Athletics

A's struggles against Mariners, last-place teams could prove costly

A's struggles against Mariners, last-place teams could prove costly

OAKLAND -- One of the most impressive parts of last year's A's team was the way they beat up on bad teams. This season has been a completely different story.

Following their 9-2 loss to the last-place Mariners on Friday night, Oakland fell to 3-5 against Seattle on the season and just 9-9 against last-place teams in baseball. And that doesn't even include the A's 0-6 mark against lowly Toronto, currently 25-44 on the season and only out of last place thanks to the horrific Baltimore Orioles.

If the A's end up missing the postseason by a game or two, some of these losses could prove to be their undoing.

"We're chasing some good, good teams," said Friday's starter Chris Bassitt. "We just can't give any games away, and unfortunately, I kind of feel like I did tonight."

At 35-35, the A's are fortunate to still be well in the mix for a wild-card berth, just 2 1/2 games behind Texas for the second spot in the American League. But these types of uninspired losses against poor competition have to stop.

For whatever reason, the A's have really struggled to play good baseball against the Mariners this season. After losing the first two games of the season in Tokyo, Oakland dropped two more in Seattle last month. The A's did bounce back to sweep the Mariners later in May, but once again looked shaky in Friday's blowout loss.

"Everybody in the big leagues is going to give you a challenge and we just didn't play well enough to win the game tonight," said Oakland manager Bob Melvin. "(Seattle) won the first four games (against us) -- two in Tokyo and two at their place -- and then we ended up sweeping them (last series). Coming off a road trip with a day off, we'd expect to do a little better today. We just didn't. So come back out with a little better effort."

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The A's still have a chance to win this series against the Mariners, but now there's no margin for error. Right-hander Frankie Montas will get the ball Saturday, followed by Tanner Anderson on Sunday. Oakland could really use two wins.

MLB free agency: Five infielders A's could target this offseason

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MLB free agency: Five infielders A's could target this offseason

The A's infield appears mostly set for the 2020 season, but there are still questions to answer at second base and behind the plate. Oakland could choose to bring back Jurickson Profar and Josh Phegley, or they could instead turn to the free agent market at those positions.

With that in mind, here are five infielders the A's could target in free agency:

Stephen Vogt - C

We know that the A's have already reached out to their former catcher to discuss a reunion. Vogt is coming off a strong season with the Giants, slashing .263/.314/.490 with 10 home runs, 24 doubles, and 40 RBI in 99 games.

The 35-year-old is still extremely popular in the A's organization and among Oakland fans. He would be an excellent mentor for young Sean Murphy, with the two forming a potent platoon behind the plate.

Vogt figures to earn a raise from this year's league-minimum salary of $555K but should still be affordable for the A's, if they choose to move on from Phegley.

Jason Castro - C

Castro represents another left-handed bat to platoon with Murphy behind the plate. The 32-year-old is a Castro Valley native and played his college baseball at Stanford.

Castro posted a .232/.332/.435 slash line with the Twins this season, blasting 13 homers and 30 RBI in 79 games. He is also one of the better defensive catchers in the league, particularly when it comes to pitch framing.

Castro earned $8 million this year in the final season of his three-year contract with Minnesota. He almost certainly won't get that much money in his next contract, though he may still be more expensive than Vogt.

Eric Sogard - 2B

Sogard spent his first six major league seasons in Oakland, where he became a fan favorite, thanks in part to his distinctive "Nerd Power" glasses. This season, Sogard reminded us that Nerd Power can also translate to some serious production on the field.

The 33-year-old enjoyed the best season of his career, slashing .290/.353/.457 with 13 home runs, 23 doubles, and 40 RBI in 110 games between Toronto and Tampa Bay. If the A's choose to trade or non-tender Profar, Sogard could take over the starting second baseman job and add a much-needed left-handed bat to the lineup.

Sogard earned just $555K this year and will get a significant raise in free agency. However, he could still cost less than Profar's projected $5.8 million in arbitration.

Jason Kipnis - 2B 

Kipnis has spent his entire nine-year career with the Indians, slashing .261/.333/.417. This past season, those numbers dipped a bit to .245/.304/.410, but he still notched 17 homers, 23 doubles, and 65 RBI in 121 games.

The 32-year-old should still have some productive seasons in front of him and, like Sogard, he would provide another left-handed bat in the A's lineup, if Oakland decides to move on from Profar.

Kipnis just completed a six-year, $52.5 million deal with Cleveland but figures to come a bit cheaper now. The A's might even be able to snag him on a one-year contract.

[RELATED: Five relievers A's could target]

Ben Zobrist - 2B

Zobrist is 38 years old but can still swing the bat when healthy. The former A has a career slash line of .266/.357/.426 in 14 seasons, the last four coming with the Cubs.

Zobrist only played in 47 games this year due to personal issues, but in 2018, he hit .305/.378/.440 with nine home runs, 28 doubles, and 58 RBI in 139 games. The switch-hitter could provide the A's with an additional left-handed bat against right-handed pitching.

Zobrist earned $12.5 million this year in the final season of a four-year, $56 million deal with Chicago. With his age and uncertainty, he could be available for fairly cheap.
 

Ex-A's catcher Bruce Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in HEADSTRONG

Ex-A's catcher Bruce Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in HEADSTRONG

"It made me feel a little lost in the world."

Former A's catcher Bruce Maxwell made history on Sept. 23, 2017, by being the first MLB player to kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality. 

He detailed that day to NBC Sports Bay Area/California in NBC Sports' documentary, "HEADSTRONG: Mental Health and Sports."

"When I got to the field, I immediately walked into my manager's office -- had a sit down with him and our GM in private, told them what I was going to do, told them how I was going to go about it -- told them my plan, reasons, and shed a few tears because it's a heartfelt subject for me ... " 

Maxwell knew the backlash he would receive, he just wasn't prepared for the magnitude of it. He received death threats -- and still does to this day.

"The fact that somebody actually took the time to find out what school my sister coached basketball at in Texas, somebody took the time to find out where my mother lived," he explained. 

Maxwell then admitted he rarely left home when he headed back to Arizona following the event. 

"I was miserable," he said. 

He didn't want to do anything. Not exercise, not even talking to his parents.

"At that moment in time, I was standing for something way bigger than myself," Maxwell explained.

Just a few weeks later, the 28-year-old made headlines once again when he was arrested at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct after he allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery worker.

Maxwell told NBC Sports Bay Area/California he was in a certain mental state, and in addition to what was currently going on, he felt he needed to grab his gun in order to protect himself.

"I'm in my house, I'm defending myself, just in case this happens to be one of these crazy-ass people that are sending me threats," Maxwell said

He didn't feel like himself. Not even like a human being, he explained.

[RELATED: Marcus Semien shares mental health journey]

But now, he's freely talking about it and wants to leave his mark on the world with more than just what's going on between the foul lines.

You can watch all of the "HEADSTRONG: Mental Health and Sports" vignettes right here. The full documentary will play all month on NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California.

Check our channel listings page for times and dates.