Athletics Bullpen Hits a Bump in the Road Heading Toward the Playoffs

John Hickey

Whatever success the Oakland A’s have had in the first 55 games of this abbreviated 60-game 2020 season, and they’ve had plenty, it stems primarily from a durable, resilient bullpen.

The A’s come in to Thursday’s series finale 34-21, the American League West Division champions and the current holders of the No. 2 seed for the AL playoffs.

And the Oakland bullpen has a 2.43 ERA, the best in baseball; the Dodgers are second-best at 2.83. In the last three games, however, the bullpen has given up 11 runs (10 earned) in 11 innings.

Is the bullpen fading just as the A’s are ready to dive into the playoffs?

Probably not, but while the season’s numbers are great, the numbers of late are less so. For the season, the A’s relievers have allowed 52 earned runs. Almost 20 percent of those have come in just in the games Sunday against the Giants, a 14-2 loss, and games Tuesday (a 7-2 loss) and Wednesday (a 6-4 win) against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

It went so far that left-hander Jake Diekman, who hadn’t allowed a run all season, had that end in his 19th game when Edwin Rios, a left-hander took him deep for the Dodgers’ final run. It was a game-tying shot, but the A’s won the game in the ninth inning when Ramón Laureano hit a two-run homer and Liam Hendriks pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth.

A’s starter Sean Manaea, for one, saw the homer of Diekman as nothing more than a blip on the radar. He said seeing Diekman get scored up was surprising, but not shocking.

“Yes, it was surprising. He hasn’t given up a run all season, so yeah,” Manaea said of Diekman’s eighth inning Wednesday. “It’s baseball. That happens. The guy put a good swing on it and it went out.

“I don’t think it’s anything alarming. He’s still throwing strikes. He’s still throwing really hard. His slider is disgusting, so I think he’s right where he needs to be.”

Diekman also got support from manager Bob Melvin.

“With the number of games there are left in the season, you figured he had a chance (to be unscored upon),” Melvin said. “It was almost a shock, especially with a lefty (Rios). He right righties out equally as well, but a home run there is something that you don’t expect.”

Melvin said there might be a hidden benefit, that the homer might have eased pressure.

“At least he doesn’t have that to grind on now,” Melvin said, “and having the added pressure of trying to get through a 60-game season without giving up a run.”

In all, five different A’s relievers have allowed runs in the last three games, lefty T.J. McFarland and right-handers J.B. Wendelken, Jordan Weems and Lou Trivino. Over a longer stretch, right-hander Joakim Soria has allowed five runs in his last seven appearances after allowing just three (two earned) in his first 14 games.

At the same time, Hendriks has allowed just one run since Aug. 8, and Yusmeiro Petit has allowed one run since Aug. 10.

Melvin said his goal over the coming days – five games in four days from Thursday through Sunday to end the regular season – is to focus on giving his relievers the work they need without overusing them.

“The guys tend to like to not to go too long without some work,” Melvin said. We’ll be cognizant of that not only here but in the Seattle series as well.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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