When the Oakland Athletics were 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot at the All-Star break, they probably didn’t imagine having to wait six weeks to put together a winning streak.
But that’s exactly how long it’s been since they’ve won consecutive games, a streak they’ll try to snap on Friday when they continue their four-game series with the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.
Oakland (58-69) was 51-44 at the All-Star break and surprisingly in contention in both the AL West and wild-card races. That changed quickly in the second half, as the A’s have won just seven times in 32 games.
Both their lineup and pitching staff have taken a turn for the worse since mid-July. Oakland had a 3.39 ERA - the best in baseball - at the break, but with trades that sent Rich Harden, Chad Gaudin and Joe Blanton to different addresses, the pitching has suffered, sporting a 5.08 ERA in the second half.
While the A’s lost some big-name pitchers, the offense’s disappearance has been much harder to explain. Oakland was averaging 4.3 runs at the break, hardly an impressive figure, but far from the dreadful 2.7 runs per game it’s put up in the last 32 games.
The A’s have scored two runs or fewer in 16 of their last 23 games. They put up just a pair on Thursday against the Mariners (46-81), but Brad Ziegler (0.41 ERA) picked up his fourth save - escaping a bases-loaded jam with Ichiro Suzuki on deck - in Oakland’s 2-0 win.
“I’m not going to say I wasn’t thinking about Ichiro being on deck,” Ziegler said.
The A’s will now try to win consecutive games for the first time since July 10-11. They’ve also lost 11 series in a row since taking three of four from Seattle from July 7-10.
The Mariners, meanwhile, have dropped seven straight for the third time this season, though they’ve yet to lose eight in a row. They’ll hand the ball to Ryan Feierabend (0-1, 18.00 ERA) in hopes of avoiding that inglorious feat, but to do so they’ll need a much better performance than he delivered on Sunday.
Feierabend made nine mostly unimpressive starts in 2007, and last weekend was called up from the minors for the first time this season. He failed to impress, giving up six runs and 10 hits in three innings at Minnesota in an 11-8 loss.
Feierabend, who turns 23 on Friday, was 7-1 with a 2.04 ERA in 13 starts in Triple-A, but was working on three days’ rest in his major league season debut.
“He’s a finesse guy and the combination of nerves and working on three days’ rest probably had something to do with him not locating it as well as when he’s relaxed,” manager Jim Riggleman told the Mariners’ official Web site.
Like himself, Feierabend’s opponent will be a young left-hander. Oakland will hand the ball to 22-year-old rookie Gio Gonzalez (1-2, 7.53), who has experienced some growing pains in his first three starts in the majors.
After two solid outings to begin his career, Gonzalez was roughed up Sunday against the Chicago White Sox. He gave up eight runs - seven earned - over 3 1-3 innings in a 13-1 loss.
“His stuff was there,” manager Bob Geren said. “(He) just wasn’t in the strike zone often and when it was it was in the wrong location.”
Oakland has won 15 of its last 23 games in Seattle.