OAKLAND – One thing is certain about the A’s: They’ve maxed out on fresh starts.
When they’ve struggled at the Coliseum, they’ve talked of getting out on the road, turning the page and finding a hot streak away from Oakland. And when they’ve stumbled on the road, they’ve looked forward to getting back in front of their home fans so they could start cranking out wins.
Manager Bob Melvin stated firmly at the end of the last 3-7 road trip that the A’s would turn the corner on this homestand. That they were on the cusp, and would start pulling out games they had found a way to lose.
So after Sunday’s 7-3 loss to the White Sox put the finishing touches on a 1-5 homestand, where exactly do the A’s go from here? Where are the signs that Oakland – saddled with the major leagues’ worst record at 13-26 – is on the verge of a turnaround?
“You look at our record right now, we’re behind the 8 ball,” Melvin said. “You talk all you want about ‘It will turn, it will turn.’ We have to make it turn.”
Their four-error performance Sunday gives them a staggering 42 in 39 games played, including 21 errors in their past 14 contests alone.
It’s a team-wide affliction that is popping up all over the diamond, and it happened right out of the gate Sunday. Chicago’s first-inning scoring rally was gift-wrapped by two errors. First, A’s starter Scott Kazmir failed to get the handle on Emilio Bonifacio’s bunt and then catcher Stephen Vogt threw wildly to first on what should have been an inning-ending home-to-first double play.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Defense, Kazmir fall short in loss to White Sox]
Rookie first baseman Max Muncy could have caught Vogt’s throw had he left his feet rather than trying to make the stretch. And as the ball sailed into right field, Kazmir’s chin slumped to his chest in dejection. That’s hardly the body language you want from your starting pitcher, especially in the first inning. But his outward expression spoke volumes – it was yet another defensive breakdown that wound up costing the A’s.
But the front office has some thinking to do about individual issues as well. How long do they stick with Marcus Semien at shortstop, after he committed two more errors that brought his major-league leading total to 13? Ben Zobrist, nearing a return from knee surgery, is set to begin a minor league rehab assignment with Single-A Stockton on Tuesday. When he returns, might the A’s consider moving Zobrist to short and Semien to second? Both have experience at those spots.
Or with the A’s already 12½ games back in the division, do team officials find it more beneficial to let Semien play through his struggles at short? They certainly haven’t affected him offensively.
“There are times you have to battle through some tough times, and defensively he’s going through a tough stretch,” Melvin said. “We feel like he has the ability to do it. Offensively he’s doing great stuff. There are times defensively he’s doing good stuff. It’s just being a little more consistent on a day-to-day basis, getting through a couple of games where you make some nice plays and your confidence is rolling.”
There are other more subtle defensive issues that are troubling. Twice on Sunday the White Sox hustled out doubles on hits that, off the crack of the bat, didn’t seem destined to be two-baggers. One was a hit into center, and another was a hit into left-center that either Billy Burns or left fielder Coco Crisp should have gotten to sooner.
Given a sliver of daylight, opponents are taking advantage of a team whose collective confidence seems to be reeling.
And it’ll be impossible for the A’s to turn this season around unless they start consistently winning series at home. From 2010-14, the A’s played at a .593 clip at the Coliseum, posting a 240-165 combined home record. So far this season, the A’s have rolled out the red carpet for opponents to the tune of a 5-14 home record.
The good news is it’s still only May, so there’s time for a turnaround. But the signs that one is coming are lacking.
“We’ve just got to find something, I don’t what it is,” right fielder Josh Reddick said. “We’ve just got to find out what it is that gets us going, grab ahold of it and lock it up. Put it in the box, throw the key away. But right now I don’t think we have any clue what it is because everything we keep trying just doesn’t work.”