With 154 home runs in their first 114 games, the Athletics rank fourth in baseball — they can slug with anyone.
Like they did in Colorado though, when they were swept by the Rockies, the A’s (67-47) proved Tuesday that they are susceptible to struggle in games that feature small-ball.
The Dodgers (63-51), with 155 homers, opened the scoring with a groundout in the first before beefing their lead with a safety squeeze. With three extra-base hits, all doubles, out of nine total, it was Los Angeles’ ability to maximize the value of its outs that led to a 4-2 victory.
Surrendering that ground, though incremental, via small-ball was amplified by Oakland’s failings with runners in scoring position, where the A’s went 1-for-7 to end what had been a six-game winning streak.
Over the course of that winning streak the A’s have endured two days off. And while manager Bob Melvin said it is difficult for a team to maintain its rhythm through that, he was clear that it wasn’t an excuse:
“There’s times during the season where you welcome the off-day, especially a little bit later in the season.”
Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts showed early that he wasn’t afraid to command the early rhythm playing a National League style of game in an American League park — trading runs for outs. Perhaps it was the understanding that Tuesday starter Sean Manaea has been an ace for the A’s all season but Roberts chose not to get aggressive in search of a big second inning, already up 1-0.
Instead, with his nine-hole hitter at the plate and runners on first and third with one out, Roberts had Austin Barnes drop a safety squeeze.
Manaea (L, 10-8, 3.50 ERA) fielded the bunt coming in and to his left cleanly but never even considered getting the speedy Chris Taylor at the plate, settling for Barnes at first.
Manaea said the bunt came with no surprise, though:
“I wasn’t really surprised at all. It’s a National League team and it’s just something they do. In the back of my head I was prepared for it.”
Forced into a bunting situation with his catcher and nine hitter up, down 3-0 with runners at first and second and no outs, Melvin let Jonathan Lucroy swing away in the fifth. Lucroy rolled a routine grounder to Manny Machado at shortstop and the Dodgers turned it into two outs. The A’s got nothing out of a rally that was handed to them for free when Dodger starter Rich Hill walked the first two batters he faced in the frame.
Melvin, who is not used to trading runs for single outs, said he would consider it bunting in a low-scoring game but not in that situation:
“Maybe if we’re where we bunt him over and we have the potential tying run (we consider bunting). We’re still down three at the time; against left-handed pitching Luc’s been pretty good for us, and he’s driven in some big runs for us. For me, typically when we bunt it’s when we need a run, we needed more than a run there.”
For a pair of teams that have combined to hit 309 homer runs this season, the two plays though minute in magnitude were massive in significance.
Because of the Dodgers willingness to play for one, and Oakland’s inability to reserve its greediness, a two-run sixth inning homer (32) from Khris Davis didn’t tie the game or give the A’s a lead, it left Los Angeles up one into the late innings. And they added one more to that lead in the seventh.
In the early innings, Manaea labored through his shortest outing of the season, needing 77 pitches to record just eight outs. While he faced eight base runners — five hits and three walks — though, the Oakland ace kept the A’s competitive holding the Dodgers to three runs. Following an RBI single surrendered to Cody Bellinger, Melvin could wait no longer and pulled the plug on Manaea.
Melvin said that his starter’s control wasn’t awful but worse than has come to be expected:
“Just one of those nights where it didn’t look like there was much life. They were getting some pretty good swings on him, it didn’t look like he was fooling anybody.”
Manaea recorded just one strikeout. But even more concerning, he was credited with just two swings and misses. He said:
“I Just wasn’t able to locate anything; wasn’t able to locate my fastball and couldn’t throw my changeup for a strike. … just a bad night.”
Emilio Pagán, the first man out of the Oakland bullpen, restored some balance thwarting the Dodger rally in the third before posting two zeroes of his own with three strikeouts. It was the second time in his career that Pagán has held the opposition hitless while recording more than six outs — his first since June 11, 2017.
Hill (W, 5-4, 3.62 ERA) was lifted after serving up Davis’ homer, finishing his 5-1/3 innings with three hits, four walks and two runs allowed. He struck out five and did not allow Oakland’s first hit until the fourth — a Davis one-out infield single.
With his two hits, Davis is now batting .290 (20-for-69) since the All-Star break and has mashed 11 home runs in his last 15 games.
Kenley Jansen (S, 32, 2.15 ERA) was perfect in the ninth for the save and has allowed six earned runs in 39 games since May 2.
Mike Fiers (7-6, 3.48 ERA) will get the ball Wednesday to make his A’s debut. Fiers is 2-1 with a 2.10 ERA in six starts since the end of June, and pitched six or more innings in five of those starts despite eclipsing the 100-pitch mark just once. The Dodgers will counter with Clayton Kershaw (5-5, 2.55 ERA). Kershaw will be facing the A’s for the fourth time in his career having allowed two earned runs over 20-2/3 in the previous three.
Reliever Shawn Kelley and starter Mike Fiers, added via waiver trades on Sunday and Monday respectively, were each added to Oakland’s active roster Tuesday. In order to clear roster space, Ryan Dull and J.B. Wendelken were both optioned to Triple-A Nashville. Kelley made his A’s debut Tuesday walking one but escaping a bases-loaded situation in the sixth. … Chad Pinder (left elbow laceration) was reinstated from the 10-day disabled list Tuesday. Pinder had been on the DL since requiring stitches in his elbow after being involved in a car accident in Denver on July 28. To clear roster space for Pinder, Franklin Barreto was optioned to Triple-A Nashville. Barreto went 3-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs while filling in for Pinder. … The A’s are now 11-8 in interleague play this season. Oakland will conclude its 2018 interleague schedule Wednesday against the Dodgers. Regardless of the outcome, the A’s will finish the year with a winning record against National League opponents for the first time since 2015 (11-9). While they did lose a game to the Astros and Yankees, with both winning Tuesday, the A’s did not give any ground to the Mariners who lost. Oakland remains two games ahead for the second AL Wild Card, four games behind for the first and five games back in the AL West race.