OAKLAND -- The main focus of 2023 for the A’s is based largely on the development of players who can help them beyond this year. Even so, tempered expectations in the second year of a rebuild do not make their miserable start to this season any less difficult to swallow.
With one-third of the regular season in the books, A’s general manager David Forst met with reporters on Saturday to take stock of the team’s performance so far. Given that Oakland holds the worst record in baseball and ranks last in the Majors in several categories, Forst bluntly assessed the current state of the club.
“It’s hard to describe how things have gone,” Forst said. “This is not what anybody imagined. Frankly, it’s hard to explain. It’s a little bit of a perfect storm of a lot of inexperienced young players combined with veteran players not playing to their expected level. Throw in a bunch of injuries, and you get to where we are right now. I don’t think anyone is having a ton of fun.”
The tough times continued on Sunday. In a 10-1 loss to the Astros to complete a three-game sweep, the A’s surrendered a season-high seven home runs, the most ever hit by an opposing team in one game at the Oakland Coliseum.
The historically bad feats continue to mount. The A’s have dropped 11 in a row for the first time since a 12-game losing streak that spanned the 1995-96 seasons. They are the first team in the Modern Era (since 1900) to lose 45 of its first 55 games in a season, which puts them on pace to surpass the modern record of 120 losses set by the 1962 Mets. Their minus-199 run differential is the worst in AL/NL history through a team’s first 55 games.
“There are a lot of numbers out there about how we’ve performed to date, but it’s hard to think of an analogous situation with any other team right now,” Forst said. “We’re trying to take away the positives that we can. [A’s manager] Mark [Kotsay] has done an incredible job of staying positive and trying to motivate these guys through a situation that I don’t know anybody else has been through.”
From an individual standpoint, there are some young players who continue to provide encouraging signs, particularly on offense.
Ryan Noda, who entered the day leading all Major League rookies in walks (32) and ranked second in on-base percentage (.392), homered, doubled and walked on Sunday. Over his past nine games, the first baseman is 9-for-25 (.360) with four extra-base hits. Other bright spots include electric rookie Esteury Ruiz, who leads the Majors with 27 stolen bases, and Brent Rooker, who established himself as a middle-of-the-order presence with strong power numbers early in the season.
As of late, though, the offense has gone stagnant, scoring three runs or fewer in each of the A’s past 11 games, which ties the team record since moving to Oakland in 1968.
Perhaps a greater concern, however, is the pitching. The A’s came into the season relying heavily on a young pitching staff low on experience. So far, that decision has proven disastrous, as Oakland’s starting rotation carries by far the highest ERA (7.19) in the Majors.
“Young pitching is dangerous to count on,” Forst said. “The last group of starters here, you look at [Chris] Bassitt or [Frankie] Montas and those guys, they all had their ups and downs. But what we had at the time was experience around them to sort of stabilize it.
“When we signed [Shintaro] Fujinami and Drew [Rucinski] this offseason, we thought their experience elsewhere would translate here, and it hasn’t. Young pitching is going to have its ups and downs. It’s hard to count on young pitching every night, and we’ve seen the results of that.”
On Sunday, the A’s shook things up by having starter Ken Waldichuk open the game for one inning, followed by fellow starter Luis Medina out of the bullpen. The two combined for six runs allowed on eight hits and yielded four home runs. Rookie reliever Garrett Acton surrendered another two homers in the ninth.
“We’ve got to learn from what we’re going through,” Kotsay said. “If we don’t learn and get better, then we’re not doing our jobs here. Especially with guys like Medina and Acton, in order to show progress, you’ve got to learn from these mistakes. This is the big leagues, and they’re getting a lesson right now.”