What's going on in Oakland?

September 25, 2012, 9:03 pm
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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.