San Francisco Chronicle
AL West foes dominate A’s home stretch
ANAHEIM — Coined in April, “Ride the Wave” remains a fitting phrase for this year’s A’s. They have done so to both extremes.
April held streaks of six losses and 13 wins. The A’s built a season-high 21⁄2-game lead in the AL West amid a seven-game win streak in June. They held at least a share of a playoff spot until Aug. 22, when they fell from the picture amid a stretch of 10 losses in 12 games.
They finished Sunday two games out of the AL’s second wild-card spot and six games back in the AL West. A current five
game winning streak, though, invites the question: With two weeks left, does one last crest remain to carry Oakland into the postseason?
“September is when good teams show up, and we have to do that,” catcher Sean Murphy said after a 3-1 win Saturday. “We’re still in this. We’re in striking distance. We’ve just got to win a bunch of games from here on out, and we absolutely know we can do it.”
Three AL East teams sit above the A’s in the wildcard race. Boston holds the top spot, a game ahead of Toronto, with the Yankees 11⁄2 games back of the Blue Jays. Boston owns perhaps the easiest remaining schedule of those teams, with one of its final four series against an above-.500 team and six games against the last-place Orioles and Nationals.
Toronto also has a series left with Baltimore and the sub-.500 Twins but will play the Yankees and first-place Rays as well. The Yankees face the last-place Rangers before finishing with series against the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays. Much can change amid the AL East entrants.
“We’re not gauging anything right now other than trying to win today’s game,” manager Bob Melvin said Sunday. “I think as far as the wild-card goes right now, we just need to win as many games as we can and that starts with today. … We know we have a couple of good teams coming up against us and we’re going to have to win a lot of games against them. So, just try not to get ahead of ourselves.”
The A’s play their final 13 games against the Mariners (seven) and the Astros (six). Both teams have presented a challenge. The A’s are 4-8 against Seattle this season, despite outscoring the Mariners 52-47. They are 4-9 against Houston and have been outscored 81-46 in those 13 games.
Its recent offensive performance is encouraging for Oakland. The A’s are averaging 5.3 runs per game since Aug. 7 and entered Sunday fourth in the majors in runs in that span, a turn by a group that struggled to score for stretches through July.
In the same window, though, their pitching has faltered. The A’s owned a 3.65 ERA through Aug. 6. That figure is 4.70 in their past 39 games. They have a 5.62 ERA in September, third highest in the majors.
“I think we’re all kind of disappointed in how the year has gone, just in the aspect of I think we’ve put nothing together the entire year,” injured starter Chris Bassitt said. “Our pitching was really good and our hitting was really bad, and then our hitting was really good and our pitching was really bad. And we know we’re a lot better team than what we’ve kind of put ourselves in.
“But for how bad we’ve played this year, we still have a chance for the division and we still have a chance to make the playoffs. I think we all understand we could have played a lot better. But we can’t change the past — let’s make the best of the future kind of thing.”
Bassitt is attempting a return from facial fractures caused by a line drive on Aug. 17. He would rejoin a rotation laboring late in the season, with Frankie Montas’ second-half consistency the outlier. Shaky relief has compounded issues as the A’s bullpen owns a 6.07 ERA in its past 26 games.
“To get through an entire big-league season is very hard, and we just don’t have many guys that have done that — truthfully including myself,” Bassitt said of the rotation. “So, I mean, yeah, I think guys got a little tired, but have kind of got their legs underneath them. So, hopefully when I come back, I can give guys an extra day of break kind of thing and get them where you need to be.”
A division push, however unlikely, is not impossible due to two remaining series with Houston. Seattle can also still be a factor. The Mariners are two games behind Oakland.
“We can’t look at what Houston’s doing. We can’t look at what New York and Boston and Toronto and all these teams are doing; we’ve just got to take care of our business,” Bassitt said. “We don’t care about tomorrow. We don’t care about the next day. We have to win today. Put the pressure on everybody else, and whatever happens at the very end, that’s what happens.”