ANAHEIM -- On paper, the A’s went into Tuesday’s series opener against the Angels with the easiest strength of schedule remaining among the three clubs battling it out in the American League Wild Card race. But that doesn’t mean opposing teams are just going to gift wins away. They must be earned.
Facing a lineup devoid of star hitters like Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the A’s played down to the competition level on Tuesday night in a 3-2 loss at Angel Stadium that shrunk their lead for the top AL Wild Card spot to just a half-game over the Rays, with the Indians one game back. Oakland’s magic number remains at five.
“It’s always been tight and it’s going to continue to be tight,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of the Wild Card race, which now has three teams separated by one game. “We just have to take care of ourselves. You can’t get too consumed in what other teams are doing.”
Any loss from here on out would be magnified given the circumstances, but the A’s entered Tuesday a confident bunch that had won 10 of their last 12 games. The losses sting a little more this late in the season, but nobody in Oakland's clubhouse is overreacting.
“We just have to show up and win every day. You’re not going to win them all,” A’s starting pitcher Homer Bailey said. “We just kind of all had an off day and it cost us the game. Big deal. Show up tomorrow, and keep doing what we’ve been doing over the last week or so.”
Khris Davis opened the scoring in the fourth inning by demolishing a first-pitch fastball from Angels starter Dillon Peters over the wall in center for a two-run blast. It was the type of early scoring that is usually a sign of good things to come for Oakland's offense, but on this night, the A’s followed up Davis’ homer by mustering just three singles the rest of the way.
The Angels might not be playing for much more than pride as they look to avoid 90 losses for the first time since 1999, but individuals are always looking to finish on a high note. For Peters, his start against the A’s was a chance to impress as he looks to land a spot in the Halos' 2020 rotation.
"I don't think I take any lineup lightly depending on our record. Those guys are hungry over there and they have a good lineup,” said Peters of the A’s offense. “To have an opportunity to compete and win is more important than, 'Hey, our season is over.'”
Save for the 413-foot swat from Davis, A’s batters struggled to get much going against Peters. They threatened to add to the two-run lead with back-to-back singles by Sheldon Neuse and Marcus Semien in the fifth, but were ultimately held to five scattered hits over five innings against the lefty.
“I think it just wasn’t a good day for us overall on offense. I think early on, maybe we expected to do more,” Melvin said. “We’ve been pretty good against left-handed pitching this year. Give Peters credit. He threw a lot of changeups, curveballs in backward counts, and kept us off-balance.”
Bailey did his best to make the early lead stick, but ran into some bad luck in the fifth. In a frame where four of six balls put in play were hit with an exit velocity under 90 mph and the hardest-hit ball was a 101-mph flyout, the Angels managed to plate three runs by simply finding the holes where A’s defenders were not positioned -- like Brian Goodwin’s blooper that dropped between Chad Pinder and Matt Chapman in shallow left to score a run, which set up a go-ahead RBI by Albert Pujols on a sacrifice fly.
“The bloop was the tough one. It put them in a position where they could score some runs without a hit,” Melvin said. “[Bailey] had some runners on earlier and got a big double-play ground ball, so you feel like he’s got a chance to at least limit the damage, but [David] Fletcher and Goodwin came up with the big hits.
“KD hits the big homer and then we just have a tough fifth. A single and a bloop on the run. They did just enough to score three runs and then we didn’t do much after that.”
Pounding the zone with 55 of his 76 pitches for strikes, including 10 swings and misses, Bailey’s stuff wasn’t much different from his previous seven starts in which he posted a 1.88 ERA. Sometimes a pitcher just has to chalk it up to some bad luck and move on.
“I gave up some untimely soft hits. I wasn’t quite as sharp, but if you look at the game collectively, we weren’t that sharp,” Bailey said. “What are we, 8-2 in our last 10? I don’t think anyone is panicking.”