Programming note: Royals-A’s coverage starts Saturday at 12:30 p.m. with A’s Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
OAKLAND – For those wondering how the A’s would respond without Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup, Friday’s 1-0 loss to Kansas City sure didn’t allay any fears.
Certainly, it’s premature to draw a direct link between Cespedes being gone and the A’s anemic showing with the bat in front of Friday’s packed house at the Coliseum. But it just wasn’t a good look to struggle the way they did in the very first game since the All-Star slugger was shipped to Boston.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Home run by Ibanez lifts Royals past A's]
Twice, cleanup man Brandon Moss came up empty with a runner on third and less than two outs. Each time, No. 5 hitter Jed Lowrie followed by taking a called third strike to end the inning.
Afterward, Lowrie didn’t hold back his feelings about the strike zone. And it appeared both teams had a problem with home plate umpire Mike Estabrook.
“You look at the frustration coming out of both dugouts,” said Lowrie, who struck out three times. “It was a frustrating night to be a hitter because the strike zone probably was a little bigger than what the guidelines say it should be. But I don’t think it was one sided. It was just a good night to be a pitcher.”
However, the A’s offensive struggles go back further than one game. Subtract the six-run outburst in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s victory in Houston, and the A’s have scored just five runs over their past 35 innings, a four-game span during which they’re 1-3.
That’s not a good trend as the A’s find their American League West lead as small as it’s been over the past three months. The Los Angeles Angels’ victory Friday over Tampa Bay pulled them to within one game of Oakland, matching the A’s smallest lead since it was one game back on April 28.
They should be able to get a runner home from third base with less than two outs, with or without Cespedes. But with him out of the lineup, coming through in such fundamental situations becomes even more crucial over the final two months of the regular season.
Lowrie was asked if there’s the danger of he and his teammates pressing in the batter’s box, after all the hubbub about the A’s trading away one of their top run producers.
“I can’t speak for anybody else in this clubhouse,” Lowrie said. “I know all I can do is be the same guy that I’ve always been. I don’t think they’re asking anyone in here to be anyone they’re not. They just want guys to be who they are.”
The A’s looked like a team in need of a jolt Friday night. It should be provided Saturday courtesy of left-hander Jon Lester, the marquee piece acquired in return for Cespedes, making his Oakland debut.
There will be lots of curiosity, not only in the stands, but surely in the home dugout as well. Right-hander Sonny Gray, who deserved a victory Friday with seven innings of one-run ball, said he’s excited to watch his new teammate in action.
“You know he’s on the team, but then it’s really a different perspective when you come in the clubhouse and he’s actually walking around in A’s gear,” Gray said. “Hopefully he’ll pitch well and we can come out with a win.”
The best welcoming gift the A’s could provide their new teammate would be decent run support. It’ll start with executing in some basic situations where they short-circuited Friday night. And the blame for that shouldn’t be placed on an outfielder now wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform.