By Merlin Edwards III | @Trey_Me
For the 2015 Oakland Athletics, there has not been a whole helluva lot to cheer about. The team has been wildly inconsistent, and every time positive things arise, a bad game or even a prolonged slump snuffs out any light of greatness to come. When the A’s suffered a tough one-run loss on Sunday afternoon to Seattle, they split the series with the Mariners and ended up finishing their home stand at 5-5. Even with the team playing better recently (15-12 in June), it is still very much in question if they can make an honest run at the first place Houston Astros.
It may seem like a pessimistic stance, but A's fans might have to be real with themselves and admit that this team just does not seem to have the firepower to secure a playoff spot this season. Fortunately, when A's fans step back and admit that this team is not as good as it has been in the past couple of seasons, plenty of silver linings can be found. The team has a respectable run differential, the starting pitching is thriving, and they FINALLY beat Felix Hernandez over the weekend!
To recap the four game weekend series versus Seattle, the Athletics won the first game convincingly, 4-0. Game 2 on Friday night went Seattle’s way, as the Mariners pounded out four home runs. Game 3 pitted the A’s against the vaunted “King” Felix Hernandez, who hadn’t lost to the A’s in Oakland in seven years. The A's jumped on Hernandez early and didn’t look back. Fortunately, Kendall Graveman had his "A" game working, as the young right hander went toe-to-toe with the King to pull out a much needed win.
With momentum on their side, Oakland trotted out Chris Bassitt for Sunday’s finale. Bassitt pitched well early until his location started to falter, giving up a 2-run single with 2 outs in the top of the 6th inning to former Athletic, Seth Smith. That gave Seattle the 2-1 lead and there would be no more scoring in the game. There were bright spots of the series, however, including the bullpen pitching much better. They gave up 5 runs in the series but all 5 came during game 2's home run barrage by Seattle. Otherwise, the bullpen was almost dominant. The main positive take away, though, was most definitely getting the Felix Hernandez monkey off our back.
Ever since Hernandez started pitching well for the Mariners, it seems like there was a curse put on the A's lineup. It is not all that rare for a team to get lucky and miss out on a very dominant pitcher during any particular series. For the A's, however, that is not something fans have been able to count on when facing the Mariners. It almost seems as if the Mariners intentionally set up the rotation from the beginning of the season, to be absolutely certain that every series the A's and M's play, Felix will be on the mound.
Unfortunately for the A's, in recent years, a Felix start meant an automatic L in the loss column for Oakland. Beating him on America's birthday is a step in the right direction that can hopefully build more confidence among A’s hitters moving forward. The key now is to focus on the next test and take some bravado and confidence with you to the Big Apple to face the Yankees.
For the last road trip before the All-Star break, the A’s will make stops at Yankee Stadium and in Cleveland. Sonny Gray is on the bump on Tuesday night (back from a serious stomach illness), while the resurgent Scott Kazmir follows on Wednesday. At 38-46, the A’s first goal should be to climb back to .500. Thankfully, Sonny has the ball tonight, so we are in good hands. As much as I’d like to point to the fact that the A’s are just 6 ½ games out of an AL Wild Card, I’ll try to keep my expectations in check, at least for now.