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Inside Pitch: A’s give away eight runs, score just 14

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It is hard to decipher which is the bigger issue for the Athletics through the first four games of 2018: defense or productive hitting.

On one hand, the A’s (1-3) have scored just 14 in the four games (3.5 per game).

On the other, five fly balls that should have been caught have found earth instead of leather while another three liners have been able to evade Oakland outfielders turning singles into extra-base hits. Including the three plays that were recorded as errors — none of which coming on the previously mentioned outfield misplays — defensive miscues resulted in at least eight runs (one unearned) that should have been avoided.

Oakland allowed a total of 22 runs in losing three of four.

After falling 7-4 Sunday, manager Bob Melvin addressed his club’s defensive lapses over the weekend quite bluntly:

“We’ve had some trouble. It’s costed us the last couple games.”

Some of the problems, both on Sunday and in Saturday’s 8-3 loss, came out of left field, where Khris Davis was starting in the place of the hobbled Matthew Joyce, a normally reliable outfielder.

The plan this season was to have Davis see the lion’s share of the A’s DH at-bats, allowing Joyce and Stephen Piscotty to roam the corners. But Joyce rolled his ankle late in Friday’s 2-1 loss and was deemed unable to effectively play in the outfield for at least a few days. In order to keep his potent bat in the lineup, Joyce was inserted in the designated hitter slot Saturday and Sunday.

Melvin admitted that he expects Davis to make some of the plays he did not, but defended his slugger:

“The sun is always an issue here, especially earlier in the game in left field.”

Sure, the Bay Area is known for having a tough sky and some quite persuasive winds, but Davis’ career minus-11 defensive WAR (wins above replacement) — minus-13 both seasons with the A’s — says that the elements are not completely to blame for the issues. That being said, Davis’ offensive alter ego “Khrush” is among the most influential power hitters of this generation and is absolutely irreplaceable in the batter’s box.

As long as Oakland can keep Davis in the DH spot and Joyce (career plus-7 defensive WAR) in outfield things should flow more the way they did Thursday, when the A’s won 6-5, Joyce played a solid left field and Davis clubbed a three-run homer.

After all, that’s why Oakland was willing to part with young slugger Ryon Healy.

As a unit, the A’s, who finished 2017 with a major league-worst .980 fielding percentage, are at .981 through four games.

Said Melivn:

“We didn’t expect to play defense in the fashion that we did. It’s one thing when you don’t hit, it’s another thing when you give up some runs that you shouldn’t.”

The skipper added that he believes the struggles have been amplified by the small sample size and is hopeful that the ship will right itself. He cited the club’s solid defensive spring — Oakland committed 24 errors over 30 games in Arizona, where defenses often struggle.

Where Davis has not stumbled out of the gates in at the plate. He went 4-for-14 (.286) with a homer and four RBIs over the weekend, and 2-for-3 with runners in scoring position. In fact, as a team, the A’s went 9-for-29 (.310) with runners in scoring position — though their 1-for-9 performance Friday costed them a win.

The numbers are a bit skewed, however. Oakland went 5-for-15 (.333) in the clutch-iest of at-bat — with runners in scoring position in the seventh inning or later.

One way to look at this is to say that the A’s will, once again, put together some late rallies and walk-off wins — like Friday’s — this season. Another is to realize that Oakland has come up with just four hits with runners in scoring position in the first six innings over the course of four games.

Four is not a great number. But it is a mite better than the 14 they have in the at-bat column in the same parameters.

Melvin is confident that the offense will work things out and find a way to put runs on the board before falling into holes of three or more runs, but it is getting to the point where it should be considered a very legitimate concern. Giving away eight or more runs with poor defense then scoring just 14 over a four-game series is not how to win and break a three-year of cycle of last-place finishes.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.

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