Looking to wipe the slate clean as they arrived in Atlanta, the A’s wasted no time digging a deeper hole for themselves.
They faced a five-run deficit after just three innings and went quietly in a 7-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.
At this point, it’s tough to know what to make of this mini-slide that Oakland finds itself on. Is it just one of those occasional dips that teams experience throughout the season, or is it a trend that’s a bigger cause for concern?
Friday’s defeat, their fifth in six games, wasn’t just the result of a bad night for starting pitcher Jason Hammel (which it was), or the offense shooting blanks (which it did for the most part). The A’s played like a team in a daze, which is troubling in that they were coming off a poor series in Kansas City that left plenty of motivation to rebound.
They committed two costly baserunning errors, with Jonny Gomes getting picked off in the first inning and Alberto Callaspo getting doubled off second to squash a rally in the fourth. There were two passed balls from catcher Derek Norris, who looked like he might have been crossed up, once by Hammel and another time by Eric O’Flaherty.
Nate Freiman misplayed a routine grounder that preceded a two-run homer by Phil Gosselin that extended the Braves’ lead to 7-2 in the sixth. And though you can’t blame center fielder Coco Crisp too much for losing a ball in the lights in a stadium he rarely plays in, his confused body language on that third-inning play epitomized his team as a whole.
Granted it was just the opener of a three-game series, and two good games over the next two days would leave Friday’s stinker in the rear-view mirror. But the A’s have lost three games on their division lead in a span of five days. The Angels pulled within one game of first place with Friday’s 5-4 win at Texas.
Hammel, who got tagged for five runs in just three innings, seemed like he might be turning a corner coming into Friday. Instead, his outing raised fresh concerns about whether he’s suited for this rotation for the stretch run.
He showed better command in his two previous starts, against Tampa Bay and Minnesota. But Friday’s struggles looked all too familiar as he left too many hittable pitches in the heart of the strike zone. Justin Upton and Evan Gattis went deep in the second, then Freddie Freeman delivered a three-run homer in the third that the A’s couldn’t recover from.
The A’s indeed have other options in long reliever Jesse Chavez (who also surrendered a homer) and Drew Pomeranz, who is 2-0 with a 3.12 ERA in six starts with Triple-A Sacramento. But given that the front office showed patience with Hammel through four poor starts, don’t expect a change to be made because he had one bad one after two good ones.
Here’s one big-picture consideration: Last season, the A’s went through a similar funk in a similar part of the season. They went 9-14 from July 30 to Aug. 25 and were 2 1/2 games out of first . From that point forward, however, they went on a 24-9 run to finish the regular season and wrap up the division championship.
This season, they’re 8-10 since July 28. Which direction do they go from here? The A’s will return to the ballpark Saturday, still searching for their much-needed reboot.