If you're going to suck, you may as well suck on all cylinders, just to get it all out of the way in one game. Today, Oakland couldn't get anything from their offense, their defense, or their pitching, and the result was a ho-hum 7-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
While it's a bummer to lose a series, it is important to remember that this was a series on the road against a division-leading team. That doesn't make it OK, but it at least makes it excusable; it's not like they gave away a win to a bottom-feeder that they were supposed to beat, nor did they blow a save or lose on a walk-off or anything. Just lost a game, on the road, to a good team. That'll happen. The A's split their season series with Chicago 3-3, after having taken 2 of 3 at the Coliseum in April.
Continue after the jump if you're dying to know the details behind this loss!
Today's game started out looking like a pitcher's duel. Chris Sale would strike out 2 batters per inning in each of the first 5 innings, and Bartolo Colon was sharp through the 5th as well. Pretty much every interesting thing that happened in those first 5 innings involved Cliff Pennington, so let's follow his journey through the beginning of the game.
Cliff's day started poorly. Chicago's second batter of the game, Gordon Beckham, hit a routine grounder to short, but Cliffy threw low to first and Chris Carter couldn't dig it. E-6. Colon would get out of the inning unscathed, but this was the beginning of a trend for the afternoon: Beckham had an amazing amount of success hitting ground balls to short.
Pennington led off the 3rd inning for the A's. Sale had faced 7 batters at this point. He'd recorded 4 K's, and the only baserunner came when A.J. Pierzynski missed Josh Reddick's third strike and Reddick beat the throw to 1st. Major League hitters were failing to even make contact against Sale, and yet somehow, Pennington lined a single to left. Way to go, buddy!
A few pitches later, Sale picked him off of 1st. Oh, Cliffy. He's been off the DL for 4 games, and this is already the second time he's been picked off. When you have a .269 OBP, you really need to make the most of it every time you get on base.
No matter, though, Pennington is a pro. He dusted himself off and took his position for the bottom of the 3rd. Alejandro De Aza drew a 1-out walk off of Colon, and then Beckham came up. Things had worked out so well the last time he grounded to short, he decided to try it again. This time, Pennington fielded the ball cleanly, and turned to his left to start a routine, inning-ending 6-4-3 double play...except that his throw to Jemile Weeks was wide. The ball went into right field, everyone was safe, and De Aza ended up at third. Oh, Cliffy. Rather than being out of the inning, Colon had to face Adam Dunn with two runners on base. Dunn hit a sacrifice fly to left, De Aza scored easily, and the White Sox had an early 1-0 lead.
Pennington came up again in the 5th, with a runner on and 2 out. He hit a little squibbler to the right side, which effectively looked like a swinging bunt. Adam Dunn and Chris Sale both went after the ball, and no one covered 1st, allowing Penny to reach base easily. To make matters worse for Chicago, though, Sale slipped whilst going after the ball and banged his left knee on the ground. After a quick visit from the trainer, Sale remained in the game and struck out Weeks to end the rally. Oh, Jemile.
Let's stop for a moment and discuss Oakland's middle infield situation. Want to know why Oakland's offense is still at the bottom of the Majors despite all the power in the middle of the lineup?
Weeks: .220/.304/.304, 71 OPS+
Pennington: .203/.269/.295, 56 OPS+
Those two slash lines have combined for just over 800 plate appearances this season. Weeks hasn't shown any sign of heating up at any point all year, though Pennington is 4-for-11 with 3 walks since his return from the DL. They each steal bases, but neither is close to an 80% success rate, so they are compounding their low OBP's by making even more outs on the basepaths. Weeks's defense is average at best; Pennington has cut down significantly on his errors this year, but he still botches too many routine plays. They score very poorly on both WAR scales; fWAR has Penny at 0.5 and Weeks at 0.3; bWAR has Penny at 0.1 and Weeks at -0.6. That's negative zero point six, just to be clear. You may or may not believe in WAR as a stat, but this is one of those times where the numbers line up perfectly with what your eyes tell you. Everyone can agree; the middle infield is killing the A's right now.
What options are there? Adam Rosales is playing pretty well since his recall (.286/.333/.619 in 24 PA's). Would anyone object to giving him some starts at short? It's a possibility, but he might have to spend some time at third if Brandon Inge's shoulder isn't ready to go next week. Brandon Hicks is still stashed in Sacramento, if you're happy getting nothing but an occasional homer from your shortstop. Eric Sogard is on the DL with myopia, so he wouldn't be an option even if you wanted him to be. How is 24-year-old Grant Green doing in AAA?
Green: .291/.334/.457, 13 homers
Hey, it could be worse. According to Athletics Farm, Green has been spending some time at 2nd base lately as well. While I'm in no way ready to give up on Weeks overall, I am starting to wonder if he could use some time in AAA to work on his swing. This is no longer an issue of low BABIP, and hitting 'em right at guys. Weeks is having fundamental problems hitting the ball, and he needs some help. He's still overswinging, he's not hitting anything hard, and he simply never hits line drives anymore (19.4% line drives, down from 23.3%; that's a huge drop). I don't want to demote him just to demote him, but if it serves the dual purpose of giving Weeks time to make adjustments and taking a look at Grant Green in Oakland? I'm officially on board. Let's see Green in gold.
Alright, back to the game. We are entering the top of the 6th, and the score is 1-0 Chicago. With one out, Jonny Gomes smashed a solo homer to left to tie the game. It looked virtually identical to the game-tying homer he hit last night, and it went exactly the same distance (378 feet). The Pride of Petaluma!
Chicago came back in a big way in the bottom of the 6th, though. Alex Rios singled with one out, and Pierzynski hit a liner to left which somehow made it over the wall for a two-run homer. This was the first home run that Colon had given up all year with a runner on base, which is a pretty incredible statistic. His previous 15 homers were all solo shots. Chicago picked up a few more hits, increasing the score to 4-1, and Colon eventually issued an intentional walk to De Aza in order to bring up Beckham with 2 outs. Once again, Beckham hit a grounder to short, and once again it worked out amazingly well for him. This time, his otherwise-routine grounder found the hole between short and third, plating two more runs to increase the lead to 6-1. Somewhere, Kurt Suzuki wondered to himself why he never had this much success hitting ground balls to short. Life just isn't fair, big guy.
Rosales got a run back in the 7th with a solo homer, but Chicago responded in the bottom of the inning. Let's start with the play-by-play, just to confuse you:
A Pierzynski singled to right.
A Ramirez grounded out to shortstop, A Pierzynski scored.
Read that over a few times. There was no other activity in between those two events, except for Oakland changing pitchers. Try to imagine the different ways in which this could have happened. It helps if you picture everyone wearing an Astros uniform. OK, are you ready? This is how it happened. With Pierzynski on 1st, Ramirez hit a grounder to the left side. Pennington and Rosales both went after the ball, and collided as Pennington fielded it. To his credit, Penny stuck with the play and gunned a throw to 1st in time to retire Ramirez. In the meantime, though, Pierzynski hustled all the way to 3rd on the play. At that point, he noticed that catcher Derek Norris had left his position to cover 3rd, presumably to serve as a back-up in case 1st baseman Carter had attempted a throw across the diamond. With Norris standing next to him, and pitcher Evan Scribner off picking his nose somewhere, there was nobody covering the plate. Pierzynski was the only person to notice this, and he trotted home for an easy, uncontested run. 7-2. D'oh.
At that point, I pretty much stopped paying attention. The TV was still on, but my mind began wandering. If something exciting had happened and Ray & Glen began yelling excitedly, I would have noticed and focused my attention again. That never happened. I did look up in time to see Derek Norris hit a meaningless homer in the 9th, but that was it. Final score, 7-3.
You don't want to lose any games while you're in a pennant race, especially to teams with whom you may be battling for a spot in September. But again, this was a tough series on the road against a really good team. If you're going to lose a series, it may as well be this one.
The pitching staff has been struggling, but these things happen. I would advise patience at this point, rather than panic. Colon was cruising along for 5 innings, despite needing to get extra outs because of his defense. Without Pennington forcing him to do a bunch of extra work in the early innings, things could have been different. McCarthy is back and looking solid. Brett Anderson was sharp in his latest rehab start, and his return could be imminent. Not many teams get reinforcements like McCarthy and Anderson in the middle of an August playoff push, so there is still reason for hope.
Taking a look at the scoreboard, the Angels and Tigers lost, but the Orioles and Rays won. That puts the Rays in the top Wild Card spot, a half game ahead of the Orioles, who hold the 2nd spot. Oakland sit a half-game out of the 2nd Wild Card, with Detroit and LAA close on their heels. It's still a tightly bunched group, and the question at this point is which of these 5 teams will be the next to bow out of the race.
That's it for today. The A's have completed a very tough stretch over the last 25 games, and now they get a bit of a break: a day off tomorrow, 3 games at Kansas City, and then 6 at home against the Indians and Twins. That is as easy of a 9-game stretch as you can find in the American League right now, so if the A's are serious about this playoff push, they need to capitalize now and grab some cheap wins. A little bit of production from the middle infield sure wouldn't hurt.