It shouldn’t have to come to this. The Red Sox already gave the Oakland A’s an ace to work with, not that Jon Lester has been able to right the sinking ship out west. Must they do everything?
Yes, Lester’s new team has lost 10 of the 17 games since he and Jonny Gomes came on board, most recently suffering a sweep at the hands of the middling Atlanta Braves over the weekend. Oakland was 2 1/2 games up on the Los Angeles Angels when it made the deadline deal with Boston. Now the A’s find themselves tied for the division lead with a red-hot Angels team that just so happens to be headed to Boston this week.
The Angels are 11-4 this month, putting a scare into the A’s hopes of a division title. Two of those losses this month, of course, came via the Sox last weekend in Anaheim, where a 19-inning affair interrupted what could have been a Boston sweep. Now, here they come for four at Fenway Park with A’s fans once again finding a deep rooting interest in their former slugger Yoenis Cespedes.
Lester took the loss Sunday night in Atlanta, where the Braves won 4-3, with a so-so performance (six innings, six hits, three earned runs, two homers, five strikeouts) that marked his first defeat in an A’s uniform (3-1). Now, mind you, the former Red Sox lefty is the second “ace” that Oakland general manager Billy Beane has picked up this summer, also acquiring former Cubs righty Jeff Samardzija earlier last month. With Chicago, Samardzija was only 2-7, but with a 2.83 ERA, and bad luck has traveled with him to Oakland, where he is only 3-2 with a 3.21 ERA in eight starts since the A’s acquired him and the flop otherwise known as Jason Hammel (1-5, 6.75 ERA with the A’s) on July 5. Since then, the A’s are only 20-18 following a 53-33 start. The Angels are 23-14 after a 49-36 start.
And so today they sit together atop the standings in the AL West, with the A’s wondering how making such bold moves could result in fighting for their lives. All the while, there’s Cespedes, getting into a groove with his new team, playing every day, while Lester will sit for four more, and maybe already giving Beane a few pangs of regret for having surrendered one of the most potent threats in his lineup.
Only 18 days later, have the Red Sox already won what some have dubbed the “Lespedes” trade?
“Anytime you make moves at the deadline, there’s a buffer period where you’re finding your identity as a team,” A’s closer Sean Doolittle told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But if you look at the pieces, it’s only a matter of time before everyone relaxes and we get back to doing what we’re capable of doing. Yoenis was a great player, a very integral part of what we were doing, but I think there’s been some overreaction externally. The feeling in here was that we got better.
“No offense to Cespedes, absolutely, he was a favorite in here. But we’ve seen how crucial starting pitching is down the stretch. The Angels are on our heels and we’re going to be playing meaningful games all month. If you can get starting pitching with the depth we have, that’s a huge plus.”
Still, for a team that is scoring an MLB-best 4.8 runs per game this season, things have hollowed out offensively for the A’s since surrendering Cespedes. In August, Oakland has plated 62 runs, 3.64 per game, but 19 of those runs came over the course of two games, both Lester starts, against the Kansas City Royals. Minus those two games, the A’s run production has fallen more than two runs per game on average. Meanwhile, the Red Sox, who are averaging 3.86 runs per game in 2014, have watched that average jump to 4.2 in August.
“Obviously it’s going to get blown up because it happened after the trade of our three-hole hitter,” Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick told the Chronicle. “I think a lot of fan reaction seems to me jumping off the bandwagon, and you expect that from people who don’t understand the full concept of the game. They can’t fully accept that this (slump) is what you go through at some point during the year.”
Well, on that note, at least the A’s can sit back and let the Red Sox do the bulk of the dirty work for them this week. Josh Beckett would love the week they have coming. Oakland has an off-day Monday before hosting the New York Mets for a pair of mid-week games, then the A’s have another day off on Thursday before their own showdown with the Angels next weekend. The best or worst the A’s can imagine is either a three-game edge or deficit heading into that series. But this is it, unless Oakland finds itself in a wild card chase, these are the final four times the A’s can hope that Cespedes can help give them a boost.
After Thursday, they’re on their own.