If anyone reading this follows the San Jose Sharks, they are aware of that team's difficulty in holding third-period leads -- and the cost that flaw has had on the Sharks' chances to win the Stanley Cup the past handful of seasons.
Well, now the correlation can be made to the Oakland Athletics bullpen, which has also cost that team at least two shots at the World Series recently -- and might be proving to be the same dangerous flaw yet again.
The A's lost to the Detroit Tigers last night, 6-5, after taking a one-run lead into the seventh inning. Oakland's bullpen has the best ERA in the American League, but the relief corps also has been saddled with a whopping ten losses this year -- and it's not even June yet.
(For context, the A's bullpen combined for 32 losses in both 2012 and 2013, but this year, the relievers are on pace for 31 for this season alone.)
Oakland leads the AL in blown saves (nine) and bullpen losses (10) in 2014, and even though the A's are 31-21 with a 1.5-game lead in the AL West, it's easy to see where this team could be if the bullpen was merely as efficient and productive as it has been the past two years when the A's won the division title both years.
The team has the biggest run different in the AL (+99) by far, as the next-best team is at a mere +45 -- the Los Angeles Angels, who chase Oakland in the division behind that 1.5-game deficit.
Which illustrates the point: if the A's were duplicating their 2012 bullpen success, to the tune of only 14 losses for the whole season, Oakland would be five games or so better in the standings than they are right now. Manager Bob Melvin and fans alike can only hope the team moves closer to the law of averages over the summer and doesn't keep blowing these games in the late innings.
Otherwise, the A's may find themselves even further from that elusive World Series title.
In Tuesday's game, the offense did what it needed to against 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer: Oakland tagged him for five runs in six innings, but like what happened on May 7 against Seattle's Felix Hernandez, the A's chase a dominant starter from the game -- only to see the bullpen lose the game late.
Nothing is more deflating for the guys in the clubhouse: they may not say it out loud, but they're thinking it ("We did our job; why can't you do yours?"). And it's a puzzle, with the league-leading ERA and all.
Perhaps it's a lack of killer instinct, the same malady that has plagued the Sharks for so long. It would be a shame for the A's to not learn from their brethren down Interstate 880 about messing up one too many times with a lead.