A’s losing streak now nine straight after sweep by Twins

BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

The A’s lost their ninth straight game Sunday, losing 4-3 to the red-hot Twins who captured their ninth consecutive victory at Target Field in front of 14,295 on a damp Mother’s Day in Minneapolis. Many players from both teams featured pink highlights to their uniforms (socks, gloves, belts, undershirts and tape) to honor their mothers, but the tribute couldn’t motivate Oakland enough to salvage the final game of the series.

Jorge Polanco delivered the clutch hit, a two-run single in the third that scored Max Kepler and Jose Miranda to give Minnesota the 4-3 margin they would protect to earn the victory. Dalton Jefferies (1-5, 5.22) took the loss, while the win went to Twins reliever Cody Stashak (3-0, 2.53) who threw 2.2 scoreless frames in relief of starter Chris Paddack, who left in the third inning with elbow inflammation.

Paddack left following a Sean Murphy double that sent Sheldon Neuse to third, and Seth Brown greeted Stashak with a single that scored both runners, giving the A’s a 3-1 cushion. “Everyone is out there, scratching and clawing…every pitch, and that’s good to see,” Brown would say after the game. Stashak set down the next seven Oakland batters in order, setting the stage for the Twins to rally.

Jefferies was staked to two different leads in this game (the first time in the series that the A’s had been ahead), but neither advantage persisted long enough to matter. After Brown’s single in the third put the A’s on top 3-1, the Twins answered back, stringing together four hits in the inning culminating in Polanco’s two-run knock to give the Twins a margin they would not relinquish. “Our bats came alive in those early innings, and it’s up to me to…maintain that momentum shift going back out there and get a zero which I didn’t do,” Jefferies said.

The A’s did attempt to make it interesting in the ninth off Twins closer Emilio Pagan. Tony Kemp, pinch-hitting for Kevin Smith, worked a one-out walk after being down 0-2 in the count. He would advance to second following Christian Bethancourt’s single to left, and both runners tagged up on Andrus’ fly out to center, putting the potential go-ahead run in scoring position. Manager Mark Kotsay had but one hitter remaining on his bench, and while Jed Lowrie would have been an easy choice to pinch-hit for the struggling Christian Pache (.169) in such a key spot, Lowrie was nursing a back injury, and was scratched from the starting lineup.

Before the game, Kotsay noted that Lowrie “came in this morning with some tightness in his low back…and we felt (it would be) best that having him available off the bench would be a better option than having him go out early and not be able to finish the game.” Kotsay chose not to employ Lowrie, likely due to his back injury, and stuck with his young centerfielder, who popped out to Polanco to end the game.

Twins relievers combined to throw 6.2 scoreless innings, allowing only one hit after Brown’s single to greet Stashak in the third. In fact, Oakland had only four more base runners in the entire game after the third inning: Brown walked in the sixth, Andrus reached on an error in the seventh, Kemp walked in the ninth and Bethancourt singled in the ninth.

The losing streak is certainly difficult to endure, but Brown feels that better days are ahead. “It’s going to come together here…and when it does, everyone is going to latch onto it and ride it, so it’s going to be fun.”

Sunday’s game marked the return of Ramon Laureano from the suspended list. He was suspended for 80 games on August 6, 2021 for violating the Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. He missed 53 games last year and the first 27 in 2022.

Prior to the contest, Kotsay said, “It’s exciting getting him in there, getting him at the top, all of us are just excited for him to have that opportunity to play the game that he loves. When asked about having Laureano in right field with Pache in center, Kotsay did not waver. “Pache has done a great job in center, and with Ramon in right now, the defense gets better. We’ll go day-by-day with how we evaluate it, and how we manage giving guys days off and utilizing that rotation.”

Before the game, Laureano said, “I’m very excited to help this team compete and get better. It’s a grind, and you gotta have fun with it, in the dugout, in the clubhouse, it doesn’t matter if you fail, you gotta keep going.” About Pache, who has laid claim to the centerfield job that belonged to him for most of the three prior seasons, Laureano noted “He’s something else out there. I’m pretty excited for him.” When asked if he would be comfortable in right field, Laureano didn’t hesitate. “I have a better arm, so it works better there than in center and Pache is outstanding there, so why not? My whole minor league career, I actually played more right field than center, so I feel pretty comfortable out there.”

The A’s are now 10-18, last in the American League West, eight games behind the first place Los Angeles Angels. The Twins improved to 18-11, three games ahead of second place Chicago in the American League Central.

Up next: The A’s head to Detroit for a five-game set, including a doubleheader on Tuesday (the makeup game for the postponed April 4th contest), before returning home Friday, May 13th to host the Angels. Paul Blackburn (3-0, 2.22) will take the hill for Oakland against the Tigers Michael Pineda (1-1, 3.77) tomorrow night in the opener.

GAME NOTES:

Laureano went 0-4 with two strikeouts in his first major league action since the suspension last August.

The A’s have lost nine straight games, their longest losing streak since 2017, and been held to one run or fewer in ten of their last 15 games.

Oakland lost their first series to the Twins since 2017. Since 2013, they’re 36-20 against Minnesota.

The Athletics entered Sunday’s game with the lowest On Base Percentage in MLB at .265 and the second lowest batting average, at .200, which is the worst in the American League. They have the lowest OPS in the AL at .581. A’s batters have struck out at a 27% clip in 2022, the worst rate in the majors.

16 of the 37 players used by the A’s this year have been rookies, the most they’ve employed since 2017 when they used 20. Seven of the 16 rookies have made their major league debuts with the club.

The Twins nine game winning streak at Target Field is their longest streak at home since 2010 when they also won nine straight.

About J.A. Schwartz

J.A. Schwartz is a reporter and columnist for the Martinez Tribune. He's also a licensed professional in the health care field when he's not opining on the world of sports and culture for the benefit of our readers.

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