They had received quality starting pitching, and hit well when their bullpen faltered. After 4 of 19 head-to-head matchups with the reigning division champs, the A’s had outscored the Rangers 33-12.
It wasn’t going to last, of course, just as the Rangers weren’t going to go 19-0 against the Houston Astros this season, despite winning the first eight games. The reasons for the A’s current lot in baseball life became evident over the final three games with the Rangers last week at Oakland Coliseum.
With the exception of three players — Khris Davis, Marcus Semien and Stephen Vogt — the A’s are a team of part-timers in full-time roles. Danny Valencia, playing full time and in the midst of a possible All-Star first-half, and fellow flat-footed infielder Jed Lowrie aren’t among the exceptions.
Their starting rotation is in tatters, filled with rookies or second-year pitchers in most spots and with their one true ace, right-hander Sonny Gray, toiling with 5.54 ERA after 12 starts.
Their two highest-paid players, Coco Crisp and Billy Butler, don’t play full time. Crisp is breaking down and can give his best only in small spurts. Butler only had one tool while with Kansas City, hitting, and he can’t even do that well anymore.
Some of the A’s woes can be attributed to injuries to Josh Reddick and 10 others on the disabled list. Some of them, like Mark Canha, would be upgrades, but it’s not as though Oakland is waiting on Reggie Jackson, Dave Stewart and Rickey Henderson to get healthy.
So, they are counting on players such as Valencia, Lowrie, Billy Burns and Jake Smolinski to keep their lineup clicking, and they aren’t capable of doing it. There’s a reason they haven’t played every day for most of their careers, and they will be exposed the more they play.
The A’s, though, aren’t yet in give-up mode, at least on the record. Their architect, Billy Beane, told the New York Post that they want to wait for their healthy players to return to see if they can maybe turn things around.
That might just be posturing from Beane as he attempts to get all that he can for Valencia, who will return to part-time duty once dealt to a contending team. Beane can’t trade left-hander Rich Hill, the AL’s Pitcher of the Month for May who appeared to be signed in the off-season purely for the opportunity to be traded, because he’s on the disabled list.
Gray shouldn’t be dealt, despite his struggles.
But the Aug. 1 trade deadline is approaching, like really fast, and good teams have already entered poaching mode. The 2016 A’s never had much of a chance, and at 14 1/2 games out and in last place in the AL West entering Saturday, they have no chance now.
So, pitchers such as Daniel Mengden will get an extended look. Sean Manaea, who apparently pitches well only against the Rangers, will stick around once he comes off the DL.
The season, though, isn’t likely to become a full-fledged tryout for 2017. Minor-leaguers such as Franklin Barreto, rated by Baseball America as the No. 35 prospect entering the season, and Matt Chapman, a power-hitting third baseman, are only in Double A.
Renato Nunez, another corner infielder who has been considered a prospect since 2010, is at Triple A.
There has been some speculation that their first-round pick, left-hander A.J. Puk from Florida, could pitch this season. Don’t count on it.
The prospects have the misfortune of being with the A’s, who watch service time clocks as close or closer than any MLB team. Oakland needs its prospects for as long as possible, so it isn’t likely to waste time in the majors in a wasted season even if the exposure would help long term.
So, the A’s are stuck and find themselves on the verge of a sell-off. That is on hold until the long line of injured players get healthy.
But it’s not as though Oakland is waiting on Reggie Jackson, Dave Stewart and Rickey Henderson to get healthy.