OAKLAND -- The A’s sensed their struggling bullpen was nearing a turning point after an impressive collective effort in Friday’s victory. On Saturday, however, things went back to square one.
A win on Saturday would have opened the door for the A’s to possibly move into possession of a playoff spot for the first time since Aug. 22. Through the first seven innings against the Rangers, Oakland was heading on that trajectory on the strength of three early home runs and a solid bounceback effort from Cole Irvin, who tossed seven innings of two-run ball. Instead, it ended up a gut-wrenching 8-6 loss at Oakland Coliseum as the wheels completely fell off for the A’s bullpen.
Sergio Romo was the first reliever summoned, entering to begin the eighth with the task of preserving a four-run lead. He recorded just two outs and allowed three runs before he was lifted with a runner on second. Four pitches later, Andrew Chafin, who had recently asserted himself into the closer role with a string of strong outings, served up a go-ahead two-run homer to former A’s catcher Jonah Heim, capping what was a five-run inning for Texas.
With Yusmeiro Petit also giving up a solo homer to Leody Taveras in the ninth, Saturday marked one of the ugliest performances by the A’s bullpen this season. The trio of Romo, Chafin and Petit was tagged for six runs on five hits over the game’s final two innings.
“Just some balls in the middle of the plate,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Usually, when [Romo] is doing his thing, it’s pretty fine on the corners. Based on the swings we saw, he just left some pitches in the middle of the plate, unfortunately. Same thing with Chafin.”
When looking back at a team’s journey to the postseason, there are generally a few signature wins that stand out. Including Saturday’s defeat, the A’s have compiled a couple of signature losses in the span of eight days that could end up playing a major part in denying them a fourth straight playoff berth. There was also the deflating loss in Toronto on Sept. 3, when the A’s bullpen squandered two late leads against the Blue Jays before getting walked off by former team leader Marcus Semien.
If the A’s do end up missing out on the playoffs, the bullpen’s recent downfall will be difficult to ignore. Over the last 19 games, A’s relievers have now posted a 6.75 ERA with eight blown saves.
“We have guys here that are in those roles and we’re confident in them. But we’ve had a rough stretch here,” Melvin said. “As far as urgency goes, there’s urgency every day. It’s hard to give up five in the eighth inning when you feel like you have the game under control. We just have to try to win a series tomorrow and put this game behind us.”
As demoralizing as a loss like Saturday’s can feel, the A’s refuse to let it keep them down for too long. Realistically, they can’t afford to do that, now two games back of the Yankees for the second American League Wild Card spot (after New York's victory Saturday night) with 20 games left in the regular season.
They’ll hope the bullpen can get its issues sorted quickly, because right now, the offense seems to be firing on all cylinders. Starling Marte, Matt Olson and Mark Canha each homered on Saturday, with Olson’s solo blast off Texas starter Wes Benjamin in the third inning his 33rd of the year -- and the 500th hit of his career.
“We've got a series to win tomorrow,” Irvin said. “As long as we take care of series, single games won’t hurt us. We can’t get our mindset down. If we take care of every series from here on out, we’re putting ourselves in a good position. Take care of business all nine innings.”
As the A’s go for a series win over Texas on Sunday, they may have to do so without Matt Chapman. The third baseman, who had been dealing with discomfort in his lower left leg, left Saturday’s game early after fouling a ball off his left shin.
Though X-rays came back negative, Melvin said he doesn’t expect Chapman to be in Sunday’s starting lineup.
“Just wasn’t able to put too much pressure on it after that, so we got him out of there,” Melvin said. “We’ll see how he is tomorrow. I’m doubting he’s gonna be able to play tomorrow. This is something that’s been going on for a little while and he kind of re-injured it again today.”