The Story of a Winning Record Without Bob Geren: An Alternate History

The A's were at a critical point in the season. After a difficult series in San Francisco in which the Giants had swept them despite strong outings from Gio Gonzalez, Ben Sheets, and Vin Mazzaro, the A's had dipped below .500 for the first time since their Opening Day loss to the Mariners. Fans were getting themselves steeled for yet another disappointing season. And then...something marvelous happened!

Bob Geren went on vacation to Morocco. He had the freedom to do this at the drop of a hat because his boss was a man named Billy Beane. Bob Geren had been the best man at Billy Beane's wedding. They were very good friends. So Billy Beane let Bob Geren do everything he wanted to do. That's what friendship is all about.

The A's beat the Cubs on June 15, 9-5, giving them a 33-33 record. The Cubs came right back out and beat them 6-2 the next day, however. But the A's refused to let the Cubs win the series. In the third game at Wrigley Field, the A's had a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh. After getting two outs, Brad Ziegler was pulled and Craig Breslow came in to close out the frame. Although the A's went down in order in the top of the eighth, Breslow was left in to mow down the Cubs just as quickly in the bottom of the inning. Michael Wuertz did not come in to pitch in the eighth, because everyone knows that letting Michael Wuertz near a pitching rubber with a slim lead is silly! Andrew Bailey worked a quick ninth inning for the save, and with the 2-1 victory--Dallas Braden's first since his perfect game!--the A's got back to .500 with a 34-34 record.

Next, the A's traveled to St. Louis. Vin Mazzaro gave up a two-run homer in the first inning, but the A's put him right back on top with a four-run rally in the top of the second. Mazzaro continued to pitch well until the fifth inning, when a walk and a single put runners on the corners. Another base hit scored a run and put runners on first and second with one out. Wisely, the Geren-less A's brought Brad Ziegler in to take over for the struggling Mazzaro. Ziegler had already been warming up early in the inning, so he was ready to go. With two right-handed hitters coming up, Ziegler shut down the inning before the A's lost the lead. He continued to work his way through the right-handed St. Louis lineup, pitching a perfect sixth inning before being pulled. Jerry Blevins worked the seventh, the recently pretty good Tyson Ross worked the eighth (or maybe it was the other way around), and Andrew Bailey worked the ninth for the save.

Back above .500 with a 35-34 record, the A's took on St. Louis in the second game. After six decent innings from Ben Sheets, the A's took a look at his pitch count (87 pitches) and considered the past two innings. While Sheets had dominated the bottom of the Cardinals' order in the sixth, he'd had a rough 29-pitch/two-run fifth. His pitches were starting to look weak. His control and location were slipping. The A's knew that Sheets, even more than a lot of starters, was prone to leave balls up in the strike zone when his control started to flag. The A's half of the seventh inning was quick, but it was just long enough to let Jerry Blevins or Tyson Ross get loose. Either Blevins or Ross probably gave up a couple of hits, but was able to keep them close and kept the deficit at only one run. Whichever one of them pitched the seventh, the other one pitched the eighth. Maybe Ziegler was mixed in there somewhere too. Anyway, unsurprisingly, the three of them were able to get six outs, setting up Andrew Bailey to pitch the ninth for his third straight save!

The A's had improved to 36-34, and they won the next game handily. Trevor Cahill was allowed to pitch all the way through the seventh inning, coming out with probably somewhere between 105 and 110 pitches thrown. Breslow pitched a perfect eighth, and yet again, Michael Wuertz did not come in to pitch, not even just to walk a batter on five pitches, because no one would bring Michael Wuertz into a game with a one-run lead. Just for the heck of it, Breslow pitched a great ninth inning too, to give Bailey a rest, and the A's were three games over .500. Again, Ziegler might have been involved at some point in the eighth or ninth innings as well. Maybe he got all six outs, even.

That brought them to last night's game against the Reds. It was a good game, and I can't remember how it all played out, but maybe it went like this: Craig Breslow, fresh off a perfect 13-pitch eighth inning, kept on pitching through the ninth inning to preserve the tie, making Kevin Kouzmanoff's homer in the bottom of the inning the game-winner. Maybe Brad Ziegler pitched the ninth to preserve the tie. Maybe Bailey pitched the ninth and gave up a run, but was then left in for the 10th, which he was, at the very least, able to keep reasonably calm. I'm not really sure who pitched when and in what order, but the point is, Michael Wuertz didn't come in at any point. Because only a moron would put Michael Wuertz and his 7+ ERA into a tie game in the 10th inning, especially when he had at least three, and arguably five, better pitchers--two of whom had already done a reasonably good job in that selfsame game--to give the ball to instead. The A's scored either one run or two runs in the bottom of the 10th, depending on how many they needed. Hell, since the Geren-less A's either pinch-hit for the struggling Ryan Sweeney or ordered him to take all the way on a 3-1 count against a struggling reliever with nobody out and the bases loaded (you know, the smart call), they might even have scored three.

And that's the story of how the A's came to have a 38-34 record going into tonight's game against the Reds, putting them a cool 4.5 games behind the first-place Rangers, and just one game behind the second-place Angels. And, of course, those crazy Seattle Mariners were not in any position at all to possibly overtake the A's for third place, depending on how the rest of June shakes out. And all because there was no Bob Geren.

This has been a hypothetical alternate history designed to illustrate the point that Bob Geren doesn't put his team in a position to win games. His players aren't bad. His offense is hitting better this month (.297) than in either April or May, and they're averaging more runs per game this month than in April or May as well. In addition, only two of the hitters in last night's starting lineup are hitting lower than .271 for the season, and the other two are Conor Jackson (.333 since joining the A's) and Cliff Pennington (.310 for the month of June, good for third-best on the team.) In addition, during the month of June, of the hitters in last night's starting lineup, only Daric Barton and Mark Ellis are hitting below .275, and both are almost certain to bounce back. Geren's pitching on the whole hasn't been stellar, but most of his pitchERs (read: all of his starters, his closer, and three or four of his middle relievers) have ranged from solid to outstanding, so some of that has to be down to the decisions about who comes in to pitch in what situations, yes?

His guys know how to play a decent game of baseball, and how to make a really good run at winning it too. So when a pretty decent group of baseball players is 6-14 for the month of June, despite being arguably a better team of players during that stretch, is it maybe time for some heads to roll? And should those heads maybe belong to the coaching staff (Curt Young and probably Mike Gallego excepted)?


Edited to add another quick thought: Coming into the month of June, the A's were 28-24. The combined record of the teams they had played was 253-246, for an average record of 25-24. Not shabby. In June, their record is 6-14 against teams that have combined to go 69-57 for the month of June, for an average June record of 10-8. The strength of their opponents has not surged in the month of June. Their own performances are, as previously noted, either as good as the first two months or arguably better. Just some more food for thought.

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