Programming note: Twins-A's coverage starts Thursday at 6:30 p.m. with A's Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
OAKLAND – All the right things are being said in the A’s clubhouse.
Scoring runs is a problem for this team right now, and everybody in an Oakland uniform acknowledges that. But diagnosing a problem is one thing, and finding the cure is something else.
It was another relatively punchless day at the plate in Wednesday’s 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Sonny Gray’s rare off-day might be the first thing that jumps out – he gave up a career-high 10 hits and a career-high tying six earned runs.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Gray lit up in A's 7-3 loss to Rays]
But the right-hander gets a mulligan after the dominant form he’s shown of late. The bigger problem for more than a week now has been the lineup’s long stretches of silence offensively.
“You can’t win ballgames like that when you’re (generating) one hit, two hits by the sixth or seventh innings,” right fielder Josh Reddick said. “We’ve seen that the last week-and-a-half. We know we’re gonna come out of it. We just have to keep working to come out of it.”
The A’s have been held to three runs or less in seven of the past nine games. And in the two games where they did bust out, they shoe-horned most of their scoring into two single innings. They had a six-run ninth to beat Houston 7-4 on July 29, then struck for an eight-run fifth inning in an 8-3 win over Kansas City on Saturday.
Other than those outbursts, it’s been a run here, a couple there. The A’s have clicked offensively for most of this season because of their relentless approach. They jump on an opposing starter in the early innings, get into the bullpen, and continue tacking on runs to give their own pitchers some breathing room. That formula has led to the major league-best run differential of 168 that they enjoyed coming into Wednesday.
But recent games have been characterized by too many quick at-bats that end in weak contact. In six of their past eight contests, the A’s have been shut out through the first four innings, and opposing starters have been able to settle into a groove.
“You like to get a lead early,” manager Bob Melvin said, “and a lot of times that has an effect on where the game goes. Who scores first? And we haven’t recently. We’ve been able to come back in some of these games, but we have to do a little bit (more) earlier, to put pressure on the other side as opposed to always feeling like you have to come back.”
Until they rediscover their mojo at the plate, The Question will linger. And that question centers on last Thursday’s trade of Yoenis Cespedes, and what effect it might be having on the A’s offensive struggles.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson doesn’t draw a direct link between Cespedes’ absence and what’s happening right now.
“I don’t see guys pressing,” he said. “I think some guys are frustrated because they’ve hit some balls and had some tough luck.”
Added Reddick: “We were struggling when he was here, a week before he got traded. So a lot of people can lean on that as a crutch, but we’re not doing that. We know we’re a good lineup with or without him. Obviously we’re going to miss that guy. Somebody’s gotta step up, we just haven’t done it yet.”
Oakland’s offense actually took a downturn beginning with the series in Houston, so it’s more accurate to say Cespedes was only around for three games of this dry spell. However, Reddick’s point is well-taken: Cespedes wasn’t the be-all, end-all of the A’s attack.
But the question isn’t going away unless the A’s do away with it themselves, by rediscovering the offensive form they’ve shown for most of 2014.
Their A.L. West lead over the Los Angeles Angels was shaved to 1 ½ games pending the Angels’ result against the Dodgers on Wednesday night. The A’s are just 3-3 on this 10-game homestand that continues with a four-game set against Minnesota beginning Thursday.
“We can’t rely on those guys to hit a speed bump,” Reddick said of the Angels. “We’ve got to get out of our rut and get back to the team that we know we can be.”