It really wasn’t that long ago that the Oakland Athletics appeared to be on their way to cruising to a second straight AL West title. On July 29th, with their victory in the opener of their three game series versus the Toronto Blue Jays, they opened up a nice and comfortable six game lead in the division race over the Texas Rangers. They lost the final two games of that series and proceeded to lose their weekend series against the Rangers to see their lead slip back to just 2.5 games. The Rangers won on Monday this week while the A’s were off, and proceeded to sweep the Los Angeles Angels in a three game set while the A’s got swept in Cincinnati by the Reds in their two game set. Where does that leave us? The A’s and the Rangers are now tied atop the AL West.
Not exactly the smooth sailing A’s fans envisioned for the rest of the regular season as of just over a week ago.
There are a number of culprits that have contributed to this free fall for the A’s: the anemic offense, the inconsistent starting pitching, the unreliable bullpen, and a general malaise that has overtaken this team.
The offense was never supposed to be a strength of this team. The home run barrage they experienced during the second half of the season was something of a mirage, and could not be expected to repeat itself in 2013. Without those home runs flying out of ballparks across the league, the Athletics needed to take higher quality at bats, and take more of them. They have done very little of that. While some players have come to life at the plate, most notably Eric Sogard and Brandon Moss who have been the just about the lone sources of offense for the team during this recent funk. Jed Lowrie has continued to provide solid offense as well. But they need to get Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson, and Josh Reddick to be contributors once again. Both Crisp and Donaldson have been key offensive players at points this year, but Reddick hasn’t been a contributor in over a year.
Despite their near comeback on Wednesday against the Reds, just about any deficit has seemed insurmountable. They need to get back to A’s baseball, and that means working the counts, finding their pitch to hit, and driving the ball when they find that pitch.
The pitching staff hasn’t pulled their weight either. Bartolo Colon, who had been among the best starters in the American League for much of the season hasn’t looked particularly sharp recently. His worst start of the season took place on Wednesday against the Reds. Jarrod Parker has had an extended run of quality starts, and while he did experience a little bump in the road recently, he looks to continue his improvement this year. The major problems lie within the middle and the back end of the rotation with Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, and Dan Straily. Milone of course has been sent back to Sacramento and may or may not get the call back when the A’s need a 5th starter next week. Both he and Griffin have given up a tremendous amount of home runs this season, and while a majority of Griffin’s homers have been solos, it points to a more serious problem. Straily seemed to have overcome his problems with the long ball, but he has now given up 8 home runs over his last 8 starts after allowing just 3 in his first 10. The chances are good that Sonny Gray and the returning Brett Anderson will find chances to make starts in the coming weeks.
As for the bullpen, they have taken their lumps as of late, and Jerry Blevins has unfortunately been at the heart of it all. He may not start the fires, but he does his best to stoke the flames when he gets the chance. He’s been a really solid reliever for the last couple years in the A’s bullpen, but recently he has not been able to be relied upon to get the big outs when he’s needed. There is still time to get help for the bullpen, and one would figure Billy Beane will do his best to make that happen.
This is a big moment for the 2013 Athletics, and they have to get their legs back underneath them and realize that they now have a huge task on their hands in battling the Texas Rangers for the AL West title. It’s going to be a dogfight from here until the end of the season, and the A’s better be ready for it.