Somewhere, somehow, the 2014 Oakland Athletics need to get their bullpen in order, because this is getting too routine and too ridiculous to just shrug off as an anomaly.
The A's took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 11th inning today in Tampa Bay, and the bullpen gave up four runs to lose the game. Dan Otero couldn't finish the game, surrendering the game-tying run with two outs and two strikes, and then Luke Gregerson gave up a three-run home run to lose the game.
And perhaps it's fair, since the Rays lost a game on Wednesday even though they gave up only one hit. For the A's, it's the first loss in their last six games, and they now head to Toronto for three games starting tomorrow with their 18-7 road record.
Oakland took the lead in the top of the 11th inning on a sacrifice fly by Yoenis Cespedes, and it looked like the team would escape with a sweep at Tropicana Field. But anyone who is watching the A's this year knows this bullpen is just having a lot of issues protecting leads.
And it happened again. The Oakland relievers are just 10-9 this year, and the gang is putting together quite the inconsistent season. Even with an American League-leading bullpen ERA of 2.76 heading into today's game, the nine losses and the nine blown saves are just ugly.
The A's are 30-17 this year, and they could easily be 35-12 -- especially based on that scoring differential that's been getting so much press lately. But again, the relievers have been drastically underperforming in key situations.
According to baseball-reference.com, the Oakland staff as a whole has surrendered a .663 OPS in situations defined as "late & close", i.e., plate appearances in the seventh inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck.
Overall, the team as a whole is giving up just a .610 OPS to opposing batters.
(One assumes most of this "late & close" damage has come against relievers considering the late-inning parameter, although the exact splits are unavailable online currently.)
To be lesser than the whole at the worst possible times has been problematic for the A's, and they will have to continue fiddling with the bullpen hierarchy in order to get this fixed. Nominally-new closer Sean Doolittle, it should be noted, was unavailable to finish today, because he struggled to close the game on Wednesday efficiently enough to have a fresh arm for this game.
Whether it's the nine losses or the nine blown saves -- some games have featured both, obviously -- the Oakland squad is only holding itself back from higher achievement right now. Thankfully, it's only May 22, but it's never good to head into summer with a shaky bullpen.