A's kept in check by Rangers' Oswalt

A's kept in check by Rangers' Oswalt

A's kept in check by Rangers' Oswalt
OAKLAND -- Heading into a six-game homestand against the teams with the best two records in baseball, the A's found themselves facing a stiff challenge to their newfound status as playoff contenders.

And though Oakland came in hot, having won nine of its last 10 games, it didn't do the team any good on Tuesday. With little clutch hitting to speak of, the A's fell in the first of a two-game set against the Rangers, 6-1.

It would've been Oakland's Major League-high 12th shutout were it not for center fielder Josh Reddick, who clubbed a home run to right field to lead off the seventh inning against Texas starter Roy Oswalt.

Reddick's 21st homer of the season kept the A's power surge going in a small way after they smashed nine home runs in three games over the weekend in Minnesota.

"No matter what, if you're playing bad or playing good, you want to put a game like this behind you when you don't get the runs across like you want to," Reddick said. "Got to come out here early tomorrow and hopefully even up the series."

A's fans have plenty to feel good about, considering their team was just a half-game game behind Detroit for the second Wild Card spot coming into Tuesday. But while it seems, at this point, that Oakland's recent play is more than a mere fluke, the team's bats -- or lack thereof -- may determine how long it stays in the race.

Of particular concern are bottom-of-the-order hitters like catcher Kurt Suzuki, third baseman Brandon Inge and shortstop Cliff Pennington. For the most part, they've struggled all season, and it was no different on Tuesday when they composed the last three spots in the lineup. The trio combined to go 0-for-11, and may have to join their teammates in heating up if the A's want to continue to compete.

"Inge got off to a great start for us and was productive but has slowed down a bit to this point. We're still trying to get Suzuki and Pennington going," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Those are the options we have right now. When they're not hitting, they're playing defense.

"When guys aren't hitting, you expect the rest of the lineup to be able to pick you up, and to this point we've had production from other guys to overcome the struggles of some guys."

The A's youthful pitching staff is among the best in baseball, with the team still leading the American League in ERA. The offense, though much improved from earlier in the season, is still somewhat unproven, depending on several young players and guys without great track records for its recent surge.

On Tuesday, that offense fell back to earth, dropping Oakland's record against the Rangers this season to 5-6 and snapping the team's four-game winning streak.

Reddick was quick to point to Oswalt's solid 6 1/3 innings to help explain Oakland's low output, crediting the veteran righty for being able to miss so many bats. Oswalt struck out six A's hitters and allowed just two hits besides Reddick's long ball.

Right-hander Bartolo Colon, the lone veteran in a rotation that features three rookies, had his first so-so start since returning from a right oblique strain, allowing four runs in seven innings, and the bullpen gave up two more in relief of Colon.

"It was important to come in here and play the game the way it's supposed to be played," said Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, who hit his 28th home run of the season in the eighth inning. "We started off slow, trying to figure out what Colon was going to do. But the guys did a good job staying in there, not getting discouraged and getting it done."

The A's defense was partially to blame for Texas' offensive success, including Colon himself.

Trying to cover first base in the third inning, the pitcher couldn't beat the speedy Craig Gentry to the bag, and Gentry scored later in the frame, aided by a wild Colon pickoff attempt. In the fourth, right fielder Brandon Moss misread a deep fly ball, and second baseman Jemile Weeks was late to cover first base on Gentry's squeeze, helping produce two more runs for the Rangers.

"We looked a little out of sync," Melvin said. "We didn't look as crisp as we have here recently, but hopefully it's just one game."

As for the pitcher, Colon said he wasn't going to make excuses about the trouble he faced in the fourth -- it was just "a bad inning."

Ben Estes is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.