OAKLAND (AP) — Manager Bob Melvin knows the Oakland Athletics might need to find a way to win the AL West to guarantee themselves a long playoff series.
Pulling past the powerful Astros is the next aim for the A’s, daunting as it might be.
Two straight AL wild-card losses following 97-win seasons have left the A’s going into the offseason again wondering what it will take to finally get over the hump in a tough division dominated by Houston the past three years. Oakland has lost nine straight winner-take-all games since 2000 after a 5-1 defeat to the Rays on Wednesday night with Tampa Bay getting to Sean Manaea from the start.
The A’s were playing at home this time, a far different scenario from the 7-2 loss at Yankee Stadium in the 2018 wild-card game.
“We really had a great feeling about yesterday, so it’s disappointing for a lot of reasons,” Melvin said Thursday. “Trying to digest that but as far as the season goes, it was another great season. We’re proud of the fact that we backed up a successful season with another one and we expect to do that again next year. ... If we want to get out of that format we have to win some more games. We have a tough division and probably the best team in baseball in our division. The focus next year will be winning more games and trying to win our division.”
Oakland’s lone run Wednesday came on Ramon Laureano’s sacrifice fly after Marcus Semien reached on a three-base error.
“We’ll process the loss, take some time off, relax and think about what we can do next year,” said Semien, who produced a career season with 33 home runs and 92 RBIs while playing all 162 games. “We really feel good about the group here.”
Melvin doesn’t see the A’s needing much from outside the organization, rather going forward again with a young core that has accounted for the club’s recent success.
“As disappointed as you are in the moment you do look around that room and see the possibilities going beyond,” general manager David Forst said. “We’re definitely in a different place than we were a year ago after this game.”
Some things to consider as Oakland heads into the offseason:
BATS GO QUIET: Oakland went 2 for 45 with runners in scoring position over the final week of the season.
That was baffling for a club that hit a franchise-record 257 home runs this season.
It was enough of a concern that Melvin had the A’s take bunting practice before the wild-card game.
“We just hit a little bit of a soft spot toward the end of the season, why, I don’t know,” said Melvin, who plans to spend more time working on situational hitting come spring training.
PLAYOFF STRUGGLES: Sure, the long history of playoff losses stings. Melvin points out it is only the past two years for this group, but those two defeats hurt plenty, too.
The A’s certainly missed right fielder Stephen Piscotty, who was sidelined with a sprained right ankle since Aug. 25 and wasn’t on the wild-card roster. Piscotty, who batted .249 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs, also missed extended time with a sprained right knee from June 30 to Aug. 2.
“When you lose a guy, take a guy like Piscotty who was such an important part of the club last year and he’s gone the last month, more than a month at the end of the season, you kind of forget but then you look back and realize how good a player he was,” said Billy Beane, executive vice president of baseball operations.
PITCHING TO THE NEXT LEVEL: Melvin knows he has the pitching staff to lead this club going forward.
He believes Manaea and Mike Fiers can lead the way in getting the A’s over the hump next season, along with adding top prospects A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo to the rotation mix.
In the bullpen, Yusmeiro Petit made an AL-leading 80 appearances that ranked second in the majors.
DAVIS’ YEAR: Khris Davis led the majors in home runs with 48 last year then hit just 23 this season. He batted a career-low .220 and drove in just 73 runs following four straight seasons in which he hit .247 and three in a row with 40-plus homers.
“I know it was frustrating for Khris. I think he probably put a lot of pressure on himself. Khris takes a lot of pride in his role on the team of being the guy who’s been the 40-homer, middle-of-the-lineup guy,” Beane said. “I think he was trying to find the answer as much as anybody and it certainly wasn’t for lack of effort on his part or the coaching staff. We expect him to come back next year and return to his annual 40-homer, .247, which would be nice.”
WHAT A CROWD: The A’s certainly got Oakland going with a wild-card record 54,005 in attendance and with the third deck called Mt. Davis open.
“They were absolutely fantastic and unfortunately we weren’t,” Melvin said.
The team’s success means so much to the East Bay, which lost the Golden State Warriors to San Francisco and will see the NFL’s Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas next season.