Once September hits, organizational depth separates good contenders from great ones. The Oakland A’s deflating loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday showed why the A’s may not have enough depth to run away with a postseason spot down the stretch.
The A’s blew a six-run eighth-inning lead and lost 11-10 on Marcus Semien’s walk-off three-run home run off Sergio Romo in Toronto Friday night. It will stick as one of Oakland’s most gut-wrenching losses of the year, but it’s another in a series of games in which the A’s flirted with or succumbed to large blown-leads.
“It’s not a good feeling when you lose like that,” Mark Canha said. “But I don’t think anyone’s losing faith or anything. We’re a confident group. We’re gonna come out tomorrow and keep competing. I think we’re competing really well. We just have to keep fighting.”
In this one, Semien’s ninth-inning home run was the dagger, but the lead up was ominous and familiar. Lou Trivino, in his first outing since he blew consecutive saves last month, walked leadoff batter Breyvic Valera, gave up a hit to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and hit Bo Bichette with a pitch to load the bases. Yusmeiro Petit walked in a run, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. launched his first pitch cutter for the grand slam to make it 8-8 heading into the ninth inning.
Canha took back the momentum in the top of the ninth with a two-run home run. But Romo allowed a single to Valera and a double to George Springer to set up the loss.
Fitting for the A’s to have Semien serve the final blow — a reminder to the team’s ownership of what a marginally bigger budget can earn a team in wins above replacement. Semien’s 5.5 fWAR is second-highest in baseball — his teammate Guerrero Jr. ranks first with 5.6.
In eight of their last 12 games against the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers, the A’s bullpen has either given up a late lead or nearly given up one. This is because of the domino effect of an overtaxed pitching staff starting to feel the weight of the last five months catch up.
With an extra day off due to a rotation switch, Sean Manaea answered a troubling August in which he accrued a 9.90 ERA by looking like his old self. A two-run home run to Teoscar Hernandez was the only mark on his seven-inning outing in which he threw just 86 pitches, struck out nine and walked none.
“I definitely felt good to go back out there,” Manaea said. “But at the end of the day it’s BoMel’s decision. So I respect that.”
Melvin said he kept Manaea out of the eighth inning to keep him away from seeing Toronto’s lineup a fourth time, and also to lessen his workload. Melvin has said previously that both the rotation and the bullpen are starting to get taxed. Against league-wide trends, the A’s have used five starters for more than 15 starts this year. Some, like rookie James Kaprielian, haven’t pitched this deep into a season yet. High leverage bullpen arms — Trivino, Petit, Romo, Jake Diekman, Andrew Chafin, for example — are the first and last line of defense to keep games in-tact. With the starters before Manaea’s outing tossing five innings or fewer in 12 of their last 19 games with a 5.13 ERA, the defense appears to be wearing down.
“It’s more the starters to an extent — whether it’s Kap or anybody — getting to areas where they haven’t pitched before,” Melvin said. “Last year with the shorter season, it’s a lot this year. We’ve been having to use our bullpen a little more recently when our starter doesn’t go deeper into games, and that will tax our bullpen as well.”
With the A’s trying to keep pace in the postseason race, these bullpen collapses and deflating losses are magnified. When one part of the team starts scuffling, the other comes to life.
Offense stays hot
The A’s offense continued its hot streak, now scoring 33 runs over the four games on this road trip so far. They built a healthy lead against Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah, who struggled with his control. The A’s struck early, putting up two runs on Matt Chapman’s bases-loaded double in the first inning.
Manoah gave the A’s bench a scare in the fifth inning, hitting Starling Marte on the side of his helmet — much to the chagrin of the A’s bench, Manoah stayed in the game. Marte stayed in the game, too, taking his base. He and Josh Harrison, who was also hit on the hand by a pitch, scored on Matt Olson’s RBI double to give the A’s a 4-2 lead.
Marte was removed from the game in the fifth inning for outfielder Skye Bolt.
“They checked him out for a concussion, we don’t think eh has a concussion,” Melvin said. “It’s sore to the touch right now, no headache.”
Canha drew a walk from the wild Manoah and Tony Kemp hit a two-run home run to extend the A’s lead, knocking Manoah out of the game.
Oakland didn’t stop with Manoah out. Chapman struck again in the seventh inning, hitting a two-run single against Nate Pearson.
“We’re doing a lot of good things,” Canha said. “We’re competing our butts off. There’s a positive and we can take that positive away today.”