OAKLAND -- With the A’s battling through a season-worst losing streak, Frankie Montas delivered the type of performance necessary to stop such a skid.
After lacking command in his previous outing Friday, Montas was back to doing what an ace does Wednesday afternoon. The right-hander engaged with Tampa Bay’s Corey Kluber in a pitchers’ duel and outlasted the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner with a dazzling effort, tossing seven scoreless innings with just four hits and one walk while striking out six.
Montas’ performance was worthy of a victory. But an A’s offense that is clearly pressing and in desperate search of a spark was fruitless again in a 3-0 loss to the Rays at the Oakland Coliseum.
“Frankie threw a great game,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “Seven innings and ends up getting a no-decision. He deserved better than that.”
The A’s have dropped six games in a row and nine of their past 11, and Wednesday’s defeat capped a stretch that they haven’t seen in nearly six decades. Not since 1956, when the club was based in Kansas City, had it gone winless over a homestand of at least six games. Over the past week, Oakland went 0-6 against the Guardians and Rays.
“There’s some anger in [the clubhouse],” Kotsay said. “They know we had opportunities to win games this homestand, and we didn’t get it done. Every team goes through these situations. My whole focus with the group is to continue to keep the mindset of winning the day.”
The methods of defeat have been diverse over this streak. There was Montas’ uncharacteristic outing Friday and a rare bullpen collapse Tuesday night. The one constant remains a struggling offense that has been held to one run or fewer in seven of the past 12 games.
A’s hitters have had their chances. Against Kluber, who appeared to be in vintage form with six scoreless innings, Oakland had a chance in the second when Seth Brown smashed a one-out triple to right. Instead, that big hit was followed by back-to-back strikeouts of Stephen Piscotty and Chad Pinder, the start of the A’s 0-for-4 day with runners in scoring position. Overall, Oakland swung early and missed often, finishing with only four hits and seeing just 90 pitches from Kluber and three relievers.
Offensive deficiencies dragging on for this long can sometimes lead to a closed-door meeting -- or maybe a shakeup from the manager in an attempt to break out.
Perhaps Kotsay would consider such actions if he sensed a lack of effort from his players. But he maintains that the fighting spirit remains high among these A’s.
“If it was lack of effort or lack of fight, then there’d be a message that needs to be sent,” Kotsay said. “These guys are battling. They’re grinding. This is part of the grind through the season. You try to weather the storm.”
So what can be done to fix a slumping lineup? Well, the A’s are close to regaining an offensive igniter in Ramón Laureano, who is eligible to return from his suspension for Sunday’s series finale in Minnesota and is ramping up by playing in games for Triple-A Las Vegas.
As big of an emotional boost as Laureano is likely to provide, one player alone can’t turn things around. Entering Wednesday, the A’s carried the lowest team batting average (.209) and OPS (.608) in the AL and the second-lowest on-base percentage (.273) in the Majors. Getting back on track is going to take a collective effort.
This A’s lineup knows it is capable of bigger things. That was shown over a 10-game road trip to begin the regular season, when Oakland led the Majors with 53 runs and routinely came up big in clutch spots, batting a Majors-best .368 with runners in scoring position. That’s the type of identity this group is seeking to regain as it embarks on an eight-game road trip that begins Friday night against the Twins.
“We just have to get back to that,” Pinder said. “Especially with a younger team, we can’t let the last six games define a month, half or a season. That’s when you get in trouble.
“Losing six games in a row is tough. You have to nip it in the bud as quickly as you can. Sometimes, it’s just one hit, one inning or one little spark. It’s tough, but it’s not the end of the season.”