SEATTLE -- It's one thing to keep talking about how the A's still own the best record in the major leagues.
While it's true that they are tops at 58-36 after Saturday's 6-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners, the A's are having trouble protecting it.
For most of the first three months of the season, Oakland's surge into first place in the American League West was built on equal parts offense and pitching. Lately, it's been pitching or nothing, and Saturday was another example of that as the A's could do nothing with Hisashi Iwakuma.
"Offensively, we have not been as good as we had been,'' manager Bob Melvin said. He cited the losses to the lineup of center fielder Coco Crisp, out the past three days with neck problems, and right fielder Josh Reddick, on the disabled list with a bum right knee.
It hasn't helped that Yoenis Cespedes' legs are still giving him trouble to the point where he will probably be the designated hitter in Sunday's series finale or that Stephen Vogt limps noticeably except when he is on the field. The A's could use the four days of the All-Star break to mend, although seven members of the 25-man roster will take part in the All-Star celebration.
"It's been a bit of a tough stretch,'' Melvin said. "We'll bounce back.''
So even though Jesse Chavez turned in a creditable showing on the mound for Oakland, the A's lost for the second consecutive night and for the third time in four games.
And now, one day ahead of the All-Star break, the A's have to wonder what's happened to their offense. In their past 14 games, Oakland is 8-6. Over the same time period, the second-place Angels are 11-3, and the third place Mariners are 8-5. The Angels are just 11/2 games out of first place. The Mariners are seven back.
In those last 14 games, the A's have averaged 3.4 runs per game. Even if you just count the wins, the runs per game is just 4.4. Compare that with their 94 games as a whole in which Oakland has averaged 4.9 runs. In the period before this latest 14-game stretch, the average was 5.2 runs per game.
Brandon Moss, who gave the A's their only offense with his 20th homer, a two-out, two-run shot with the team down six runs in the ninth, said he doesn't see the offense as struggling. He points to the fact that in Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma, the Mariners have two top-end starting pitchers who are at the top of their games. Iwakuma had a streak of 20 consecutive scoreless innings before Moss' homer.
"Are we in a funk? Not really,'' Moss said. "We did all right against the Giants (winning three of four while scoring 19 runs or 4.75 per game). We just got hit with Felix and Iwakuma the last two nights. Iwakuma gives you a real tough at-bat, for sure.''
Oakland got back-to-back singles from Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie in the second inning, then didn't get another earned base runner until the sixth, when Vogt singled with two out. John Jaso added a single in the ninth before Moss got the A's on the scoreboard with his homer.
There were games in the past when the A's would win with relatively low hit totals because they would sprinkle in a home run or two. Home runs have become something of a problem now, however, even with two members of the lineup, Cespedes and Donaldson, headed for the All-Star Home Run Derby.
Over the past 19 games, Oakland has 12 homers, and the A's have more double plays grounded into (13) during that stretch. The A's pitching, as good as it is, has allowed 19 homers, two of them Saturday, one off Chavez, another off Jim Johnson.
"We just have to come back tomorrow and get some good at-bats and throw some good pitches,'' Chavez said. "We want to go into the All-Star break feeling good.''
A's (Sonny Gray
9-3) at Seattle (Chris Young 8-5), 1:10 p.m. CSNCA
A'S ALL-STAR QUIZ
Which A's pitcher took the loss in a 15-inning affair in Anaheim?
A. Rollie Fingers
B. Jim Hunter
C. John Odom