OAKLAND -- The A’s received a golden opportunity by reaching a late stretch in the schedule where they play nine consecutive games against teams with losing records -- games they should win that would help them immensely in the midst of a postseason push.
Three games into that stretch, though, the A’s have only come away victorious once, dropping another game to the last-place Rangers, 4-3, on Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum. Losing two of three to Texas, Oakland fell even further in the American League Wild Card race, now three games back of a playoff spot.
James Kaprielian’s recent inability to pitch deep into games continued Sunday. The rookie right-hander was pulled with just two outs in the fourth after giving up four runs and matching a season-high eight hits allowed.
“I can’t let that happen,” Kaprielian said. “The outing was inefficient again. I've got to finish guys with two strikes. This was just an unproductive start. Didn’t do a good job of helping the guys and didn’t give my team a chance to win. Pretty poor, in my opinion.”
The final month of the season can be a grind for any pitcher, let alone a rookie going through his first full season in the big leagues like Kaprielian. Given that his 105 1/3 innings pitched this year are by far the most he’s ever thrown in his career at any level of professional baseball (surpassing his 68 innings amassed in the Minors and Majors in 2019), fatigue could be coming into play.
After going 5-4 with a 3.24 ERA through his first 13 starts, Kaprielian has hit a wall in recent months. Over his last seven starts, he’s posted a a 5.73 ERA. His last three starts have seen him go four innings or fewer.
“I think almost everybody is [tired] at this point, especially the guys who haven’t had big workloads before,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I wasn’t going to let him go more than five probably today anyway. You do the best you can down the stretch. It’s foreign territory, but you've got to try to grind through it.”
Saving the day for the bullpen was fellow rookie Daulton Jefferies, whose 3 1/3 scoreless innings kept the A’s within striking distance. While Jefferies held it down on the pitching side, the A’s offense inched closer, with Matt Olson’s 34th homer of the season, a two-run blast off Texas starter Taylor Hearn in the sixth, cutting the deficit to one.
Olson’s homer felt like it might lead to a spark on offense. Instead, it ended up the final hit the A’s would record as they went down quietly with just one walk over the final three innings.
Should the A’s miss out on the postseason, their perplexing struggles against Texas will surely be a lingering factor. Whereas the Astros and Mariners, the two clubs ahead of Oakland in the AL West standings, have combined to beat up on a rebuilding Rangers squad by winning 24 of 34 games, the A’s barely finished over .500 in the season series against them at 10-9.
Adding to the disappointment in this particular series against Texas was Saturday’s frustrating loss, in which the A’s carried a four-run lead into the eighth before a their bullpen squandered it away.
“Any series right now is a tough one to lose,” Melvin said. “The way yesterday went, that’s a game we had in hand. Then losing the series. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing at this point. You've got to win series.
“We’re going to have to run off either series in a row or games in a row. There’s still time left to get on a run, and it felt like we were. We’re going to have to play better baseball than we did the last two days.”
That time is quickly running out. With only 19 games left in the regular season, the A’s now get a day off on Monday before a six-game road trip against the Royals and Angels that begins Tuesday in Kansas City. Another letdown like this series against Texas could severely damage their hopes of reaching the postseason for a fourth straight year.