CLEVELAND -- Tyler Wade slumped his shoulders and bent over after Guardians shortstop Amed Rosario perfectly timed a leaping catch on a hard liner by Tony Kemp. Frozen between first and second, all the A’s infielder could do was swat some dirt on the ground with a look of disbelief as he was easily doubled up to end the top of the seventh.
That sequence was a snapshot of how things are going for the A’s in what is now an eight-game losing streak. This exasperating stretch, which includes five one-run losses, has often featured similar unlucky instances. On Thursday, that play stranded a potential game-tying run before Cleveland broke it open with a four-run eighth against Yacksel Ríos in an eventual 6-1 defeat at Progressive Field.
“Guys are trying really hard to make something happen,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “We’ve just got to let the game come to us. … Some of those mistakes, for our club, we have to get every out and not give away outs to compete against these teams. Today, it reared its head a little bit.”
It wasn’t long ago that the A’s were riding the high of a seven-game win streak as one of the hottest teams in baseball. It was a temporary respite from the historically bad start to the season this rebuilding club has endured.
Since that seventh consecutive victory on June 13 over the Rays at the Oakland Coliseum, the A’s have gone winless, becoming the first club to follow a winning streak of at least seven games with a losing streak of seven games or more since the 2009 Marlins, who won seven in a row that year from April 12-19 before losing seven in a row from April 20-27.
The current losing stretch has been through little fault of the pitching staff. JP Sears was the latest A’s starter to go unrewarded for his solid effort, matching a career-high seven innings for a second straight outing as he limited the Guardians to two runs on four hits and a walk with eight strikeouts.
“JP threw a great game,” Kotsay said. “This kid keeps continually going out there and improving. Continuing to do things to help this team win on the mound. … He’s made the adjustment to the league and he’s thriving right now.”
Kotsay noted the improvements Sears has displayed from the beginning of the season to now. Though his first seven starts, the left-hander struggled to keep the ball in the yard, posting a 5.54 ERA. Over his last eight starts, the tide has turned, with Sears holding a 2.93 ERA with 42 strikeouts and nine walks in 46 innings.
Home runs are still an issue for Sears. His homer allowed to Josh Bell on Thursday brings his total this season to 18, which is tied for second-most in the Majors. But given his superb walk rate -- Sears’ 1.84 walks per nine innings ranks sixth-lowest among American League pitchers -- home runs are not as backbreaking when they are solo shots, such as Bell’s game-tying blast in the fifth on a first-pitch sweeper.
“It’s kind of the kryptonite of being [in the zone],” Sears said of his home run total. “I can maybe be a little better about picking and choosing when to be out the zone some. I know guys are going to come up there being pretty aggressive. Just picking and choosing. Maybe being a little more fine on certain counts. The homers have kind of been a thing. But I’m going to keep filling the zone and get a little better with two strikes or in those advantage counts for hitters.”
Sears is part of an entire A’s rotation that has shown promise throughout June. Over the last 16 games, Oakland’s starting pitchers have combined for a 3.39 ERA (29 earned runs in 77 innings pitched) after what was a miserable 7.19 ERA through the first 61 games of the season.
Now that the pitching side is on the upswing, the focus shifts towards getting an offense that has been held to three runs or less seven times over this losing skid going again.
“We’re going to fight every day,” Kotsay said. “When we started out in April, we weren’t a very good team. These last six or seven games, today it unraveled in the eighth, but we’ve shown improvement and growth, which is a good sign. We’re in games. … A lot of these young guys in this clubhouse are learning what the big leagues are about.”