Programming note: For all the day’s sports news, tune in to SportsNet Central tonight and every night at 6, 10:30 p.m. and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
It’s safe to say the A’s have seen enough of the Kansas City Royals for the rest of the regular season.
As they move on to Atlanta after dropping three of four to the Royals (and five of seven in the season series), it’s a good time to take stock of some primary issues facing this team.
Away we go …
Since July 28, the A’s have been held to three runs or fewer in 12 of their 17 games. Obviously, regaining their offensive punch has got to be priority No. 1. What’s the key to making that happen? Cast your attention to the outfield. And no, we’re not talking about a certain slugger now wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform.
[INSTANT REPLAY: A's stumble late, drop series to Royals]
Center fielder and leadoff man Coco Crisp has been ice-cold since returning from a seven-game layoff for a strained neck. Crisp went 1-for-5 in Thursday’s 7-3 loss to the Royals, making him 5-for-35 (.143) with three runs in 10 games since his return. It’s hard to see the A’s doing major scoreboard damage, on a consistent basis anyway, without the speedy switch hitter heating up himself.
Crisp despises talking about his health status with reporters, but he’s been in the lineup for eight of the past nine games. We can deduce from that that he must be feeling relatively well physically, though A’s head trainer Nick Paparesta said recently that Crisp will probably be playing through neck pain for the rest of the season.
Last year, Crisp hit 13 homers, drove in 31 runs and scored 45 in 58 games over the second half. He shouldn’t be expected to replicate that power, but the point is, the A’s offense starts chugging along when Crisp is making things happen atop the lineup. Getting more production from him takes on greater importance after the Yoenis Cespedes trade.
And while we’re on the topic of speedy center fielder types, a healthy return by Craig Gentry would add another element that was quite important to the A’s first-half success on offense. He’s missed the past 17 games with a fractured right hand, and he’s just now hitting off a tee and taking soft toss. Once he’s able to take batting practice, he should be able to head out on a rehab assignment.
The A’s went 18-6 over their first 24 road games, but since then they are 15-21. They finish off this seven-game road trip with a three-game set in Atlanta, a team that has struggled of late and has lost ground in the National League postseason chase. Can the A’s take advantage?
The Royals have proven to be a tough matchup for the A’s, and you wonder how things would shake out if they wound up facing each other in a playoff series. Kansas City not only has a terrific bullpen but plenty of speed as well. And that speed played a factor in the just-completed series.
The Royals put pressure on the A’s defense by dropping down bunts, and on Thursday they used the hit-and-run effectively and stole three bases.
It’s gone somewhat under the radar how effective teams have been stealing off the A’s this season, and it’s something to watch down the stretch. Opponents have been successful on 71 of 85 steal attempts, an 83.5 percent opponents’ success rate that is third-highest in the majors. It would also be the highest percentage allowed in Oakland history (the 2005 squad allowed an 81.3 percent success rate).
Not having Stephen Vogt’s strong throwing arm available at catcher hurts the A’s in this area, although it’s also up to the pitchers to help control the running game. Vogt’s foot injury has relegated him mainly to first base of late.
Will the weekend series in Atlanta bring out a little extra from several Athletics who have ties to the region? Jason Hammel is from Greenville, S.C., Sonny Gray was born and raised in Tennessee and Jon Lester owns an offseason home in Atlanta. That trio will start all three games on the mound for the A’s, and a couple Georgia natives will be roaming the outfield in Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick.