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Oakland needs more "clutch" hitting to succeed in 2014

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The Oakland Athletics dropped a 4-3 decision to the Texas Rangers last night at the Coliseum, which was frustrating as the A's watched an early 3-1 lead evaporate because they couldn't get a big hit at the right time -- and there were many opportunities.

The Oakland hitters went just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, leaving 11 men on base. The A's put 12 base runners on against Texas starter Yu Darvish, but they only could bring three of them around to score -- leaving the bases loaded in the fourth after stranding runners on second and third in the third inning.

In the ninth, the A's once again struggled with the tying run on second base and only one out, as big hitters Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes both flied out to end the game.

Over the course of 162 games, these types of games will occur: in fact, Oakland just had one of them on Saturday, too, but they managed to string together a few hits in the ninth against Houston's mediocre bullpen to overcome the early ineptitude and win the game.

But it's tough to do that against good teams, and the Rangers, of course, are a good team. When you face the best, you have to deliver that knockout punch when given the chance -- and the A's couldn't complete the knockout on Monday night against Darvish.

(And then the allegedly strong Oakland bullpen gave up the go-ahead run in the eighth inning. But that's another column for another day, or did that column already run last week?)

So far in a very young 2014 season, the A's are hitting just .163 with two outs and runners in scoring position. That's not going to get it done, and neither is the Oakland batting average (.237) with runners in scoring position at any time in the inning.

Looking back at 2012 and 2013 when the A's won the American League West both years, these situational-hitting numbers were a bit better than they are right now:

  • 2012: The A's hit .265 with runners in scoring position overall, with a .796 OPS, and the team hit .245 with a .773 OPS with RISP and two outs;
  • 2013: Oakland hit .268 with runners in scoring position overall, with a .771 OPS, and the team hit .224 with RISP and two outs (with a mere .664 OPS);
  • 2014: The aforementioned .237 with a .696 OPS, and the aforementioned .163 with a .597 OPS.

It's hard to read much into these 2014 numbers with such a small sample size, but the A's success in the previous two years with RISP overall is quite noticeable. The Oakland hitters will have to pick it up a bit in order to match their predecessors' efforts.

That the A's have been so successful -- winning the most games in the regular season of any MLB club since the start of 2012 -- is a testament to every phase of the game: hitting, pitching, defense, etc. When one facet of the Oakland squad hits a rough patch, there's often another facet there to pick up the slack.

Good clubs have a habit of doing that, beating other teams any which way they can on any given day, and the A's have proven they're a good club.

But in order to be a great club -- one that people will remember, flaws and all -- Oakland certainly could be more consistent more often in every facet of the game, and the team needs to do it at the right time (October). Sometimes, that's just a matter of fortuitous timing.

And it's April: a long season is ahead, and tonight's second game against the Rangers in this series at may not have the impact of a series between the two teams in September. However, it's never too early to play better baseball, is it?

Tonight's 7:05 p.m. game features Tommy Milone (0-1, 4.09 ERA) against Nick Martinez (0-0, 4.50).