OAKLAND — Cut through all the analysis of injuries, traded players and clubhouse chemistry, and one truth is undebatable regarding the A’s.
To win, they have to defend their home turf. And that hasn’t been the case going on two seasons now.
The A’s are enduring a rough finish before the Oakland fans, as Saturday’s 5-0 loss to the Rangers demonstrated. It frustrates manager Bob Melvin, who places heavy emphasis on putting on a good show for the faithful.
The A’s enter Sunday’s home finale with a 33-47 mark at the Coliseum. They have to win Sunday just to match last year’s home mark, or else the 2016 club will stand alone with the second-worst home record in Oakland history. Only the 1979 club sputtered worse with a 31-50 mark.
“We’ve kind of cycled back the other way at home here the last couple years,” Melvin said before Saturday’s game. “We had a nice run here where there was great excitement at the park. There’s art work all over the place, out in the outfield. It was a great atmosphere, and it has not been recently because we haven’t played well.”
There’s a direct link between the A’s playing well at home and where they wind up in the standings. From 2012-14, they qualified for the postseason three times and claimed two division titles. Their combined home record over those three seasons was 150-93 (.617).
In the past two seasons, they’ve struggled to a 67-94 home mark (.416), with the prospect of a second consecutive last-place finish unless they turn things around on a season-ending seven-game road trip to Anaheim and Seattle. The A’s (66-88) trail the fourth-place Angels by two games pending Los Angeles’ result Saturday night.
Obviously there’s plenty of factors that play into the shaky performance at home. An Oakland-record 27 disabled list transactions has been a major hindrance, leading to a whopping 19 rookies being used over the course of the season.
And surely, it isn’t wins and losses alone that have kept the fans away. The trades of popular players such as Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson and Josh Reddick have demoralized many fans, as has the A’s never-ending — though quite necessary — quest for a new ballpark.
But the bottom line is the A’s have to find a way to make their home field a true advantage again if they’re to climb up the division standings.
They brought a boatload of momentum home with them from their last road trip, when they went 6-1 and averaged 9.3 runs over seven games. So far on this 0-5 homestand, the A’s have averaged just 1.6 runs and have been blanked the past two days in games started by Texas’ top two starters, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish.
“We’re an offense that can put up runs. We showed that on the road trip,” second baseman Joey Wendle said. “It’s a matter of putting up quality at-bats, just repeating that process. We saw two of the best pitchers in baseball the last couple times. It’s tough to get stuff going off them right now.”
Sonny Gray threw 50 pitches during a morning session off the mound that included three batters hitting off him. He came away from it feeling very good, and Melvin said if Gray bounces back well Sunday, the A’s will find a game for him to pitch in on the final trip. Sidelined since early August with a strained right forearm, Gray said he’s feeling no ill effects physically as he ramps up activity.
An MRI taken shortly after the injury showed Gray had inflammation but no structural damage.
“It’s nice, but we were never concerned that it was something serious,” Gray said. “After we got the MRI back and you could tell exactly what it is, there was never a thought that there were going to be complications. It definitely wasn’t a major thing.”
Two employees will be honored before Sunday’s game for 50 years of service at the Coliseum. Harold Miller and Max Jacinto were both ticket-takers for the first event held at the Coliseum, a Raiders-Chiefs game on Sept. 18, 1966. Jacinto still works as a ticket-taker at Gate C, and Miller works the register in the press dining room.