The stretch drive is not going well for the Oakland Athletics. The unsustainable slump has turned into a sustained tailspin, and even the most optimistic among us are running out of encouraging words and reasons for hope. The A's still hold the first Wild Card by two games, but if they wait much longer to snap out of their team-wide funk then it won't matter if regression kicks in and they start playing well again; they will have been passed completely and it will be too late. It's now or never ... because it certainly didn't happen last week, when the team went 2-4 in a homestand against the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros.
On offense, a few players perked up but it wasn't enough to translate into actual runs -- the team scored only 22 times in its six games. The closest thing to a hero was Adam Dunn, who was acquired from the rebuilding White Sox for one last hurrah before he potentially retires at season's end. Dunn homered in his first at-bat in Oakland and drove in a run in each of his first four games. Overall, he went 5-for-16 with a pair of dingers and six strikeouts but, strangely, no walks. He did get hit by two pitches, though. Jed Lowrie got right back to business after returning to the lineup (9-for-23), and so did Coco Crisp (6-for-14). Nate Freiman hit what should have been a game-winning homer on Sunday, before Oakland's bullpen melted down and threw the win away. Brandon Moss continued to do just absolutely nothing.
The pitching was good enough to win, but not dominant enough to win on its own. Jason Hammel was excellent in his two starts, allowing three runs in 14⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and only two walks and one homer. Jon Lester gave up just two runs against the Mariners, but Felix allowed only one (on a Dunn homer, naturally) to out-duel him. Jeff Samardzija was solid, but he allowed Chris Carter to beat the A's again with a go-ahead home run. Scott Kazmir had a nice rebound outing, but Sonny Gray got walloped by Seattle. The only reliever to allow a run was Ryan Cook, but ... well, that topic will get its own section below. The staff allowed only 20 runs in six games, meaning the A's outscored their opponents and still came out on the losing end. Sigh.
Here are the main story lines from a week that was really difficult to watch. But hopefully you still watched it because you love your team through thick and thin.
Welcome, Adam Dunn!
The A's needed a win in a big way on Labor Day, after having been swept by the Angels in four games the previous weekend. They got it thanks to Adam Dunn, who needed only three pitches to launch his first dinger as an Athletic. His two-run shot sparked a 6-1 victory, thanks also to the pitching of the resurgent Hammel, and A's fans exhaled for the first time in weeks. There was a new hope in Oakland.
He hit another one ... against Felix Hernandez. If you've just joined the Athletics and you want to make your mark, there is literally no better way to impress A's fans than to hit Felix. Well, I guess you could hit Verlander in the playoffs, but you would have already needed to be on the team for at least a month for that to happen, so yeah, I'm going with Felix. Break the King's curse and you will have our hearts forever. It worked for Josh Willingham, who homered against him on Opening Day in 2011.
The A's still lost, of course. Because Felix.
The A's needed a ninth-inning comeback just to secure their lone win against the Astros. That was neat because it showed that the team still has some fight in it, but it was also worrisome because they needed a healthy dose of magic just to avoid being swept. Walk-offs are cool, but it's also nice just to see your team take a lead and hold it for the rest of the game. That's not a thing the A's do anymore.
Here's to better times ahead:
If the A's do end up with a happy ending to their season, then Astros closer Chad Qualls will be among their MVP's. That was Qualls' fourth blown save loss to the A's this year, against only two successful save conversions. Maybe the Angels will sign him next year.
The worst loss I've ever seen
OK, now that I've got you in a good mood, let's go ahead and crush that feeling. Sunday may have been the worst, most unacceptable loss I've ever seen in baseball.
The A's entered the ninth inning with a 3-2 lead. Ryan Cook came in to face the 6-7-8 spots in the order. Within the first four batters, he'd walked the bases loaded, with two of those free passes coming on four pitches each. Fernando Abad relieved Cook. A sac fly tied it, and two more walks forced in another run to give Houston the lead. The A's blew the save without giving up a hit.
The five walks by A's pitchers in the inning matched Sean Doolittle's total for the entire season. I could have handled serving up a big home run to blow the save, even if it was another by Carter. But to just utterly throw the game away, with no contribution from the other team, is horrible. If you want to break your team's back and crush your fanbase's spirit, this is the way to do it.
Lowrie and Coco came back, which meant that someone else had to get hurt so that the A's wouldn't have too many of their best players available. This time, it was Stephen Vogt. Here's his awkward slide:
He will miss the four-game series in Chicago, at least.
The ghost of Cespedes
The A's may not have replaced Yoenis Cespedes' offensive production like they'd hoped, but at least Brandon Moss is doing his best impression on defense. Here he is performing Cespedes' trademarked "make an error while fielding the ball so that the runner tries to take an extra base but then recover and throw him out" move.
Now do your "Cespedes hitting a game-winning homer" impression, Brandon.
Alright, this week was horrible and I don't want to talk about it anymore.