SEATTLE--It's one thing to keep talking about how the Oakland A's still own the best record in the major leagues.
While it's true that they are tops at 58-36 after Saturday's 6-2 loss to the Mariners, they're having trouble protecting it.
For most of the first three months of the season, Oakland's surge into first place in the American League West was built on equal parts offense and pitching. Lately it's been pitching or nothing, and Saturday was another example of that as the A's could do nothing with Hisashi Iwakuma.
So even though Jesse Chavez turned in a creditable showing on the mound for Oakland, the A's lost for the second consecutive night and for the third time in four games.
And now, one day ahead of the All-Star break, the A's have to wonder what's happened to their offense. In their last 14 games, Oakland is 8-6. Over the same period of time, the second-place Angels are 11-3, and the third place Mariners are 8-5.
In those 14 A's games, they've averaged just 3.4 runs. If you just count the eight wins, they were at 4.4 runs per game. But for the first 94 games of the season, wins and losses the average run production overall is 4.9. For the games before June 29, it was 5.2 runs per game.
So even in the games they've won lately, their offense is struggling to keep up. And ever so gradually the Angels are catching up. With a win over the Rangers on Saturday, the Angels are just 11/2 games out of first place in the American League West with the second-best record in the Majors at 56-37. The Mariners are seven back.
Against Seattle on Saturday, it was more of what the A's have seen lately, this time facing Iwakuma, a good pitcher against whom the A's had success in the past--going 4-3 against him while inflating his ERA to 4.35. His career ERA is 2.89.
Oakland got back-to-back singles from Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie in the second inning, then didn't get another earned base runner until the sixth, when Stephen Vogt singled with two out. John Jaso added a single in the ninth before Brandon Moss got the A's on the scoreboard with a two-out homer.
There were games in the past when the A's would win with relatively low hit totals because they would sprinkle in a home run or two. Home runs have become something of a problem now, however, even with two members of the lineup, Yoenis Cespedes and Donaldson, headed for the All-Star Home Run Derby. Over the last 19 games, Oakland has 12 homers, including Moss'. Not only do the A's have more double plays grounded into (13) during that stretch, the A's pitching, as good as it is, had allowed 19 homers, two of them Saturday.
Part of the homer drought is due to the A's having been less successful recently in working the starting pitcher. That was certainly the case with Iwakuma, who went to a three-ball count three times, twice against Moss and once against Cespedes.
Oakland saw the Mariners get on the scoreboard in the second inning after Corey Hart doubled off the wall in left-center. He thought he'd hit it out against Jesse Chavez, but it scarcely mattered because moments later Dustin Ackley's bullet single made it 1-0.
Chavez held it there until the fifth when Robinson Cano singled and Kyle Seager homered on the first pitch he saw moments later, pushing the A's deficit to 3-0. Cano added a three-run homer off Jim Johnson in the eighth.
--With third base coach Mike Gallego having committed to throwing in the Home Run Derby on Monday in Minneapolis to Cespedes, Donaldson has asked bullpen coach Darren Bush to pitch to him. Bush was going camping, but he got clearance from his family for the gig, and they will all go.
--The A's put infielder Alberto Callaspo on the disabled list and brought up infielder Andy Parrino to fill his spot. Callaspo suffered what manager Bob Melvin described as a Grade 2 strain of his right hamstring while running out a grounder in the second inning Friday. "He's going to have at least seven days off his feet where he doesn't do anything," Melvin said. "So we felt putting him on the disabled list was the way to go."
--Cespedes threw out another runner at the plate, this time getting Willie Bloomquist in the eighth inning. That's 11 outfield assists for him, best in the big leagues. It was challenged, but the call stood.
--Drew Pomeranz threw four innings, struck out seven, walked none and allowed one run on one hit, a homer in his first injury rehabilitation assignment Saturday with Sacramento. " Josh Reddick (right knee) is scheduled to start his injury rehab assignment with the River Cats on Sunday.
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