Errors, injuries mess up A's

Oakland Athletics' baserunner Josh Willingham is congratulated by teammates after Willingham scored...

Oakland Athletics' baserunner Josh Willingham is congratulated by teammates after Willingham scored a run during the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels in Oakland, California, July 17, 2011. (REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:59 PM ET

SEATTLE - It is that time of year when teams who have played themselves out of the playoff picture have to wrestle with some competitive issues: play the veterans? Or play the kids?

The Blue Jays have embraced the latter avenue, mixing in Brett Lawrie, Eric Thames, Luis Perez, Brad Mills and Henderson Alvarez.

The Oakland Athletics have a lot of talent percolating in the farm system but they have not yet turned the page on 2011 and the high hopes that they had until several devastating injuries to their pitching staff doomed them to also-ran status.

“There is a lot of season left,” A’s general manager Billy Beane told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Regardless of where we are now, it is important to win as many games as we can. I don’t think we can turn the roster over just for development purposes.”

Beane has made one exception this week when he summoned first baseman/outfielder Brandon Allen from Sacramento. Allen was traded to Oakland from Arizona at the deadline along with Jordan Norberto for relief pitcher Brad Ziegler.

Manager Bob Melvin didn’t mean for Allen to get immediate playing time but his hand was forced when first baseman Conor Jackson was sidelined early this week with a stiff neck. All Allen has done is go 8-for-16 this week. Jackson is expected back in the lineup as early as Thursday’s opening game against the Jays and when that happens, Allen will likely sit.

The A’s tied their 2011 optimism to a solid pitching staff with the potential to be the league’s best. Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, Rich Harden and a deep, deep bullpen featuring Andrew Bailey, Grant Balfour, Brad Ziegler and Michael Wuertz promised to miss a lot of bats this season.

The A’s also tried to bolster their offensively-challenged hitters by bringing in Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and a full season of Coco Crisp in centre field.

The pitching has been as good as it could be, despite season-ending surgery for Anderson and Braden. In the American League, only the Yankees have allowed fewer earned runs (426-431) but on defence, the A’s have dropped the ball. Literally.

Through Tuesday’s game, the Athletics have made 100 errors this season and that carelessness has led to a major-league high 70 unearned runs in their first 122 games. To put that in perspective, the Phillies, by comparison, have allowed the least unearned runs (19).

Coupled with their anaemic offence that has produced 478 runs (more than 100 fewer than the Blue Jays), the A’s are a going-no-where third-place club in a four-team division, trailing Texas by 16.5 games.

The A’s have set an Oakland mark by hitting no more than two homers in any of their past 93 games. The previous mark was 91, set over the 1974-75 seasons. The A’s hadn’t homered in five straight games before Willingham went deep Tuesday.

So what’s stopping them from giving their fans — and themselves — a glimpse at the future by bringing up first baseman Chris Carter or outfielder Michael Taylor just to get a taste? It’s not as if a few more losses can hurt them. In fact, if it improves their position in the draft, what’s wrong with that?

“You can’t make (losing) part of your plan, and the guys are still playing hard,” said Beane. “We feel good about going with what we have.”


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