There’s an ugly statistic circling over the 2015 Oakland Athletics, and it’s a continuation of a problem that reared its ugly head last summer: Suddenly, the A’s can’t win close games anymore. They dropped their eighth contest of this young season already in games decided by one or two runs today, blowing a save—another irritant left over from their collapse last August and September—in the ninth inning of a 7-6 loss to the Houston Astros at home.
For those keeping score of such things, Oakland just got swept at home by the once-lowly Astros and now trails Houston by four games in the American League West division. Both teams made a statement in this series, and it wasn’t the one the A’s were looking to make this April.
Oakland hasn’t yet won a close game this year, in fact, and until they start doing so, the team just can’t be taken seriously as a contender for the AL West title. Few believe the Astros will run away with the division, but with Los Angeles and Seattle scuffling, the A’s have missed a golden opportunity already to start putting themselves in the front position. Even if they’d just split those eight close games, Oakland would be 12-8 instead of 8-12.
Remember those days when the boys in green had a gazillion consecutive winning months? That ended last August, of course, and now the A’s can’t put together even a single winning month: They’ve already clinched a third-straight losing month now, dating back to last season.
What’s happened to the Melvin Magic?
This ugliness starts with the bullpen, of course, which for some reason has just gotten worse. It cost the A’s big time in the 2012 and 2013 AL playoff series against the Detroit Tigers, and the bullpen was a primary problem down the stretch last year and in the AL Wild Card game in 2014. With a 1-6 record now this season, nothing has improved despite Manager Bob Melvin and General Manager Billy Beane making a lot of roster moves in the offseason and already this month.
With closer Sean Doolittle out, all roles have been adjusted, and perhaps that’s the issue. But a big reason the bullpen stinks is that it just lacks talent. Tyler Clippard is not a closer; he is an excellent set-up man, though. Today’s blown save is just another reminder of the role problems the bullpen is experiencing with Doolittle injured. Every guy is pitching more important innings than usual, and more often than not, they’re stinking up the joint.
Every team has injuries, though, and they’re just a poor excuse for poor execution overall. The A’s defense has been porous as well, and today two more unearned runs made a huge difference in the outcome of the game. How are you supposed to win the close ones when you’re giving away runs so readily?
Thankfully, it is just April 26, and although Oakland already has blown many chances to take charge of the AL West early, the belief has to be there still that Melvin will right the ship; he hasn’t won two Manager of the Year awards because he stinks. However, these first 20 games have been relatively bad, ugly and wrong for the A’s in 2015.
With 142 games left in the season, there still is plenty of time to recover. But the longer that has to become the mantra, the less it begins to mean: That’s baseball.