This one hurt.
The 2013 Oakland A's are like a team of Jekyll & Hydes. One day, they'll have the pitching, hitting, and defense running on all cylinders, and then on another day everything will fall apart and they'll look like they could lose to the kids from The Sandlot. Rumor has it that Adam Rosales bobs for apples in the toilet, and he likes it.
Today was one of the bad days. Oakland put runners in scoring position in each of the first seven innings, but managed to plate just three runs. The pitching staff couldn't record a single shutdown inning in three chances, and poor defense led directly to three of the Rangers' four runs. Oh, and the game ended with the tying run getting thrown out at the plate. Oy vey.
The first four innings were relatively uneventful. A.J. Griffin breezed through the Texas lineup, allowing just two hits. Oakland blew chances against Texas starter Josh Lindblom in each inning, in the following ways:
1st: John Jaso walked and reached 2nd with two outs, but Yoenis Cespedes struck out.
2nd: Brandon Moss hit a leadoff double, but was left stranded.
3rd: Jaso and Jed Lowrie reached with two outs, but Cespedes popped out.
4th: Seth Smith and Josh Reddick singled with two outs, but Eric Sogard fouled out.
The A's finally broke through in the 5th. Jaso, who is hitting the snot out of the ball in June, plopped a flare down the left field line and turned it into a double thanks to some serious hustle. Lowrie followed with an RBI single up the middle, and Oakland was on top 1-0. Unfortunately, Lowrie displayed some poor baserunning by trying to move to 2nd on the throw home. The throw went all the way to the backstop, and had Lowrie committed to 2nd earlier he would have made it easily. However, thanks to a fortunate carom off the brick backstop and Lowrie's hesitation in moving to 2nd, he was thrown out by several feet.
Griffin came out in the bottom of the frame hoping to hold his new lead. That dream lasted for all of seven pitches; the second batter, Geovany Soto, homered to dead center field to tie the game. Coco Crisp looked like he had a read on it, but ran out of space before he had a chance to jump for it; realistically, he was probably not going to rob this one either way.
The A's came right back in the 6th, though. Brandon Moss led off with a grounder to second baseman Jurickson Profar. Had Profar gotten up and made a strong throw to first, Moss would probably have been out. Instead, he stayed on the ground and lollipopped the throw, allowing Moss to beat it out and reach base. Donaldson followed with a single, and Lindblom's day was over. Ron Washington turned to left-handed reliever Joseph Ortiz, who walked Seth Smith to load the bases. In my opinion, the next five minutes are where the A's lost this game.
With the lefty on the mound, the bases loaded, and no outs, Bob Melvin chose to pinch-hit Chris Young for Josh Reddick. I cannot express how much I disagree with this move. Granted, Young has had his moments lately, but it was no secret that Washington would bring in a right-hander to face Young and take away the platoon advantage that Melvin was going for. Ortiz had walked the only batter he'd faced and hasn't had a lot of success in the Majors this year, so why go to lengths to get him out of the game? Reddick has been smashing the ball since he came back from the DL, and in his two previous at-bats today he had smoked a pair of liners to right field. I'd rather have Reddick against a lefty than Young against a righty, and furthermore, this switch resulted in a defensive downgrade in right field. Removing Reddick from this game was just dumb.
As it happened, the move sort of worked out initially. Jason Frasor came in to face Young, and walked him to drive in a run and give Oakland the lead back. The bases were still loaded, and there was still nobody out. Left-handed Robbie Ross came in to face Sogard, and Melvin made his second mistake of the inning. What he should have done was pinch-hit Nate Freiman for Sogard; Freiman probably wasn't going to be used as a pinch-hitter today for Jaso (with Derek Norris a bit beat up right now), or for the red-hot Moss, so it was unlikely that there would be a better situation in which to utilize him than this exact moment. This situation is exactly why Freiman is on this team. Instead, Melvin called on Adam Rosales, the worst hitter on the team (and that's coming from me, one of Rosey's biggest fans and supporters). Rosey struck out, Coco popped out, and Jaso struck out to end the inning. Bases loaded, nobody out, and all that Oakland could manage was an RBI walk. Piss poor, and I have to lay some blame on Melvin for some peculiar bench management. What was he saving Freiman for?
Griffin started off the 6th by walking Ian Kinsler on four pitches. After Elvis Andrus bunted Kinsler to second, Griffin's day was done. His line looked pretty solid, with only three hits and a walk through 5.1 innings, but he was not on his game today. He fell behind a lot of hitters, found himself in several three-ball counts, and was never really in control of the game even in his 1-2-3 innings.
Ryan Cook came in to hold the lead, and he almost succeeded. Nelson Cruz hit a flyout to deep right, and Kinsler moved to third on the play. Would Reddick have been able to throw Kinsler out if he was still in the game? Doubtful from that depth, but not impossible. Would Kinsler have held at second, based on Reddick's reputation? Also doubtful, given how deep the fly was, but with Young in right it was a complete no-brainer for Kinsler.
Cook worked a 1-2 count to the next batter, Adrian Beltre, and then a low slider squeezed between Jaso's legs. The ball went all the way to the backstop, and Kinsler scored to tie the game. Beltre flew out on the next pitch to end the inning. It goes down as a wild pitch, but this one was Jaso's fault. He didn't get his glove down, he didn't get his body in front of the ball to smother it, and it just went right past him. He needs to block that pitch, and in this case it led directly to a run in a close game.
No matter, though, because the A's scored yet again in the 7th. Lowrie singled, Cespedes walked, and Donaldson came up with those two on base and one out and hit a sharp grounder toward the hole between third and short. Andrus fielded the ball, but his only play was to go for the lead runner at third. His throw to Beltre came in a bit low and actually hit the sliding Lowrie on the leg, caroming into foul territory and allowing Lowrie to score. 3-2 A's! Smith was walked intentionally to load the bases, and the A's had another huge opportunity to blow this one open. Instead, Young grounded out and Rosey struck out to end the inning and squander yet another rally. Oakland had the lead, but it should have been much bigger given the opportunities they'd had in this game.
Could the A's bullpen finally record a shutdown inning? No, no they couldn't. David Murphy led off with a double off of Cook, but Oakland got a bit of a gift when Robinson Chirinos' poorly executed sacrifice bunt resulted in Murphy being thrown out at third. A.J. Pierzynski came in to pinch-hit for Soto, and Sean Doolittle came in to face him. Pierzynski won the battle when he singled on a pitch about a foot above the strike zone.
After Profar fouled out for the second out, the A's made another crucial defensive error. Leonys Martin hit a grounder to the right side, and Moss ranged to his right to field it. However, Doolittle was slow covering first, and Martin beat it out to load the bases and extend the inning. Moss has become an admirable defender at first, but this is easily his biggest weakness. He needs to learn when to range to his right, and when to cover first and let his second baseman field the ball. In this instance, Lowrie was standing directly behind Moss when Moss got the ball; in other words, if Moss had gone back to cover the base, this could have been a routine 4-3 putout. This is a mistake that Moss makes frequently, and this time it was particularly costly. Perhaps he needs to become more aware of where the other defenders are positioned, so that he can make better split-second decisions on where he is most needed.
Rather than being out of the inning with the lead intact, Doolittle had to face Kinsler with the bases loaded. Kinsler bounced a slow single up the middle, two runs scored, and Texas led 4-3. Facepalm.
The A's teAsed in the 8th. Coco led off with a walk, and Jaso launched a rocket to right. However, Nelson Cruz made the catch of his life, leaping at the wall to rob what would have been at least an RBI double. This is not the first time this year that the normally defensively-challenged Cruz has stepped up in a crucial spot against the A's to make an unbelievable catch, and it's really goddamn annoying. He has absolutely killed the A's on both sides of the ball this year, launching clutch homers and making out-of-his-mind catches. Feel free to suspend him anytime, Bud.
And then came the 9th. Joe Nathan came in to close the game, and Cespedes and Moss both struck out on pitches at least a foot out of the zone. Donaldson kept things going, though, with a single to left-center, and Seth Smith came up with a chance to be a hero. He worked the count full, and, with Donaldson running on the pitch, he singled sharply to center. As if that wasn't good enough, the ball clanked off of center fielder Craig Gentry's glove, and visions of Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez scoring from 1st on a single danced in mine eyes. As Gentry ran over to retrieve the ball, Donaldson raced through Mike Gallego's stop sign at third and went all-in for the tie. Gentry's throw came in to Andrus, who relayed the most perfect throw you'll ever see to Pierzynski to nail Donaldson at the last second. Game over. Anything less than a perfect throw, and Donaldson would have been safe. However, Andrus's throw was so on-the-money that Pierzynski barely had to move his glove after catching it. That's just how this game went. Between mental errors and a few unbelievable plays by Texas's defense, it just wasn't meant to be today.
This is a tough one to swallow. The A's played like crap, but it still feels like they should have won. They were so close in so many ways, but Texas made more plays and suffered from fewer mental errors. People who say that football is a game of inches are full of shit; football is a game of yards. Baseball is a game of inches, and this game was the perfect illustration of that. Jaso gets his glove down one more inch, and that wild pitch gets blocked. Doolittle is one step faster covering first, and the 7th inning probably ends with the A's leading. Cruz is an inch lower on Jaso's 8th-inning smash, and the A's tie it. Andrus's throw home in the 9th goes anywhere except for exactly where it did, and Donaldson scores. Just brutal.
The good news is that there are things to look forward to. Jaso is still hitting like crazy, with a .362/.483/.511 line over his last 15 games (60 PA's) and 11 walks to only six strikeouts. Reddick is still killing the ball, although his sharp liners continue to inexplicably travel directly at defenders. Smith continues to be the most consistent presence in the lineup, as he reached base four times in five trips today. Lowrie and Donaldson continue to rack up the hits, as each recorded three knocks today, and Moss is still on fire as well, with 12 hits (including four homers) in his last eight games.
On the downside, Rosey looks absolutely lost at the plate, and Cespedes appears to be doing his best impression of the struggling shortstop (4-for-30, .133/.195/.207 in last eight games). The bullpen continues to show its humanity, with neither Cook nor Doolittle getting the job done today. And, while I'd love to praise Griffin for making do despite struggling to find the zone today, it's not a good thing when you throw 98 pitches and fail to make it out of the 6th.
Poor clutch hitting (13 left on base overall), lack of timely pitching (0-for-3 in shutdown innings, including two blown saves), and shaky defense (specifically by Jaso and Moss) doomed the A's today. The fact that they only lost by one run shows just how winnable this game was. But, it's over now, and you put it behind you and move on to the next one. There aren't any long-term answers to this one other than "get a hit with RISP" or "don't blow two saves in one game," so take solace in the fact that the A's are still in 1st place and trust that the team will continue to win far more games than it loses. As long as stinkers like this one continue to be few and far between, everything should be fine. You can't win 'em all.
Still, though, this one hurt.
Oakland opens a series in Seattle tomorrow, with Bartolo Colon facing Hisashi Iwakuma. Oakland will also face two familiar pitchers in the other two games: former Athletic Aaron Harang, and former 1st-round pick Jeremy Bonderman. Also, no Felix. Tomorrow's game is at 7:10, and baseballgirl will have your Game Thread.