finish the season with a 2.46 ERA -- the lowest of his career.

* The Mariners just lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, which means the A’s magic number is now two. Technically, they could clinch a playoff spot as soon as tomorrow, if they beat the Rangers and Seattle loses to the Angels.

The A’s have four games left against a Rangers team that swept them in Oakland last week, and Reddick called them “the biggest four we’ve had all year.” The pitching probables for the series:

Thursday: RHP Jason Hammel (2-6, 4.52) vs. RHP Colby Lewis (10-14, 5.34)

Friday: LHP Scott Kazmir (14-9, 3.63) vs. RHP Nick Tepesch (5-10, 4.14)

Saturday: RHP Jeff Samardzija (5-5, 2.92) vs. LHP Derek Holland (2-0, 1.31)

Sunday: RHP Sonny Gray (13-10, 3.21) vs. RHP Nick Martinez (5-11, 4.61)

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