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Blown saves are blowing A’s postseason chances

9 blown saves in 21 games

Oakland Athletics v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

On August 20, the Oakland A’s were in postseason position. It was a close race, but they held the Second Wild Card by a half-game.

They’ve played 21 games since then and lost 14 of them. Three teams have passed them in the standings, and they’re now 3.5 games out of that Second Wild Card, with 18 left on the schedule. Their odds of reaching the playoffs are down to 5% at best.

During that stretch of 21 games, the pitching staff has recorded nine blown saves, including two in one night. Those meltdowns have resulted in seven extra losses.

  • 8/21 vs. SFG: Lou Trivino blows 1-run lead in 9th (2-run homer)
  • 8/22 vs. SFG: A.J. Puk blows 1-run lead in 8th (2-run homer)
  • 8/23 vs. SEA: Lou Trivino blows 1-run lead in 9th (solo homer, 2-run single)
  • 8/29 vs. NYY: A’s defense blows 1-run lead in 7th, with Jake Diekman on the mound (walk, wild pitch, and two errors lead to an unearned run, but the A’s won anyway)
  • 9/1 vs. DET: Group effort blows 4-run lead. A.J. Puk allows tying run in 7th (RBI single)
  • 9/3 vs. TOR: Group effort blows 6-run lead. Trivino allows four, and Yusmeiro Petit allows tying runs in 8th (grand slam)
  • 9/3 vs. TOR, again: Same game, Sergio Romo blows 2-run lead in 9th (3-run homer)
  • 9/11 vs. TEX: Group effort blows 4-run lead. Romo charged with three, Andrew Chafin allows go-ahead blast in 8th (2-run homer)
  • 9/14 vs KCR: Group effort blows 6-run lead. Starter allows four, then Yusmeiro Petit allows four in 6th (RBI single, 3-run homer)

In four of those losses, the A’s led in the final two innings but the bullpen couldn’t hold on. They also blew a pair of six-run leads and a pair of four-run cushions, though the starters contributed to some of those larger comebacks too. Meanwhile, they’ve successfully converted only four saves during this time.

What’s worse, it’s been everybody. There isn’t just one weak link snapping over and over, but rather six different relievers have been charged with at least one blown save. Their overall numbers are ugly.

  • Bullpen, last 21 gms: 6.58 ERA, 79⅓ ip, 17 HR, 90 hits, .346 xwOBA

Their strikeout and walk rates are decent, but they’ve served up a ton of homers, many of them game-winners. The bullpen’s Win Probability Added mark of negative-3.92 during this span is by far the worst in the majors.

Of course, the relievers aren’t solely responsible for every bad thing that’s happened this year. Sometimes the lineup goes cold, or the starting rotation tosses up a dud. When Diekman blew his save against the Yankees, it was primarily because two Gold Glove defenders made errors behind him.

But this recent collapse by one area of the team has been enormous and thorough. The bullpen’s unreliability is overshadowing many of the other things the roster does well, wasting gem starts by the rotation or big leads built by the offense, sometimes in the same game. And it’s come at a particularly unfortunate time, down the stretch of the postseason race — salvage just three or four of those seven blown save losses, and the A’s are in the thick of the race instead of teetering on the edge.

After losing their closer in spring training, Oakland’s bullpen did an admirable job adapting and getting the job done for four-plus months, especially with only one major addition at the trade deadline. But the last few weeks have been a disaster, blowing not only a string of saves but also the A’s postseason hopes.