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Athletics News

A's reflect on 'bittersweet end to the story'

October 3, 2019

OAKLAND -- There’s no formula to prepare for the heartbreak that comes with the grind of a 162-game season coming to a sudden end in the Wild Card Game. Even for the A’s, who met the same fate in 2018, the feeling was no less painful going through it for

OAKLAND -- There’s no formula to prepare for the heartbreak that comes with the grind of a 162-game season coming to a sudden end in the Wild Card Game.

Even for the A’s, who met the same fate in 2018, the feeling was no less painful going through it for the second year in a row. It was actually the opposite, as many players who were around last season felt confident of their chances to advance into the American League Division series this time around. Instead, their season ended on Wednesday with a 5-1 loss to the Rays, who celebrated at the Coliseum before advancing to the ALDS against the Astros.

As A’s players convened back at the Coliseum one last time Thursday afternoon to pack up their lockers and begin their offseason, the wound was still fresh, with many still in shock.

“I thought I would be here right now getting ready to fly to Houston,” closer Liam Hendriks said. “It’s a bittersweet end to the story. I never anticipated not advancing and not giving this a good run. It’s a frustrating time. Just not the way we wanted to go out. We broke a record for the biggest crowd and weren’t able to live up to the hype.”

Starting pitcher Sean Manaea verbally beat himself up during his session with reporters following Wednesday’s loss, placing the blame for Oakland’s season ending solely on himself after his career-high three home runs surrendered over the game's first three innings put the A’s in an early deficit that was too much to overcome.

Once manager Bob Melvin caught wind of those comments, he returned to the Coliseum Thursday and made it a point to pull the left-hander into his office and let Manaea know that neither he nor any other one player on the 25-man roster was responsible for the defeat.

“I appreciate what Sean said yesterday. I talked to him today. He did not lose that game,” Melvin said. “We lose every game as a team. He deserved to pitch that game. As far as he came, the numbers he put up leading up to that game, how could he not?

“Mike [Fiers] had a terrific season, but when you have a guy that’s 4-0 with a one-something ERA and it didn’t seem like he gave up a hit at times, timing is everything. You want to put your best product out there based on what’s been done recently, and he was the guy for the job. He didn’t lose that game. Unless he throws a shutout, we don’t win that game. We lost it as a group.”

Perhaps the more concerning revelation from Wednesday’s loss was the lack of success in situational hitting. Including their final six games of the regular season before the Wild Card Game, the A’s ended the year going 2-for-49 with runners in scoring position over their final seven games.

It’s no secret the A’s possess a juggernaut of an offense, with their 257 home runs over the regular season setting a franchise record. But with the tough pitching that often arises in the postseason, games can tend to come down to small ball, an issue for the A’s that will need to be addressed come Spring Training after they finished 2019 going 7-for-30 in games where they did not hit a home run.

In other words, you can’t just live and die with the homer.

“That becomes apparent in games like that,” Melvin said of his club’s situational hitting woes. “When you face a guy like [Charlie] Morton and a bullpen [the Rays] have, you might run into one, but you have to be able to score differently. We are a home run-hitting team, but I think come Spring next year, maybe we’ll put more of an emphasis on having to win games differently.

“It can be just talked about, too. Seeds planted for the overall thinking and outlook. Then you try to do some things, fundamentally, to enhance that. But I think our guys know, based on the way the season ended, that we have to find other ways to win games.”

In Manaea’s case, the A’s only expect him to go up from here. Fully recovered from left shoulder surgery, he’ll be featured in a 2020 starting rotation that could consist of Manaea, Fiers, Frankie Montas and top prospects Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk (ranked Nos. 1 and 2 respectively, per MLB Pipeline), both of whom contributed down the stretch out of the bullpen.

It sets up the A’s pretty well on the pitching side for next year, regardless of what happens with Brett Anderson, Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark -- three starters who are all set to hit the open market as free agents this winter.

“I’m really excited. I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Manaea said of next year’s potential rotation. “The amount of competition this rotation could have and how good the two young guys are, this rotation could be really good next year.”

With Luzardo and Puk, not only could they be part of the rotation, but they could anchor it as a dynamic duo that ranks among the best in baseball.

“They’re going to be stars. Both of them showed that,” Melvin said of Puk and Luzardo. “Jesus had a little more of an opportunity with more precision in the role we gave him. We threw A.J. in tough situations early on. But both these guys are going to be fantastic players for us. Part of the feeling we have going into next year is we’ll be better because of guys like that.”

As far as conquering the postseason struggles, which extend so far for the A’s now that their nine-game losing streak in elimination games is the longest in Major League Baseball history, one obvious solution for Melvin would be to win the AL West in order to avoid the Wild Card Game altogether, which the A’s have appeared in three times over the last six years and lost all three times. Of course, that’s no easy task, with the Astros always looming with one of the best rosters in the game.

“The format is the format. If we want to get out of that format, we have to win more games,” Melvin said of the one-game playoff. “We have a tough division, with probably the best team in baseball in that division. If we’re forced to play in that game again, we’ll have to put the other ones in the rearview mirror, which our team does anyway. It’s just unfortunate that it happened back-to-back seasons like that.”

Martin Gallegos covers the A's for Follow him on Twitter @MartinJGallegos.