Oakland A’s are off to worst start in 105 years

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OAKLAND — Not since 1916 has the Athletics franchise started a baseball season 0-6. The 2021 A’s matched that 105-year record set by Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics on Tuesday with a 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Coliseum.

This team isn’t fine company to share in history: That 1916 A’s team lost 117 games and won 36. That sixth loss on April 20 of that year came at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Babe Ruth pitched a one-run complete game and Athletics starter Bullet Joe Smith lasted all of one inning and allowed four runs.

The .235 winning percentage the Athletics finished with is the worst in Major League Baseball’s modern era — granted, they played 153 games then. The club’s headliner other than the Hall of Fame manager was future Hall of Fame infielder Nap Lajoie in the last season of his 21-year baseball career, and outfielders Amos Strunk and Jimmy Walsh.

But this 2021 A’s team isn’t the 1916 A’s team. They shouldn’t be, anyway. These are the defending American League West division champions. They’re a team rife with talent on both ends; Gold Glovers and young stars who’ve thrived together as the underestimated challenger and shocked crowds with fervent comebacks. That team hasn’t shown up yet.

Manager Bob Melvin, who trails Mack by a few thousand wins, but ranks third among A’s managers in history, was delayed in talking with the media after this sixth loss. He had a message for the team, but chose not to share it.

“I’ve said things,” Melvin said.

On the flip side, the A’s players have maintained that they’re not panicking. Panic does no good — all they can do is play with more urgency. They’ve looked utterly discombobulated and out of rhythm playing against the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers — two strong teams that are humming along in midseason form to kick off this 162-game season.

“Everyone is looking at themselves in the mirror and asking what can you do better? What can you clean up?” Chris Bassitt said. “Long term wise, I don’t think anyone is worried. Short term, it sucks.

“I think it’s more just embarrassing. It’s not so much a panic, long term. It’s just embarrassing right now.”

The good news is that the A’s managed to put an end to another streak: For the first time this season, the A’s did not allow eight or more runs in a game. That streak entered the A’s into an exclusive club with the 1995 Chicago White Sox and 1976 San Diego Padres for the only teams since 1901 to do so in the season’s first five games.

But other puzzling numbers have emerged still. The club’s 8.00 ERA ranks as the worst in the majors. Their .169 batting average ranks dead last in the American League. Batting average isn’t the tell-all stat, but in this case it tells the story of an injury-plagued lineup struggling to scrape together any semblance of a rally.

Three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw mowed through the lineup three times with ease, striking out eight and allowing two hits with one earned run with the help of a particularly devastating slider.

That run came from Ramón Laureano, back in his first game since Friday, who doubled home Jed Lowrie — who had doubled the at-bat prior. He went 2-for-4. They were the only bright spots in the lineup. Lowrie went 2-for-4 and nearly had a double that had an .810 expected batting average, according to Statcast, but Betts tracked it down.

Stephen Piscotty had a good read on Kershaw, but was only able to find grass once for a hit. He nearly had a home run, but the umpires didn’t even make a call on it, told Melvin the ball was “15 feet foul” and ultimately called it that way after convening.

“In every facet of the game, we can be better,” Piscotty said. “Sometimes it takes a bit to get into the rhythm of things. we’re coming off a strange season, a strange offseason. don’t want to make excuses, but it’s taking us a bit to get into the rhythm of a regular season.”

Shortstop Elvis Andrus echoed something similar before the game.

“It hasn’t been the start we wanted, for sure, especially after the way we played in spring training,” Andrus said before the game. “This team has been winning the division the last few years. The organization has had bad starts before. We didn’t start like this last year, but you’re going to get into those bumps during the year. We all talk in the clubhouse, it’s better to happen now than June, July or August.”

One facet shored up a bit on Tuesday, at least. Bassitt was the A’s first starter to keep the game in reach. When he took the mound, the A’s starters as a group was carrying a 9.82 ERA, good for worst in Major League Baseball heading into Tuesday’s games.

Bassitt dealt six innings, and was burned mostly by a handful of pitches in the second and third innings. A two-strike fastball up in the zone to former Athletic Max Muncy sailed over the left-field fence for a two-run home run in the third. Two at bats later, Edwin Rios punished a hanging two-strike curveball for a solo blast.

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