This is not on Billy Beane, and it is not a result of Yoenis Cespedes living in a different time zone.
This is just epic all on its own without placing blame or cause on either of those two men.
The 2014 Oakland A’s have set themselves on fire, and it is quite something at which to marvel. The best team in baseball five weeks ago is now playing like the worst, capped Monday night by maybe its worst loss of the season that now has it eight games behind the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West while cutting its wild-card lead to 1.5 games.
After giving up the lead to the Chicago White Sox with one out to go, the A’s lost the game in the 12th inning when Tyler Flowers, who tied the game with a homer in the ninth, won it with a walk-off home run.
This latest loss, on the heels of blowing a ninth-inning lead by allowing two runs without giving up a hit in the inning against the Houston Astros on Sunday, was brutal.
Those are the kind of reactions the A’s have been eliciting since last month. The team is 14-23 since July 30 and 2-9 since Aug. 28. Its lead in the AL West has gone from four games on the morning of Aug. 11 to a virtually un-erasable hole.
In their last 27 games, the A’s have lost 19 times and given up nine games in the wild-card race.
This downward spiral, a pool of quicksand the A's find themselves in, has all happened in a flash, coinciding with the trade that some believed would make the A’s favorites to reach the World Series in the AL.
When Beane traded for a true No. 1 starter in Jon Lester, it cost him Yoenis Cespedes, but it made complete sense. Cespedes was going to be in a walk year the following season and wasn’t exactly setting major league records for hitting proficiency—he hit .256/.303/.464 with 17 home runs in 101 games. Lester gave the A’s, on paper, the best rotation in the league and made what many considered was the best team in the league even better.
And then, this epic collapse started. However, to properly understand just how bad it has gotten for Oakland, you need to know how good it was before.
“When you put it into perspective,” A’s manager Bob Melvin told John Hickey of the San Jose Mercury News heading into the All-Star break, “overall the numbers suggest we’ve had a pretty good first half.”
*The A’s won 59 games before the All-Star break, the most of any team in franchise history.
*Their run differential at the break was plus-145, which Hickey reported is the fourth-best mark at the break of any club since 1940.
*The A’s led the majors in walks, were second in runs scored and had the fourth-fewest strikeouts.
*Their pitching allowed one run or less in 27 of 95 games, and their overall 3.09 ERA was second-best in the majors.
*At one point in the first part of the season, the A’s were flirting with the 100 percent mark when it came to their chances to make the playoffs.
They've gone splat since then.
They are 21-27 since the All-Star break, but while the run differential has gone up to plus-152, the ERA has grown to 3.72. Stud starters Sonny Gray (2.79 ERA in first half, 4.06 in the second), Scott Kazmir (2.38, 5.96) and Jeff Samardzija (2.78, 3.99) have all pitched far worse than they had in the first three-and-a-half months.
The offense batted .222/.300/.344 in August, and it hasn’t gotten any better in September. While the A's missed Cespedes’ power, his replacements were getting on base more often than Cespedes in August.
Oakland also hasn’t been very good in one-run games this year.
Meanwhile, Lester has been just fine with a 2.59 ERA since arriving in Oakland, and the bullpen, with its 2.85 ERA, continues to be one of the best in the league despite Sunday and Monday meltdowns.
As you can see, the blame here can’t be placed on general manager Beane or the loss of Cespedes. This is quite simply a very good team collapsing on itself at all levels.
“You’ve got to get 27 outs, not 26,” A’s outfielder Sam Fuld told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle after Monday’s blowup. “Morale has been fine, it’s not a lack of effort on anybody’s part, we’re just not playing very good baseball, really, it doesn’t have anything to do with our character. Unfortunately we just don’t have a lot of guys swinging it as well as they’re capable of, and we had some miscues. But it’s not a lack of focus or lack of effort.”
It certainly is not, and it is also not because the A’s don’t have Cespedes in the lineup. It’s a combination of a lot of things, none of which is because Beane acquired Lester in a shrewd deadline move.
For the A’s to fall after the kind of first half they experienced, it was going to take something more historic than trading away a power source. And with a few weeks to go in this season, the A’s are making their best effort to accomplish exactly that.
Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.
Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com