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Lowell Cohn: A's offense on life support (w/video)


OAKLAND — The A’s can’t hit.

Maybe they’ll hit better some time, some place. But they have only 23 games left and they’re in second place and they’d better hit soon or it’s the dreaded one-game playoff for them.

What a comedown for a team that owned the American League West most of this season.

On Wednesday, they lost 2-1 to the Seattle Mariners. Got three hits. Sure, Felix Hernandez pitched for Seattle and he’s hard to crack, but the A’s pitched the great Jon Lester. And they still lost. And they barely could score. Exactly what you’d expect from this team methodically spiraling down the drain.

Question of the day: Which A’s hitter has life?

Further question: Which A’s hitter should any team fear?

Answer: Only one A’s hitter has life and only one A’s hitter induces fear.

Adam Dunn. The A’s picked him up from the scrap heap just the other day. Well, they traded for him. Thank the Lord for Adam Dunn. Dunn may be the presence the A’s need. Partially. He hits home runs — he hit a solo shot on Wednesday. He gets on base. And he is big.

Power-hitting Brandon Moss, on the other hand, has not hit a home run in 33 games, his longest homerless streak as an Athletic. And counting.

The A’s can’t hit.

Which raises a question: Did Oakland make a mistake trading Yoenis Cespedes for Lester and Jonny Gomes? This is the big question. This is the theme of the season. You know that’s true.

Bear with me here. I cheered when A’s general manager Billy Beane made the trade. I went all in for it. I admit that for full disclosure. And so you will grant me due process as you read further.

In retrospect, Beane may have been wrong to trade Cespedes for Lester. I may have been hasty endorsing the deal — not the first time.

Cespedes, we realize now, gave the A’s a presence in the batting order. You know what presence is. A guy the opponent fears. A guy the opposing pitcher is aware of as he sits on the bench and moves to the on-deck circle and grabs the pine tar and walks toward the batter’s box and digs in. A guy like Buster Posey. Mike Trout. Cespedes.

Presence.

When he was on the A’s, Cespedes was the sole presence. He made opposing pitchers change the pitches they threw the other A’s hitters.

The A’s hitters are a bunch of complementary hitters. They need someone to complement. Cespedes was that guy. Unlike the other A’s — think Moss, Josh Donaldon, Josh Reddick — Cespedes consistently hits with power, and he does it against every level of pitcher, against the mediocre pitchers but also against the best pitchers.

The thought suggests itself that the current A’s, minus Cespedes, hit well against average pitchers, eat them alive, are predators. But against elite pitchers, A’s hitters go full vegan. It certainly seems to be the case. An elite pitcher like Hernandez can crush them.

None of this is criticism of Beane. He took a brave risk, a noble risk — I mean that. But the risk may have failed — we still don’t know for sure. Beane had enough pitching — he already had acquired Jeff Samardzija. He needed to keep his elite hitter, his scary hitter, his difference-making hitter. Cespedes.

I praise Beane for taking the Cespedes-for-Lester risk. And I assert risks are necessary and praiseworthy in life. But they don’t always work out. That’s why a risk is risky.

Since the midpoint of the season (June 29), the A’s are not even a .500 team. Their record is 28-30. They have excuses. Shortstop Jed Lowrie was hurt and Coco Crisp has been hurt a few times — he is the only other Athletic possibly able to hit elite pitching consistently. But no one cares about the A’s excuses. The Angels sure don’t care. A’s manager Bob Melvin doesn’t care.

Melvin seemed dry-mouthed after Wednesday’s loss when he came to the postgame interview room. The clubhouse felt like a scene from a jail movie. Lowrie and Gomes and others sat at tables eating grub silently, the players reading cell phone — not even talking. Back to Melvin. For months, he’s preached a philosophy of winning the division to avoid the do-or-die wild-card game. One reporter asked if winning the division seems harder now.

“That’s your goal as a team (winning the division),” Melvin said. “What we focus on is winning a game. And that’s what we have to continue to do. There are lots of games left. If you look ahead and look how many games you’re behind, it can be a distraction. We’re all about winning Friday’s game.”

It was the correct answer. But it was modest and prudent and humble and it suggested doubt — that the A’s can take the division from the Angels, that they can avoid a one-game playoff, that things are as they should be.

Asked about his weak offense, Melvin said, “We’ll take (Thursday) off and come back out with some enthusiasm and positive thinking that our offense is going to come around. We’ve seen signs of it a little bit.”

I may have missed the signs. One thing is clear — Felix Hernandez never even noticed them.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. Reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.