December 2, 2021

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Oakland A’s bullpen woes continue in loss to Chicago White Sox

OAKLAND — Needing desperately to right the ship with a postseason berth in the balance, the Oakland A’s lost their fourth straight. This time, a 6-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night in front of a crowd of 4,500.

Just 24 games remain in the season and the A’s — at one point in July first place in the American League West — are 3.5 games back of the second wild card spot held by the Boston Red Sox. The silver lining for Oakland, at least, is every wild card contender (save for the surging Toronto Blue Jays) lost on Tuesday night. But silver linings are growing dim; the A’s can’t fall backward into the postseason.

Manager Bob Melvin said after getting swept in Toronto that the A’s best baseball was ahead of them. He truly believed it. Production on the field just isn’t matching the urgency this team may feel with their contention window inching closed. Or, as A’s starter James Kaprielian said it, “Everybody just needs to go do their job.”

“We’re on the outside looking in as of now. We know what we can do,” Matt Olson said. “We know we have the talent in here. We truly believe we are a team that should be in the playoffs and should make a long run in the playoffs. We got to pick it up from the last four games…it’s a lot easier said than done. We aren’t pressing but from here on out, we have to play better if we want to win the World Series. It’s that simple.”

Contributing to this collapse is a pitching staff crumbling. Without Chris Bassitt anchoring the rotation, with starters pitching into unfamiliar territory, their one-time strong suit is becoming a weakness.

For the 15th time in their last 23 games, the A’s starter couldn’t get past the fifth inning, leaving open the meat of the game to a bullpen that’s been unable to keep runs from crossing.

James Kaprielian’s 30-pitch first inning in which he allowed a run on a bases-loaded walk prompted an inefficient outing that left the final five innings to the bullpen.

“Those guys did a good job of grinding me and putting together some long at-bats. Just didn’t get it done,” Kaprielian said. “I really wanted to go deep in this game and give those guys in the ‘pen a day off. Do what I can to be a turning point for us because that’s what we need right now. Just didn’t happen, the game didn’t go our way.”

Though the White Sox’s approach wore him down and upped his pitch count quickly, Kaprielian worked through some jams and pitched three more scoreless outings before his pitch count caught up to him. At 92 pitches after four innings, Kaprielian was pulled for A.J. Puk.

Though Puk has been inconsistent — four of his 10 appearances he’s allowed at least two runs, the rest zeroes — but manager Bob Melvin liked the matchups against Eloy Jimenez and Gavin Sheets, who both are batting well below .200 against left-handed pitchers. Both collected hits in a five-hit spree that put the White Sox up 4-1 — Puk was pulled with just one out down.

“They had a really good approach, didn’t try to pull,” Melvin said. “Hit the ball the other way. Obviously strung a lot of hits together against him.”

Daulton Jefferies stopped the bleeding with a double play ball to end it. He pitched 3 1/3 innings, pulled in the eighth inning for Jake Diekman after giving up a double and a walk. Diekman let both runs score with a broken-bat single to Brian Goodwin, who was in for Eloy Jimenez after he was hit in the knee with a foul ball while sitting in the dugout.

Despite those runs, Jefferies was the most impactful arm out of the bullpen, keeping the A’s in striking distance. Jefferies threw 54 pitches, an indication that he and his fresh arm could be used in even longer relief roles moving forward.

“Unfortunately he get sa couple runs on him, but he’s really starting to find himself confidence wise,” Melvin said.

Blanked a day prior to cap a sweep in Toronto, the A’s could only scratch one run off Fresno State alum Jimmy Lambert, making his fourth start of the season in aid of an injured White Sox rotation. Josh Harrison’s double to lead off the first inning was one of three hits the A’s could get off Lambert, his run scored on a sacrifice fly the only run off him.

The A’s fought back in the eighth inning, Yan Gomes and Elvis Andrus connecting for a pair of hits to score against Ryan Burr. The White Sox went to their second closer, Craig Kimbrel, and Starling Marte answered with an RBI single up the middle and stole his 43rd base and wen to third on an error. He’s 21-for-21 on stolen base attempts with the A’s. But Matt Olson and Khris Davis — making his first at-bats in Oakland since his return — couldn’t get him home from third.

“We’re all pulling the same side of the rope,” Kaprielian said. “We all want the same thing. We all believe our best baseball is yet to come. We know how we can get going.”

Oakland A’s bullpen woes continue in loss to Chicago White Sox