What's going on in Oakland?


What's going on in Oakland?

ARLINGTON -- What's up with the A's? That seems to be a frequently asked question lately. They have lost six of their last eight games and are starting to look like they are leaking the winning lubricant that had recently made them a well-oiled machine. There's no denying the team is struggling. The bullpen that has been dubbed "The backbone of the team" has recently become a bit worn down, and there are no days off in sight. The team's most productive hitter, Josh Reddick, has been dropped from third, to sixth, to seventh, and most recently he is on the bench on Tuesday. The leadoff hitter, Coco Crisp, has a seemingly endless eye infection that couldn't have come at a worse time. Their starting pitching staff, which once boasted an embarrassment of riches, has been gutted. The three most experienced pitchers -- Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon, and Brett Anderson are all on the shelf. Lately, the A's have also forgotten how to play defense. They have nine games left, six against the American League West-leading Texas Rangers. Couldn't get much worse right?
Wrong.They A's are still two games ahead of the Angels in the Wild Card standings, and just one and a half games behind Baltimore. The seemingly crippling losses they keep suffering have come against three of the better teams in baseball in their home parks. Last weekend the A's dropped two of three to the Yankees in the Bronx, but pushed them to their limit, losing in extra innings in both games. All things considered they played pretty well and ended up with very little to show for it. The six games against Texas are tough, but they also give the A's a small glimmer of hope that they have can narrow the five-game lead the Rangers hold in the American League West.
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They may not for much longer at this rate, but for now the A's control their own destiny. Their magic number is eight to clinch a Wild Card playoff game. When asked about the struggles, two different players both spouted a nearly identical line: "Our backs aren't against the wall."They will have to fix things fast, things that fortunately can be fixed. The defense has been struggling lately to a tune of seven errors in the last three games. On Tuesday, Daric Barton is in the starting lineup and playing first base. Many may cringe at that thought but Brandon Moss and Chris Carter have both struggled defensively at first base in the last few games. Carter has reverted to the old Carter, and Moss made an error that lead to a Yankees walk-off win on Saturday.
NEWS: A's lineup: Pennington leading off
There is no quick fix in sight for the bullpen's fatigue, unless the starting pitchers can go deeper into games. One or two good starts will get the bullpen the rest they need to operate once again on full strength. Dan Straily's effort on Monday was a good step in the right direction. Tommy Milone on Wednesday and Jarrod Parker on Thursday need to do the same. In the meantime, A's manager Bob Melvin will have to be diligent in monitoring the use of his relievers. Unfortunately, that cost them the game on Monday. Reddick and Crisp have been nonexistent in the A's lineup lately for very different reasons. ForCrisp, it's a matter of waiting out the eye infection. The team is 62-43 with him in the lineup and 24-25 when he doesn't play. He looks closer to returning each day. Reddick gets a much needed mental break on Tuesday. He is 0-for-27, which is the longest hitless streak in his career, and hitting .190 with one home run and six RBI over his past 22 games. He has been too good all season long to stay in the dumps. It is a matter of time before he clicks. Before he hit the skids he went 14-for-28 with three home runs and nine RBI over a stretch of six games. One thing that is going well for the A's is that their middle of the infield problem appears to be resolved. Stephen Drew is hitting .317 (13-for-41) with six runs, three homers, and five RBI over his last nine games. Cliff Pennington has made 21 of his last 22 starts at second base and is hitting .364 (24-for-66) with 12 runs scored, three homers, and 10 RBI in his last 20 games. With Crisp out indefinitely, Pennington will be leading off. Maybe he can spark the team like Crisp has done. The A's still have the ability to hit for power. Yoenis Cespedes is surging again, hitting .326 (15-for-46) with five homers and 11 RBI in hist last 13 games. Moss has seven homers in his last 22 games. Josh Donaldson has filled in seamlessly for Brandon Inge, batting .305 (43-for-141) with 22 runs, 11 doubles, seven homers, and 21 RBI in 38 games since being recalled from Sacramento. Really, it isn't all bad. The A's are in the driver's seat for their first postseason spot since 2006. No one saw that coming at the beginning of the year. Let's put it this way: If someone told you in April that Oakland would be two games in the lead for a Wild Card spot with nine to play, you would have been pretty stoked. Things may be tough, but this is where a good team's mettle is tested.

Versatility could help Wendle in crowded A's infield


Versatility could help Wendle in crowded A's infield

MESA, Ariz. — He committed to winter ball for the opportunity to play third base. Instead, Joey Wendle wound up playing lots of shortstop for Yaquis de Obregon in the Mexican League.

It all served the same purpose — make the A’s second baseman more versatile for an organization that values versatility more than ever.

A glance at the numbers shows Wendle faces an uphill battle to make the 25-man roster. Oakland has veteran Jed Lowrie slated to start at second base, and Adam Rosales was brought on board to be the utility infielder. But Wendle made a strong impression in September during his first major league call-up, and he’ll fight to make the A’s infield roster decision a tough one.

“It’s the same approach I’ve always kept,” Wendle said Friday morning. “Just continue focusing on what I can do and playing my game. That’s really all I can control. Everything else is up to the front office and coaching staff. If I do what I feel I’m capable of, I think I’ll put myself in a good position to help the team out at some point this year.”

The A’s like the strides the 26-year-old Wendle has made defensively at second since being acquired from Cleveland in December 2014. He hit .260 with one homer and 11 RBI in 28 games in September, serving as a leadoff man for much of that time.

Manager Bob Melvin likes the fact that Wendle got experience over the winter playing on the left side of the diamond. Wendle found out when he arrived in Mexico that a shortstop originally slated to play for Obregon didn’t pan out, so he got substantial time at short over the course of his 34 games.

“I think just playing the position, understanding what the shortstop has to go through as a second baseman helps you,” Melvin said. “Seeing the game from the other side of the diamond, having to make different throws. He’s a pretty athletic guy.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he could do it. And if you’re keeping one extra infielder and now you can add the position to your repertoire, it gives you another chance to stay at the big league level.”

Wendle took only four or five days off at the end of last season before heading to Mexico, so his 2016 season essentially stretched into late November. He and his wife, Lindsey, lounged on a beach near Obregon to celebrate their second anniversary, but by the time he finished winter ball, Wendle was “pretty fried” in his words.

But he arrived at camp refreshed and ready to compete for a roster spot.

“Until a player makes it to the major leagues, there’s a big question mark in his head as to whether he can do it or not,” Wendle said. “(The September call-up) was big for me. I think I proved to myself to an extent that at least I’m capable of playing at that level. Obviously, it’s a game of adjustments, so the ability to do that is going to be huge if I get another opportunity up there.”

Rajai Davis hitting leadoff in A's exhibition opener Saturday

Rajai Davis hitting leadoff in A's exhibition opener Saturday

MESA, Ariz. — A’s manager Bob Melvin announced his lineup for Saturday’s exhibition opener against the Chicago Cubs, and at least the top of the order has an Opening Day look to it.

Rajai Davis will lead off and handle center field, and that’s the role Melvin envisioned for him when he was signed in the winter as a free agent. Marcus Semien will bat second, a spot that could also potentially be occupied by Jed Lowrie were he in the lineup at second base.

The heart of the order features new right fielder Matt Joyce hitting third, Mark Canha handling left field and batting cleanup and designated hitter Stephen Vogt hitting fifth. On Opening Night, obviously, Khris Davis will play left and likely bat cleanup, but it’s quite possible Melvin sticks with the left-handed hitting Joyce and Vogt sandwiching the right-handed Davis.

Though Trevor Plouffe projects as the everyday third baseman, prospect Matt Chapman gets the start Saturday against the defending World Series champs, and there was thought behind that as Melvin wants the highly regarded Chapman to experience what should be a raucous atmosphere at Sloan Park in Mesa. It’s the Cubs first game of any kind since winning their first Series since 1906, and the intensity should be cranked up from that of a typical Cactus League opener.

“It’s one of the reasons a guy like Matt Chapman is in the lineup,” Melvin said. “I want (young players) to see what is going on over there.”

He mentioned the A’s other top-rated position player prospect, Franklin Barreto, will get time at shortstop Saturday.

Right-hander Jesse Hahn will make the start on the mound, and he’ll face a Cubs split-squad lineup that includes Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jason Hayward, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell. The Cubs have crammed more than 15,000 fans into Sloan Park before, and it won’t be a surprise to see the ballpark at capacity.

“For me, it’s just the first game of the year, so it’s exciting for me no matter who it is,” Hahn said. “I mean, it’s a plus to go over there in that stadium. Everybody knows how electric that stadium is.”

Here’s the A’s full lineup Saturday:

R. Davis CF

Semien SS

Joyce RF

Canha LF

Vogt DH

Chapman 3B

Alonso 1B

Rosales 2B

Maxwell C

Hahn RHP