OAKLAND -- The tale of the 2019 A’s still has a few more chapters to be written, but the introductory part of the season has shown that the Astros continue to be their main antagonists.
Even as Houston was not at full strength with three of its top hitters on the injured list, the Astros still proved to be too much of a hill to climb. Oakland dropped its fifth game in a row on Sunday, losing 6-4 to Houston in 12 innings as it was swept over three games at the Coliseum and fell below .500 for the first time since May 21. It was a tough way to end a nine-game homestand which began with the A’s winning the first four games.
“We were on a nice little roll and then lose the last couple and three more,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “We had the 10 in a row going and couldn’t back it up. It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster for us. We have to find a way to be a little more consistent.”
The A’s made it known in Spring Training they were coming for Houston’s American League West crown, but it’s the Astros who remain on the throne at this point. Oakland has dropped seven of eight games against Houston this season and has been outscored 42-20.
Even with the usual suspects who torment the A’s out of the Astros' lineup, their replacements were just as damaging, like outfielder Myles Straw, who in just his third Major League game of the season went 3-for-4 with three stolen bases that eventually led to three runs scored.
“When you can lose Altuve, Springer and Correa and somehow put a guy out there that’s the fastest guy in the big leagues, it’s just like, ‘Come on!’” A’s starting pitcher Chris Bassitt said. “Their M.O. is putting pressure on you, and they’re probably the best in the big leagues at doing that. It’s 24/7 from the first pitch, nonstop.”
Sunday’s loss may have been the most gut-wrenching of what was a demoralizing series for the A’s. They battled back in the late innings with a pair of solo homers by Ramon Laureano and Matt Chapman, with Chapman’s a game-tying shot in the eighth inning off Astros reliever Ryan Pressly. But after both bullpens exchanged zeroes for the next three innings, Oakland’s was the first to flinch as Lou Trivino surrendered the go-ahead two runs in the 12th.
It’s been rough go for Trivino as of late. He’s taken the loss in his last three outings, including Friday night’s loss to Houston, and has allowed seven runs (six earned) over 3 2/3 innings.
The two runs allowed came after a quick 1-2-3 11th inning by Trivino, which enabled him to go back out for the 12th. The second inning work has been Trivino's downfall in recent outings, which Melvin said can often be an issue for hard-throwing relievers like the right-hander.
“I think for any power pitcher, the second inning would be tough,” Melvin said. “We use him a lot and we have to find a way to maybe use him a little bit less. When you’re that good, you want to try to stay in the game and win it. We had to use him for a lot of pitches again today.”
After taking 17 losses and blowing 18 saves over the entire 2018 season, A’s relievers have 14 losses and 11 blown saves this year, both of which they lead in the AL in.
Even though Oakland’s bullpen has taken the loss in three of the past four games, the root of the club’s struggles over the past few days has been in its inability to produce on offense in key situations. A’s batters finished the three-game series going 0-for-17 with runners in scoring position. All four of their homers on Sunday were solo shots.
“Usually when we’re good, we draw some walks and make some guys work, get some guys on base and use our power that way,” Melvin said. “There are certain times you have to figure out a way to get some key hits with guys on, and we had some opportunities to win that game before it went as long as it did. It’s frustrating.”
Bassitt rebounds nicely
Bassitt bounced back from allowing a season-high five earned runs in his previous outing to keep Oakland in the game Sunday by allowing three runs over six quality innings. After admitting to feeling a bit of fatigue after his last start, Bassitt took advantage of an extra day’s rest this week by getting treatment from the A’s training staff and lightening his workout activities.
“I felt great. Our trainers and strength staff put me in a good position,” Bassitt said. “I felt brand new. I took this week slow, didn’t really lift and stuff like that just to get my body back.”
Melvin said it was the best Bassitt has looked since early May.
“It looked like he had more life on the ball,” Melvin said. “Good curveball. Cutter was good as the game went along. I thought he pitched a lot better than he did the last couple of times out.”