It was the bullpen on Monday night that gave up the lead in a tie game late, and it was the bullpen Tuesday night that blew yet another save opportunity in the ninth. But the A's couldn't buy a hit off Martin Perez today, getting just five base runners total in nine innings.
Sonny Gray pitched well enough to win, giving up single runs in the first, fifth and sixth innings while striking out eight batters in seven innings. However, you can't win if you don't score, and this was the first time since Opening Day the A's were shutout by an opponent.
And so Oakland has officially been welcomed to the 2014 season now. Hitherto, they had coasted pretty well through several series, winning five matchups in a row to push their record to an American League-best 13-5 as of Sunday.
Now, they're 13-8 and trailing the Rangers by a half game in the AL West. It's not the end of the world, of course; it's just April, but considering Oakland had a great shot to win the first two games of this series, it has to be a disappointment to everyone involved.
Sean Doolittle got a fat new contract, and then he lost the game on Monday night. Luke Gregerson blew the A's league-high sixth save on Tuesday night. And the bats went silent on Wednesday.
Fortunately for Oakland, they hit the road right away and face the Houston Astros for four straight starting tomorrow. The A's have owned their new division friends, of course, going 18-4 against them since the start of 2013.
And that's what Oakland needs right now: to re-discover their mojo against the lowly 'Stros. Because next week, they take on the Rangers again, this time on the road in Arlington. And the A's will want to prove this week was a fluke.
Something has to get right soon in that end of the bullpen rotation, however: to have six blown saves already just 21 games into the season is pretty shocking. For comparison's sake, last year with Grant Balfour anchoring down the ninth, the team blew 21 saves over 162 games. Even the 2012 team only blew 17 saves for the whole year, and the 2013 bullpen was theoretically "better".
At this rate right now, the A's would blow 46 saves in 2014. That's not practical or realistic, of course, but it illustrates the point: the Oakland relievers -- situationally -- haven't been very good in 2014, despite the collective 2.55 ERA overall.
Sure, Ryan Cook has been injured and is just rounding into form, but the relief corps was a perceived strength for this team as the season began. With Cook, Doolittle, Gregerson and Jim Johnson at the back end, opponents were going to have a hard time scoring off that quartet.
Instead, it's been guys like Francisco Abad (0.00 ERA in nine IP), Danny Otero (0.87 ERA in 10.1 IP) and Drew Pomeranz (1.93 ERA in 9.1 IP) who have been the stingy ones. It's too early to panic, of course, but still -- the big-name, high-priced guys aren't getting the job done.
Things will probably straighten themselves out, but considering the A's finished one game short of the best record in the AL in both 2012 and 2013? It's these early games that get away, costing Oakland a shot at the top seed in the postseason playoffs.
And sometimes, that can make all the difference in whether or not a team gets to the World Series or not.
(So bring on the Astros and hope it gets better in the bullpen, A's fans.)