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Johnson lets A's down in opening series, with first-place Mariners now on deck

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(OAKLAND) -- Somewhere, you know Grant Balfour is chuckling a little bit.

The former Oakland Athletics closer surely must have noticed that his replacement with the two-time defending American League West champions, Jim Johnson, took two losses in the A's opening series against the Cleveland Indians this week.

Johnson gave up two runs in the ninth inning on Opening Night as Oakland lost, 2-0, and then the former Oriole proceeded to blow the save opportunity Wednesday evening, taking the 6-4 defeat.

(In between, Scott Kazmir threw a gem in the A's first win of the year, a 6-1 victory yesterday.)

While it's an easy belief to blow off these issues because it's the first week of the season, those two lost shots at victory always come back to haunt a team in August and September. And just because Oakland has won two straight division titles doesn't mean they will be handed a third one, obviously.

So Johnson is already on the hot seat, especially since Balfour was pretty good -- and a fan favorite, to boot.

As the A's welcome the Seattle Mariners to town tonight for a four-game set, it'll be important for Johnson to establish some respect in the eyes of the fans (and the team, of course, even if no one says it out loud). The Mariners are off to a 3-0 start, thanks to a road sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.

It's a long season, of course, but if Oakland has eyes on larger prizes than a mere AL West title -- and with 16 of those already, the A's surely know how to win divisions -- winning games they should is an important part of surviving the AL playoffs.

And maybe even avoiding the Detroit Tigers in the first round.

The last two seasons, Oakland got stuck facing the Tigers instead of the wild-card round winner. And it's games like these two this week against Cleveland that hurt when home-field advantage in the playoffs is at stake later in the year.

Who knows if these A's will be fighting for a playoff spot come fall? But either way, losing games you should win -- especially on your home field -- is not a recipe for success in baseball, or any sport.

Tonight's game between Oakland and Seattle features two inexperienced starters, so it may come down to one team outscoring the other in the end: the A's send Jesse Chavez to the mound to face the Mariners' Roenis Elias, who is making his MLB debut.

Chavez is making just his fifth career start, although he posted a 3.92 ERA last year in 35 relief appearances for Oakland.

Game time is 7:05 p.m.

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