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Anatomy Of An Epic Fail

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Cleveland Indians
“This is not the direction my season is going.”
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

I’m already beginning to dread the 2028 season, given what seems to happen every 7 years. The difference between 2014 and 2021? The 2014 A’s started their free fall with a bigger cushion, having spent the first half of the season with MLB’s best record. So their sad crawl off a cliff to the finish line still netted them the second wild card spot.

Your 2021 A’s were also buyers at the deadline and had a great end of July shopping spree. Armed with the electric Starling Marte, the versatile Josh Harrison, the powerful Yan Gomes, and “instantly your best LH reliever” Andrew Chafin, Oakland took off.... the wrong direction. How did this team fail so epically the last 2 weeks of August, losing 6 in a row, 10 of 12, and going from legitimate contention for the division or 1st wild card to 3.5 games out of any playoff spot? Some factors:

Lou Trivino

Trivino epitomizes Oakland’s fall from ‘surprisingly solid’ to ‘50 shades of fail’, having taken the loss in 3 of the A’s 6 losses during this losing streak. What happened?

First off, Trivino’s slump and the team’s slump have in common that inevitable regression reared its ugly head. Remember that Trivino was supposed to be sharing the role behind Trevor Rosenthal, where he would have been well suited to the job.

As closer, Trivino was always slotted ahead of where he should have been and stats like “14 for his last 14 save chances” and “1 HR since April 21st” were bound to see ‘market corrections’.

Perhaps not coincidentally, though, on August 21st Trivino appeared for the 3rd consecutive day and 4th day out of 5, serving up the pinch hit HR to Lamont Wade Jr., blowing the save and taking the loss. Two days later, trying to ‘get back on the horse’ he appeared for the 5th day out of 7 as he first blew the save against Seattle and then went on to give up 2 more runs and absorb the loss.

The constant need for Oakland’s ‘plus relievers’ to engage in wins is a pretty direct result of the A’s offense failing to add on or put up bigger numbers. Oakland’s reliance on squeaking out close wins by relying on the Trivinos of their pen may have finally come home to roost.

A’s Offense...

The A’s offense has never been among the league’s best. It is ‘middling,’ sitting right around 7th or 8th in the AL most of the year. This is a team that has batted .235, collectively, for the season with a tepid .235/.315/.405 slash line. But what has killed the A’s during this 2-10 stretch is their futility batting with RISP. What is that about?

...with RISP

It’s not that the A’s uniquely choke with RISP. It’s that when you bat .235 as a team you also bat poorly with RISP. You might walk a bit, which leads to more chances with RISP, but clutch hits are hard to come by when hits are hard to come by.

Specifically, who is coming up with RISP? Often it is Brown (.203), Murphy (.221), Chapman (.223), Moreland (.227), Andrus (.231), Canha (.233)...As it happens, Murphy has batted especially better than usual with RISP (.323), while Jed Lowrie has been a bit of an RISP savior (.351), but mostly you get what you are.

It may surprise you, actually, to learn that the team overall bats .256 with RISP. Still that’s failure about 34 of the time and in Oakland’s case it has come with precious little slugging (.390), reflected in the fact that the A’s do lead of of MLB in one category: solo HRs.

Failure Against Winning Teams

In August the cream rises to the top while the sludge falls, and Oakland has solidified its place amongst the sludge going 2-10 against the White Sox, Giants, Mariners, and Yankees — all teams with winning records.

It’s nothing new. The A’s are now a rather pathetic 28-42 (.400) against >.500 teams. Oakland ran off a fun 13-game winning streak that exploited the Arizona Diamondbacks, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, and Baltimore Orioles, and outside of that the A’s have won less than half their games for the entire season.

Part of why might be found in the A’s offensive strategy. They are known for ‘grinding out at bats’, running up pitch counts, and getting into bullpens in the middle innings. That approach eats alive weak teams with little bullpen depth, but does not really faze teams like the White Sox and Yankees. That has been very evident the past 2 weeks as the A’s have slid into obscurity against a string of winning teams.

So here the A’s are, heading into September showing more weaknesses than strengths and in an epic free fall to where they are now barely clinging to contention for anything. Perhaps a better question than “Why is this happening?” is “What took them so long?”