Baseball / Sports

A's offense struggles again, lose to Rays, 7-3

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Sonny Gray was on a streak of six consecutive starts giving up zero or one earned run, so when he gets kicked around like he did in the A's 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday afternoon, it's easy enough to dismiss that as an aberration.

It's less easy to be quite as charitable with the Oakland offense, which has gone from potent to placid in the last week or two.

The team that even now leads the major leagues in runs scored (554) has gotten away from its stated mission of working the count on starting pitchers and forcing them out of the game early so the A's can tee off against second-level relievers. It's a formula that the A's made work in the season's first 101 games, averaging 5.0 runs per game.

In the last dozen games, though, the run production is down to 3.75 per game. That the A's have been able to go 6-6 during that stretch is primarily a credit to the pitching, including a bullpen that hasn't allowed a run in its last 26 innings.

"We just have to get through it," said first baseman Brandon Moss, who was hitless in three at-bats Wednesday and is now 0-for-17, matching the longest hitless streak of his career. "The key is to do the best you can to not give away at-bats. We have to work at-bats."

The A's are in a stretch where they're facing good pitching. They've done that before without falling down the rabbit hole. What's different now? The easy answer is to look at the July 31 trade of left fielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes.

It's a little simplistic, because the A's, now 69-44, were on the skids offensively for a week before that trade went down. Moss was already struggling; he's hitting just .165 in his past 23 games. Coco Crisp wasn't even playing at that point, just returning to the lineup for the last two games after seven games off. The scoring was down three-quarters of a run per game before Cespedes departed.

"Obviously we miss Cespy," right fielder Josh Reddick said. "But we were struggling when he was here before he got traded. We're not hanging on that as a crutch. We know we're a good lineup. Somebody has got to step up. We haven't done it yet."

When the A's made the deal, the rationale was that by having Stephen Vogt and Gomes in a platoon, both men having much better on-base percentages than Cespedes, the loss could be mitigated. Vogt was hitting .351 at the time. He's hitless in his past 23 at-bats after an 0-for-3 on Wednesday. For Vogt, if for no one else, the departure of Cespedes has hurt, if only because Vogt, now at .315, has been trying to be the guy who steps up.

"I've got to be more mentally tough," Vogt said. "I know for the last week I've been mentally weak. I feel there are times with no one on base I try to get bigger, maybe try to drive the ball out of the park. And that's not the type of hitter I am. Home runs happen for me, I don't create them."

Cespedes was that type of hitter. Vogt will only be able to do his part to replace Cespedes' production by being the hitter he can be. And he needs to get back to what he was doing before the trade.

"You want to get one good swing that's going to get you back on it," Vogt said. "That isn't always a home run. But for some reason as baseball players, we're stupid. We think one big hit is going to get us right back to that feeling instead of just taking a good at-bat and hitting the ball hard somewhere.

"I don't know what I'm at right now; I know I haven't had a hit in a long time. I know when I got broken was when I took an 0-for-4 in Houston (on July 29). I hit two balls on the screws, right at people. The tendency for us is to change things when that happens when you don't need to. It makes me mad that I'm trying to change things. That goes for a lot of people in this room."

(c)2014 The Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.)

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