When I wrote a couple days ago that the Oakland Athletics were showing a disturbing trend as they repeatedly came up desperately short versus “quality” MLB teams this year, some took it as a blanket statement of pessimism and that I was declaring the 2013 season a failure. That could not be further from the truth, I am fully aware that this is still the month of April and there are still 148 games to be played as of this moment. But the disturbing trend has not ceased, as clearly evident by last night’s shutout loss versus the Baltimore Orioles and Wei-Yin Chen.
See, Wei-Yin Chen is exactly the type of pitcher that illustrates my point. He’s not Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander, two of the game’s best who should and often do dominate the Athletics or any MLB team for that matter. He’s not a scrub either. He’s just a good quality pitcher who has the ability to pitch at or above a league average level. So naturally he held the Athletics to just 2 hits and 2 walks over 8 scoreless innings. The Athletics made Chen look like the reincarnation of Cy Young, rather than the talented, but limited pitcher he really is. It’s unfortunate because the A’s finally got a really good start from someone other than Bartolo Colon, as Tommy Milone surrendered just one unearned run in 6.2 innings of work to take the hard luck loss.
What’s most disappointing about the way Chen dominated the A’s last night though is the fact that the players themselves were not quick to tip their cap to him on a job well done. “We’re not playing with a whole lot of energy. We’re facing guys that have pitched well, but I don’t think we’ve put up a strong enough fight against them,” Jed Lowrie told MLB.com’s Jane Lee. The underlying statement here is that the A’s believe they are beating themselves, not being beaten by superior starting pitching. The team that is known for having fun, playing with a fire unlike any other team, is playing flat right now and it really shows.
When the team struggles as bad as it did last night at the plate, the margin for error is nil. The A’s made a season high 3 errors, and that cost them dearly. A Josh Reddick error in the 7th inning put J.J. Hardy in scoring position, and he was driven in by Steve Pearce two batters later. Then in a curious move, Jed Lowrie was starting at second base after playing all year at shortstop, and he made a costly error in the 9th inning that opened the door for the Orioles to tack on two more runs that sealed the game against an already struggling Ryan Cook. A 3 run deficit might as well have been 10 runs on a night like last night.
I do believe this team will rebound soon enough, and get this season back on the right track. The impending return of Yoenis Cespedes, perhaps by Sunday, will inject a huge boost into the stagnant Athletics lineup. His presence has been crucial to the Athletics success, as Jane Lee tweeted last night, the A’s are 90-48 with Cespedes in the lineup, and just 17-31 without him since he joined the Athletics. Cespedes’ importance to the team lies not only in what his bat brings for the team, but in the impact it has throughout the rest of the lineup. With Cespedes patrolling left field, and Coco Crisp in center, the A’s would be free to give Seth Smith more playing time in right field perhaps to spell the badly struggling Josh Reddick. It may be tough to swallow for many A’s fans, but right now Smith is a much more productive player than Reddick and deserves to be in the lineup everyday no matter what until he cools off.
So as the A’s look to somehow get a win this afternoon against the Orioles, they sit at 13-11 and that 12-4 record that was best in the AL seems like an eternity ago. While this rough patch will not derail the entire season, if the A’s come up just a couple games short of a playoff spot come September, this will be a stretch we will all point to as a primary cause of their failure in the end. There are no meaningless games in April, just ask the 2012 Texas Rangers.