A’s drop second in a row to Rangers

Oakland offense falls flat again after taking early lead

OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics held the Texas Rangers to just seven hits on Friday, but the five walks they issued came back to bite them.

Both of the Rangers’ key rallies were started by walks, as the A’s fell 5-2 at the Coliseum, dropping the first two games of the four-game series.

Oakland starter Daniel Mengden walked four batters overall, with two coming around to score. The right-hander also issued five free passes in his last start, in which he was knocked out in the fourth inning against the Minnesota Twins in an eventual A’s loss. In his four starts before that, dating back to his most recent call-up from the minors, he allowed just one walk total and won all four games.

“It’s very important for him [to limit the walks],” said manager Bob Melvin. “When you put guys on base, now you’re behind it a little bit, and maybe trying to be a little bit too fine at times. But he had a nice run there for a while where he wasn’t walking anybody and the results were good, so that has something to do with the last couple games not being as good.”

Mengden was perfect through the first three innings, retiring the first nine Texas batters in order, but the Rangers finally got to him in the fourth. A leadoff walk set the table and gave Texas their first baserunner, and then the Rangers strung together three run-scoring hits to turn an early 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead.

The first of those RBI hits came when Nomar Mazara smashed a 112-mph grounder past second baseman Jurickson Profar, and then Ramon Laureano briefly bobbled it in center field. By the time Oakland got the ball in to the plate, it was a split-second too late to nab the runner Shin-Soo Choo, who scored all the way from first base.

“It’s just kind of one of those things where they’re putting tough at-bats together, and I kind of fell behind and stayed behind,” said Mengden. “It all starts with getting ahead and getting strike one.”

The A’s gift-wrapped another run for the Rangers in the sixth inning. Mengden walked two batters and then gave way to reliever Blake Treinen, who promptly allowed a single to score one of the inherited runners. Treinen issued another walk to load the bases, but then got the final two outs to escape the jam.

“Really it’s a cutter in that’s not hit hard, but it ends up finding a hole,” said Melvin of the RBI hit off Treinen, whose struggles this season cost him his job as closer over a month ago. “Then he couldn’t find the strike zone for a little bit, and then looked like he got into his rhythm pretty good, and velo picked up, movement picked up. We’ve seen some spurts where he’s throwing the ball really well, and hopefully we can continue to get him out there on a consistent basis, because I believe that he pitches better when he’s getting consistent work.”

Texas added some insurance in the eighth inning, when Willie Calhoun blasted a solo homer off Ryan Buchter.

Before the Rangers’ bats came alive, it was the A’s who appeared to be in control for the first few innings. Oakland’s first two batters of the game reached base on errors by shortstop Danny Santana, leading to an unearned run off starter Lance Lynn in the first inning. The A’s scratched out another run in the third, on an RBI single by Mark Canha, and at that point they led 2-0 with both runs scored by Marcus Semien.

“We had a really good pitcher on the run [in the first inning], and he got out of it with one [run] and he was a little different guy after that,” Melvin said of Lynn, who ranks statistically as one of the best starters in the majors this year. “We put a bunch of pitches on him too, and it looked like even if we weren’t gonna score, we might be able to get him out of the game a little earlier but he got back into it and got some early-count outs as it went along, and he ended up giving them what they needed to win the game.”

Both of those early rallies ended with strikeouts by designated hitter Khris Davis, who hasn’t homered since June 18 and is batting .178 in 27 games since then. However, Melvin doesn’t believe that Davis’ struggles are related to any of the injuries he’s incurred this season.

“His swings are healthy again,” Melvin said of Davis, who finished 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. “It’s not like we saw him before, when he had some hand problems, he had some side problems. His swings are fine, he’s just going through a drought.”

It was the second straight game in which the A’s bats jumped ahead early and then went quiet, allowing the Rangers to storm back. In Thursday’s series opener, Oakland took a 3-0 lead and then eventually lost 11-3. This time, the 2-0 advantage withered into a 5-2 defeat.

The A’s early lead on Friday was almost even bigger than 2-0, but for a sparkling defensive play by Texas. With a runner on base, catcher Chris Herrmann drove the ball 400 feet to center, but Rangers center fielder Delino DeShields leaped up and reached over the wall to pull it back and rob Herrmann of a two-run homer.

The A’s flashed some leather of their own, despite committing a couple errors along the way. First baseman Matt Olson made an incredible running catch in foul territory in the third inning, and Buchter picked a runner off base in the seventh. In the ninth, Laureano got challenged by Choo again and this time threw him out at second base, for his eighth outfield assist of the year, tied for third-most among all major league outfielders.

After peeling off a six-game winning streak in their last homestand, the A’s have now dropped six of their last nine games, putting their record at 58-47. That’s cost them their position as the second AL Wild Card, as they now stand a half-game behind the Tampa Bay Rays for that playoff spot.

“I think we’re on the right track, where we need to be mindset-wise,” said Canha of Oakland’s late-July swoon. “We just need something to happen, somebody to make something happen, and kind of pull together and dig through. This stuff is gonna happen over the course of a season, and it hurts more now because we’re getting into where all the games are feeling really important, but I think we’ve gotta just keep a nice even keel and stay on track.”

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