One of the keys to any successful baseball season is winning close games and winning games in the late innings.
The 2011 Oakland Athletics are not having a successful baseball season (on the field, at least — who knows how much owner Lew Wolff is making on the daily diamond disasters).
Taking a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning Monday night, the A’s gave up four runs in the top of the frame and another single run in the ninth inning to lose, 6-2, to the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite ripping 11 hits off Baltimore pitchers, Oakland could only score two runs in the second inning on their way to a fourth straight loss and last place in the American League West once again.
So file this one away under “games lost in the late innings”: the A’s have now blown six seventh-inning leads this year which have turned into losses. They’ve lost four games when entering the eighth inning with a lead, and Oakland waved goodbye to two potential wins of this sort in the ninth.
That’s 12 losses for a 53-68 team that they could have won by merely holding late-inning leads. The bullpen — which was supposed to be a strength this season with the additions of free agents Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to set-up two-time All-Star closer Andrew Bailey — has been poor, due to injuries, mismanagement and overall mediocrity.
Throw in the ten games the A’s lost after the tenth inning, and you have a pretty ugly season in the works.
Few teams will be perfect in all these scenarios, of course, but the key is minimizing the number of defeats snatched from the jaws of victory — and 22 losses like the ones defined above will generally kill any team’s playoff chances.
In this game, starter Gio Gonzalez didn’t retire any of the three batters he faced in the seventh inning, and all three came in to score when reliever Fauntino De Los Santos gave up two hits after entering the game with the bases loaded and no outs — not an easy task, of course, but why manager Bob Melvin went with one of his “lesser” relievers in that key moment was surprising.
Veteran Grant Balfour pitching on Sunday, but he was probably a better option. Considering Gonzalez had given up only two hits prior to the seventh inning, though, the need for the change perhaps caught Melvin off-guard.
Still, it was another ugly lost game late for the A’s, just like Saturday against the Texas Rangers where starter Trevor Cahill held the opponent without a hit into the sixth inning before losing the game in the seventh.