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How the Oakland A's are 2-15 in one-run games

Bad luck, bad relievers and bad defense. If you have a moment, though, I've figured out a way to write that sentence 730 times.

Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

If you haven't heard about the bad luck of the Oakland Athletics, you haven't been trying hard enough. According to the runs they've scored and allowed, they should be close to .500. If you add up the runs they should have with a normal distribution of their baserunners, they should be 27-22 and 1½ games back in the West. Instead, they're 17-32, in last place and already looking at what they can sell in July.

Bring this up with someone who's had to watch all 49 games, and they might bristle. It's not bad luck, it's the incredibly awful bullpen or the thumb-fingered defense. It's so clear when the games are being played that the A's are failing because of roster defects and character flaws. This isn't bad luck. It's poor design!

Then you get to the A's record in one-run games. They're 2-15. That's unfathomable. The A's might have bullpen issues, and they might have a lot of them. But no team in the history of baseball has been a .118 team in one-run games over a full season. I should research that and cite something ... but I'm pretty comfortable sitting that research project out and appealing to common sense. What the A's are doing is historic.

I'm completely flummoxed, fascinated, and terrified, and I have to look at all of these one-run losses. A's fans are right to close the tab now, unless they ... can't ... look ... away.

1. Mariners 5, A's 4 - April 11

Key moments:
Tyler Ladendorf's safety squeeze in the seventh inning was chopped straight down and not good enough to allow the runner to score:

a's bunt

Josh Phegley was out by this much on the safety squeeze:

a's out
Marcus Semien was the first middle infielder in baseball history to not get the neighborhood play called in his favor:


Mark Canha couldn't handle the relay throw at first, so what should have been a double play was two on, one out. That set up a two-out homer from Nelson Cruz, which was hit off a sinker that was supposed to be here:


But ended up six inches higher.


The A's almost won it in the 10th, but their walls are this high.


And the carom went right to Austin Jackson, who made a perfect throw to Brad Miller, who made a perfect relay. Also, if the third-base coach is just a little less froggy, there was just one out, and the game could have been won in the next at-bat.

Some of these examples involve good baseball plays from the other team. Some of them involve the A's playing bad baseball. In a one-run game, though, the reversal of any of them could have led to an A's win. Instead, the ball went right to Jackson, the sinker was just that high, and Canha can't hang onto the ball. We don't even have to dig into the fouls back to the screen or hard-hit outs, even though they almost certainly exist.

It's OK. Time has a way of evening these things out, right?

2. Mariners 8, A's 7 - April 12

Key moments:
Josh Reddick couldn't catch this with two outs and two in scoring position:

Sure, it was the bonermitt that cost the A's the game, and that isn't bad luck. But it's the idea that Reddick, a Gold Glove winner, makes that play at that moment in that game. That play doesn't happen when the A's are up six or down seven. It doesn't happen with the bases empty. It happened with two outs and two runners on in a close game.

The real reason this was a one-run loss, though, was that the A's scrapped and scrapped and scrapped in the ninth inning to come back from a four-run deficit. It could have been a one-run win if Billy Butler doesn't try to pull this ball.

It's OK. Time has a way of evening these things out, right?

3. Astros 5, A's 4 - April 24

Key moments:
Josh Reddick's two-out double in the 10th was a stroke of good fortune, but the throw home got away from the catcher.


Reddick tried to score, but he was thrown out easily. Without that bad throw, it's possible that the A's win in the next at-bat.

Billy Butler got this pitch with the winning run on first and one out.


Sinkers don't go there. Sinkers don't go there! Butler hit a harmless fly ball. The next time he sees that pitch -- if not the next six times -- he'll hit it much harder. Those hits will probably come in 7-1 games.

Does that mean that the A's should have won? No, not at all. These were baseball plays and baseball things happened, just not in the A's favor. The idea, though, is to pile all these up and note that if any freaking one of them went the other way, the A's would have a couple more wins. If that several of them -- not even half -- went the other way, the A's might be close to .500 and still optimistic.

The A's also lost because Dan Otero and Eric O'Flaherty couldn't keep their sinkers down. The Astros' winning hit came with two strikes and two outs, for example. That's the combination, the secret sauce. Poor execution at exactly the wrong time.

It's OK. Time has a way of ... aw, nuts.

4. Astros 7, A's 6 - April 26

Key moments:
I'm caught between wanting to throw my hands up and say, "You get the idea" and continuing to pile on at the risk of my sanity and yours. I've chosen the latter strategy. May we all find peace in this world.

If only there were an image to symbolize this awful game.



That's a fastball above Evan Gattis's nose, which he hit for a two-run, ninth-inning double. The lead run was on base because Brett Lawrie had a brain fart and threw to second base on a fielder's choice when the runner was already there. Again, that was a bad baseball play, but of course it happened in the ninth inning of a one-run game.

5. Angels 6, A's 5 - April 30

Key moments:
If only there were a video to symbolize this awful game.


One thing I've realized about the 2015 A's this year: They get the big hit. They get the runners on, and they get the big hit. But it's never to win the game. The A's big hit is always and forever a hit to tie the game when the chips are down, only to have the bullpen cough up that tie.

Imagine, instead, that Ike Davis didn't hit it 399 feet, but that he dunked it 199 feet off the end of the bat. A's win! Everyone goes home happy. Imagine if Davis hits it 409 feet or 389 feet about five degrees to the left. Instead, that play with that center fielder at that moment.

Also, there are 10 more of these.

6. Rangers 8, A's 7 - May 2

Key moment:
Let's listen to the Rangers' announcer describe the game-tying hit (with two outs, of course):

"And he just missed it. I think. At the wall ... ball is carrying!"

Turns out it was barely a home run. Because of course it was. And you'll never believe it, but Shin-Shoo Choo was hitting .107/.254/196 entering that game.

To be fair, it was Abad pitch.

(No, really, that pitch was awful and deserved to be hit 800 feet. Still, doesn't change the dual thesis of "The A's bullpen is awful" and "bad things sure keep happening to the A's disproportionately.")

7. Twins 8, A's 7 - May 4

Key moments:
Let us reflect on a staggering statistic. The A's have lost as many games this season in which they've scored seven or more runs as they lost in 2013 and 2014 combined. You might think that's because they're allowing more than seven runs with greater frequency. That's true when compared to last year, but not 2013. The A's are just doing a magnificent job of allowing eight runs when they score seven.

More staggering statistics: The A's have allowed 11 three-run homers this year, and eight of them came with two outs.

/rubs temples

Seven of them came when the game was either tied or within a run either way. This is the bullpen's fault. It's also an amazing inability to get that final out. This game featured a two-out, three-run homer from Torii Hunter that was set up by this:


8. Twins 6, A's 5 - May 7

Key moments:
You know, I'm not going to play the poor-luck card for this one. Eric Sogard made a huge error in the first, and then he misplayed a ball in the fourth that led to another two-out rally. He's been one of the least productive players in the majors for the last two seasons, and the A's are still relying on him. Injuries or not, that's not poor luck.

Sogard screwing up in the field, where he's usually pretty solid, is poor luck in a one-run game, but of all the one-run losses so far, this is the one that's easy to blame wholly on the A's.

9. Mariners 4, A's 3 - May 8

Key moments:
Evan Scribner -- one of the only non-awful relievers in the A's bullpen -- wasn't so hot, allowing a single and a two-out, two-strike double to allow the Mariners to get a run closer. Fernando Abad came in and allowed a two-out, two-strike double to allow the Mariners to tie.

You don't need pictures or videos.

It's not that every two-out, two-strike double is indicative of an unlucky team. It's just that the A's allow two-out RBI at the worst time. That's how you can screw up stats like BaseRuns and mess with Pythagorean winning percentage.

10. Mariners 4, A's 3 - May 10

Key moments:
Oh, look the same score. At least in this one, it was Felix Hernandez who stymied the offense. The A's never had a runner in scoring position, so this is another one that's hard to blame entirely on poor luck. The power of the cumulative absence of good luck still applies, though.

I'm losing steam. I will note that the called third strike to end the game was in Eric Gregg land, and then Fernando Rodney yelled at Coco Crisp for complaining. That's a swell way to end yet another one-run loss.

11. Red Sox 5, A's 4 - May 11

Key moments:
Scribner was bad again, this time allowing an 0-2 bloop on a pitch out of the strike zone and a grounder through the right side on a first-pitch fastball below the zone. Then he allowed an RBI single on a fastball on the outside edge of the strike zone, before coughing up the lead on this:

Unless that's not a reliever being bad, but a reliever getting baseballed all to heck, with some sketchy fielding mixed in. Which, again, is probably the motto that's on the A's calendars this year. I'll check on that.

12. White Sox 7, A's 6 - May 15

Key moments:
Oh, this is perhaps the most 2015 A's of them all. With one out and a four-run lead, Brett Lawrie made an error. The next batter, Carlos Sanchez, looped a single. Then after another out, four straight White Sox reached base, including a seeing-eye grounder and three instances of user error from the A's bullpen. It was bad luck, it was bad baseball, it was a very A's Christmas.

At this point, I'm just staring at my computer, wondering why I thought this was a good idea and knowing it's too late to quit now. But I've only spent a few hours on this. A's fans spent about three hours on every single one of these stupid games.

This A's season is why people follow basketball.

13. White Sox 4, A's 3 - May 16

Key moments:
with two outs and the bases empty in a tie game adam eaton bunted for a hit and then advanced to third on an error and then melky cabrera fought off a pitch the other way when he was behind in the count to give the white sox the lead and then with a 1-2 count someone decided the best way to get jose abreu out was to throw him a belt-high fastball and that's how the white sox won the game and the a's lost well you just gotta give it to the white sox they played harder and deserved the win just another tough loss for the a's bullpen but that's ok they'll come around they always do.

14. Tigers 1, A's 0 - May 26

Key moments:
In the first inning, the Tigers scored a run with a single, a stolen base, a throwing error by the catcher on the stolen base and a sacrifice fly. It was the only run of the game for either team.

The A's were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

15. Tigers 3, A's 2 - May 27

Key moments:
The A's were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, including a three-pitch strikeout, featuring a hanging slider and hanging breaking ball, that ended the game with the tying run at second.

Oh, and the game was lost when Yoenis Cespedes hit a hanging metaphor over the fence for a three-run homer against an A's reliever. Yup.

And you know what? I missed a bunch of little things in those one-run losses because I wasn't about to spend 45 hours to watch every inning of every game. There were more missed opportunities, opposing runners that had no business taking risks that worked out, bloops that fell, miraculous defensive plays on the other side and blown calls that weren't subject to replay.

There were also things that went in the A's favor, too. That's how a lot of these became one-run games in the first place. There just weren't as many of those things.

The main point stands. If the A's could have saved a run-scoring hit from their 9-2 win against the Red Sox and loaned it to one of those Tigers games, or if they could have stuffed any of the runs from their 12-0 win against the Mariners in some Tupperware, if they could have prevented that two-out hit there or that two-strike single there ...

Or, to put it in table format with help from, here's what the A's pitchers have done in tight spots compared to other, less stressful situations.

High Leverage 341 .277 .365 .446 .812
Medium Leverage 634 .260 .319 .382 .701
Low Leverage 866 .212 .285 .316 .601

And here's what A's hitters have done:

High Leverage 428 .249 .308 .353 .661
Medium Leverage 724 .257 .308 .408 .716
Low Leverage 744 .256 .335 .392 .727

When it matters least, A's pitchers and hitters are at their best. When it matters most, A's pitchers and hitters are at their worst. That could be poor luck, at least to start, but it also might have become a self-fulfilling prophecy at one point. The hands grip the bat tighter, the pitcher nervously shakes off more signs, the catcher starts second-guessing the pitch he's about to call because he's been so wrong in these situations before.

I don't believe you can prove when a player or team succumbed to a high-pressure situation, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

I also don't believe a team can really go 2-15 in their first 17 one-run games, but here we are.

The A's should probably be around .500, give or take, and the above isn't to suggest that they should have gone 17-0 in one-run games and be in the thick of a postseason race. Enough screwy, ill-timed things have happened, though, that the 2015 A's were worth examining. Their bullpen has been awful. Their defense has been awful. Their timing, on both counts, has been worse.

That doesn't mean this will continue all season, but it's probably too late already. After the long offseason and myriad moves to revamp the roster, this is how it was all ruined. It doesn't seem fair, even by baseball's cruel standards.