The A’s finally reached the end of a road trip that lasted a week but must have felt like a month.
They were swept out of Atlanta with Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Braves, finishing a 1-6 road trip that’s dropped the A’s into a tie for first place in the American League West. When they began this seven-game trek, they held a four-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels, but they’ve now lost a season-high five in a row, and it’s tough to find signs of encouragement that they’re close to busting out of this funk.
Even Mr. Reliable, Jon Lester, couldn’t provide the tonic in Sunday’s nationally televised matchup. The lefty absorbed his first loss as an Athletic, and he saw his personal seven-game winning streak end. He gave up two homers over six-plus innings and four runs overall, and with the way the A’s are swinging it right now, that’s usually going to spell defeat.
Take away an 11-run outburst Tuesday in Kansas City, and the A’s averaged just 2.17 runs over their other six games on this trip. Braves starter Mike Minor (5-8) entered with a 5.33 ERA, and the A’s got to him for all of four hits over seven innings. Two homers from Nate Freiman accounted for the only damage off Minor.
Starting pitching report
Lester came in 7-0 with a 1.46 ERA over his previous 11 starts, a seven-game win streak that was the longest active win streak in the American League. He had surrendered just one home run over those 11 starts. But the Braves took him deep twice, accounting for three of the four runs off him. He got ahead 0-2 on Justin Upton in the fourth, but he tried to go down and in on the next pitch and Upton drilled it for a two-run homer that put Atlanta ahead 3-1.
Lester had allowed just four hits through six innings, and he returned to the mound for the seventh and the A’s trailing 3-2. He caught too much of the plate with a 2-1 pitch to Chris Johnson, and he didn’t even bother looking toward left field as Johnson hit a no-doubter that erased the homer that Freiman had hit in the top half of the inning.
Lester wound up allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits over six innings. He struck out five and walked one, but his location wasn’t as pinpoint as it often is, and a couple of mistakes proved very costly.
Dan Otero and Eric O’Flaherty each threw scoreless innings in relief of Lester.
At the plate
Freiman enjoyed the first multi-homer game of his career. His first was a 459-foot moon shot well over the wall in center. Drawing two starts against lefties, Freiman homered three times in the series. But it was more of the same for the rest of the lineup.
The A’s just can’t link enough hits together to get a rally going, and when they do get runners aboard, they find a way to sabotage it. Two ground-ball double plays hurt their cause Sunday. Sam Fuld tripled off the bench to lead off the eighth and he scored on Coco Crisp’s sacrifice fly to cut the A’s deficit to one at 4-3, but Oakland hitters looked completely overmatched against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth, as he collected his 37th save.
With a runner in scoring position nad one out in the sixth, 3-4 hitters Josh Donaldson and Derek Norris both took called third strikes. A dismal sequence but one that sums up the current state of things quite well.
In the field
Donaldson was a busy man at third base, making several standout plays going to his left, to his right, and even elevating to snag Andrelton Simmons’ liner in the fifth. But Donaldson also made a throwing error that aided Atlanta’s first scoring rally. He caught Chris Johnson’s liner but made a low throw to first trying to double off Upton. The throw hit off Upton and scootedinto the first base dugout, and Upton advanced automatically to third base. He scored on Evan Gattis’ single.
Left fielder Jonny Gomes turned in the defensive play of the night on Lester’s very first hitter, as he made a sliding catch up against the wall in the corner to retire Jason Heyward.
The A’s fly back to Oakland for an odd five-game homestand that includes days off Monday and Thursday. The Mets arrive for a two-game series that begins Tuesday. Scott Kazmir (13-5, 2.78) takes the ball against Dillon Gee (4-5, 3.69) in Tuesday’s 7:05 contest. Jeff Samardzija (3-2, 3.21) and Zack Wheeler (8-8, 3.49) match up in Wednesday’s 12:35 p.m. game. Both will air on Comcast SportsNet California.