OAKLAND -- Time is no ally of the A's, and after a 2-1 loss to Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, Oakland manager Bob Melvin acknowledged as much.
The A's have 23 games left on the schedule, and after 16 losses in their past 23 games, it looks increasingly as if the club will be fighting for an American League wild-card berth instead of the A.L. West title. The A's remained 41/2 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels, who lost Wednesday night in Houston.
Melvin knows those numbers. He knows some other numbers, too.
"A couple of years ago we were five back with 13 to play," Melvin said. Actually the A's were five back with nine to play in 2012 but ran down the Texas Rangers, capturing the A.L. West title on the last day of the season.
There are a couple differences. The A's had seven of their last 10 games against the team they were chasing, Texas. This time around they have three left with the Angels.
The A's weren't under pressure of living up to expectations, Oakland having been an afterthought in the spring of 2012. After back-to-back A.L. West titles and having been baseball's dominant team at the All-Star break at 59-36, expectations are a burden now.
Most of all, the A's were coming hard just to get to those last nine games, having won 25 of 37 simply to get to five games back.
"We'll be coming hard here soon, too," Melvin said. "We've got 23 games left. We will. Time is there.
"I think we're going to pick it up. I think the last 20 games or so we're going to get really hot. I do."
The A's had better hope so, because if Oakland heads into the postseason as a wild card, it figures to be another game like Wednesday's, ace vs. ace. Jon Lester pitched well enough to win 90 percent of his starts. So did Hernandez.
And if it's a one-game playoff Sept. 30 for the right to advance to the A.L. Division Series, then it could well be Hernandez against Lester all over again. As much as the A's like Lester, they would just as soon not have to put their postseason hopes on having to beat Hernandez in a winner-take-all brawl, not when the Seattle ace is now 19-7 lifetime against them.
Adam Dunn gave the A's a 1-0 lead with a solo homer in the fourth. Kyle Seager and Corey Hart hit back-to-back homers in the space of three Lester pitches in the seventh inning. That was it. The A's never got another base runner against Hernandez and Seattle closer Fernando Rodney.
Hernandez said after the win, his 14th, that he loves "this kind of challenge."
Lester does, too, and said two mistakes did him in.
In the course of throwing 107 pitches, a starter should be allowed a couple mistakes, but when Hernandez is on the other side, there is little room for error.
"If I (only) give up two solo homers, I like my chances in just about any game," Lester said. "Unfortunately, Felix was on the other side, and he did one better."
The A's aren't the only team Hernandez dominates. But for seven innings Tuesday, James Paxton did, too. Every pitcher save one throwing for the Angels in a four-game weekend series did it, too. The offense that roared for half a season is scarcely whispering now.
"We've got to put some more bats on balls and find some more holes," catcher Derek Norris said, cutting to the chase. "We can't bank on a guy, no matter who he is, Lester or Sandy Koufax or whoever, to go out and throw nine innings of shutout ball."
The A's have a day off Thursday, then have a weekend series against the Astros. Houston is a team in some turmoil, manager Bo Porter having just been fired, but the A's are facing an existential crisis of their own.
"There are a lot of games left, and if you look ahead and at how many games you are behind or whatever, it can be a distraction," Melvin said. "We're all about winning Friday's game."
Houston (Brett Oberholtzer
4-10) at A's (Jeff Samardzija 6-11), 7:05 p.m. CSNCA
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