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It’s never a guarantee where the critical breakdown will come from the A’s. The only guarantee seems to be that it will, eventually, come.
One of the secrets behind their back-to-back division championships of the past two seasons was their ability to win the nail biters.
Oakland went 25-18 in one-run games in 2012, then followed that up with a 30-20 record last season.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Defense betrays A's, White Sox win 2-1]
They are 20-24 in one-run decisions this season, and it’s a huge reason why they are making their American League wild card pursuit much more perilous than it needs to be.
Seven of the A’s past eight games have been decided by one run – they’re 1-6 in those contests.
Their 2-1 loss Wednesday to the Chicago White Sox was characterized by the stellar defense they were playing through the first seven innings behind Jeff Samardzija.
Then the bottom of the eighth arrived, with Oakland leading 1-0, and it didn’t take long for that uneasy feeling to settle in. Carlos Sanchez hit a grounder up the middle. Second baseman Eric Sogard went to a knee and made a sliding attempt on the ball, only to have it bound away from him. It was a tough, but makeable play, and the White Sox had their leadoff batter on.
Then first baseman Nate Freiman fielded a potential double-play grounder and threw it into left field for an error, putting runners at first and second. From there, reliever Luke Gregerson needed to be perfect. He struck out Alexei Ramirez, but then threw a wild pitch that moved runners to second and third.
He got another strikeout but eventually surrendered Avisail Garcia’s two-run single that was the difference-maker.
This defeat, their 10th in the last 13 games, stung more in that the A’s missed a chance to pick up a game on Detroit and Seattle, their closest wild-card pursuers who both lost. Oakland leads the Tigers by 1 ½ games and the Mariners by 2.
Afterward, manager Bob Melvin was left trying to provide answers for yet another defeat. He pointed to an offense that simply can’t function with any consistency. On Tuesday, the A’s busted out for 11 runs. A night later, they faced a starter (Chris Bassitt) pitching in just his third major league game and mustered just five hits total.
The failure to build on their 1-0 lead is “kind of a common theme here recently,” Melvin said. “We need to be better offensively. We’re putting way too much pressure on the pitching at this point, and when we don’t add on, you’re making them be perfect.”
But here’s what’s so troubling about the A’s current state: You can no longer focus the blame on one specific area. Yes, the offense continues to short-circuit – Oakland is averaging just 3.59 runs over its past 29 games.
But the bullpen let ninth-inning leads slip away Sunday and Monday. The defense broke down late in Wednesday’s game. Even the talent-rich starting rotation has been no guarantee to deliver on a daily basis.
Given all of that, it’s no wonder the A’s haven’t won consecutive games since Aug. 22-23.
Yet, there’s still time. They have 17 games left to tighten things up and start to at least remotely resemble the group that held the majors’ best record for much of this season.
The A’s have found lots of different ways to lose the see-saw games that could go either way. It’s time they find a way to start winning them.