Moral victories aren’t enough for the A’s right now

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OAKLAND – The A’s pulled together one of those mad, late-inning rallies Tuesday that they seem to have a trademark on.

It was a commendable effort that came up just short in a 6-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners. And while the A’s always score points for the heart they show in battling back, the fact of the matter is that the hourglass is running low on this team.

The A’s aren’t going to win many games when their starting pitcher gives up six runs and they don’t advance a runner past first base until the eighth inning.

[RECAP: Gray roughed up, Mariners edge A’s 6-5]

This is still a team that’s searching for ways to score runs consistently, especially against left-handed starters, which means they need their starting pitching to be air-tight. Sonny Gray, so terrific against the Mariners in five previous starts against them, was hardly his sharpest. He gave up a season high-tying six earned runs on seven hits over five innings, though he had the backing of his manager after Tuesday’s game.

“I thought he pitched better than the numbers would suggest,” Bob Melvin said.

You can dissect Gray’s outing and explain away much of the bad. Austin Jackson hardly crushed his two-run single that got Seattle on the board in the third, but that rally began with Gray issuing two walks to begin the inning.

In the fourth, Endy Chavez hit a chopper up the middle that leaked past a drawn-in infield, but Gray also allowed Kendrys Morales’ single and Logan Morrison’s hard-hit double to set the table for Chavez’s hit.

Then Kyle Seager’s two-run homer in the fifth came on a 1-0 fastball that Gray was trying to spot inside but caught too much of the plate. That made it 6-0, which ended up being too much for the A’s to overcome – barely.

Gray was asked if he thought he pitched better than the numbers indicated.

“I don’t know,” he said. “The final numbers are all that matters.”

Mariners left-hander James Paxton was dialed in Tuesday, and he probably would have been a handful for any lineup. But the A’s struggles against him – just four hits over 7 2/3 innings – once again highlighted one of their biggest weaknesses.

This is a team that struggles mightily against left-handed starting pitching. The A’s are hitting just .240 against lefties overall this season, lowest in the American League, and they’re 4-10 against lefty starters since the All-Star break.

“Look at the quality of starters … any American League left-hander, especially here in the West, they’re not going to be a slouch,” A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “You look at the guy tonight, he’s running up to 99 mph on our (stadium) gun, which is slow. I wouldn’t focus too much on the negatives but focus on the positives that we were one swing away from winning the ballgame tonight.”

Very true, but it doesn’t excuse the six-run deficit the A’s had to overcome in the first place. Or plays such as Chavez’s double, a slow-hit ball to center where neither shortstop Jed Lowrie nor second baseman Alberto Callaspo covered second base, and Chavez wound up with a double.

The A’s lost a chance to gain a game on the first-place Los Angeles Angels, who lost at Houston. And considering they’re facing a 4 ½ game deficit with just 24 left to play, every missed opportunity to gain ground is magnified.

They get their chance to bounce back behind Jon Lester on Wednesday afternoon. Taking the mound for Seattle? Cy Young candidate Felix Hernandez.

The runs won’t be easy to come by against him either, and the A’s won’t be picky about how they generate them. When the hourglass is running low, wins are wins no matter how they come.

Phillies walk off winners thanks to a poor decision by Marcell Ozuna

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The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.

In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.

On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.

Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.