OAKLAND (CBS / AP) — Injuries to the pitching staff, an offense that struggles to generate any runs and a team that always seems to end up on the short side of close games.
The problems that marred the end of manager Bob Geren’s tenure in Oakland and ultimately contributed to his firing are just as evident under replacement Bob Melvin.
The Athletics come out of the All-Star break with the third-worst record in the American League at 39-53 and are 12 games behind Texas in the AL West after being swept by the Rangers in a four-game series.
“Luckily we have four days to relax and put our mind off baseball and come and pretend like it’s a different half,” starter Trevor Cahill said. “It’ll be good for us. Some guys are banged up, some guys need a mental break. I don’t think anybody thinks we’re out of it, If we keep battling, anything’s possible.”
The Athletics were off Thursday, but the news didn’t get any better. Left-handed pitcher Brett Anderson had reconstructive surgery on his elbow and will miss the rest of the season. The A’s originally had hoped rehabilitation would be enough to help him.
Oakland resumes Friday night when it hosts the Angels. And right now, the A’s just need to figure out how to score some runs.
A franchise that was once known for its big bashers at the plate such as Reggie Jackson, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada is on pace for one of its worst offensive seasons in history.
The A’s have managed just 3.4 runs per game—the second-lowest mark in the league. They are also second worst in batting average (.233) on-base percentage (.299) and slugging percentage (.337). Oakland has an AL-worst 50 home runs, having hit more than two in a game just once all season.
The A’s are on pace for the lowest marks in average, on-base percentage and home runs since moving to Oakland in 1968 and the second-lowest runs per game in the Oakland era.
That all adds up to the team’s worst record at the All-Star break since they were 37-52 in 1997.
Few hitters have stepped up, including key offseason acquisitions Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui, who have failed to provide the upgrade on offense that Oakland sorely needs.
“Ultimately we’re going to have to score more runs if we’re going to get back in this thing,” Melvin said. “That’s going to be the focus in the second half, to really believe in ourselves offensively. You can get into a rut. Your expectations come down some where you go through a half and underachieved offensively. It’s my job, the coaches’ job, the players’ job, to get a better mindset and get higher expectations. We have quite a few guys here who can do better offensively.”
The A’s hoped that their first midseason manager change in a quarter century would help wake up the struggling bats. Geren was fired on June 9 after four-plus seasons, losing his final nine games as manager to end this season with a 27-36 record.
Melvin came in and steadied the team quickly and the A’s even showed some life in a six-game winning streak that included a sweep against the World Series champion Giants that raised hope that Oakland could make a second-half run.
But the A’s lost 13 of their next 18 games, including six of seven to division rivals Seattle and Texas in the final week before the break. The A’s scored two or fewer runs in five of those seven games.
Making the offensive struggles even more frustrating is that the pitching has been outstanding for much of the first half. Behind All-Star Gio Gonzalez and Cahill, the A’s have posted an AL-best 3.14 ERA despite having five starters and former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey spend time on the disabled list during the first half.
“This pitching staff we have is pretty unbelievable,” infielder Scott Sizemore said. “They keep us in the game every time. If we can manage to put up some runs for them, we can make a run in the second half.”
The question now is if it’s too late to make that kind of run to get back into contention. The A’s are more likely to trade some of their key players to a contender in the coming weeks than they are to add a needed piece.
But the players aren’t quite ready to give up on this season yet, pointing to a major league-worst record of 12-20 in one-run games as a sign that the team is close to turning the corner.
“We just need to be a little bit more consistent,” rookie second baseman Jemile Weeks said.
“Right now we’re in every game that we’ve lost. That’s the frustrating part about it, we’re losing by one run, two runs. That’s every game. We just need better at-bats and a few more two-out hits. We’re playing great. It’s just a few little things that gives the other team the edge.”
Weeks has been one of the few bright spots in the first half, batting .288 with 11 extra-base hits and seven stolen bases in 30 games. His emergence led to the trade of the team’s longest tenured player, Mark Ellis, to Colorado on June 30.
“Sometimes all it takes is two or three guys or a series where you start to hit on all cylinders,” Melvin said. “It can be contagious just like it can be when you’re struggling.”
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