Tonight's loss is frustrating, to be sure, but most of the frustration is purely circumstantial. The A's blew a golden opportunity to tie the Red Sox for the best record in the American League, and in the process, give themselves an inside track to having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. After Boston got killed in Denver, it seemed like the time was ripe for the A's to make their move, but the offense couldn't get it going against Jason Vargas, who threw a five-hit shutout and improved his record to 9-7.
Instead, Oakland remains a game behind Boston with four to play in the season — the Red Sox play the Orioles over the weekend, while the A's travel to Seattle to take on the Mariners. Winning home field for a potential ALCS between the two teams isn't impossible for the A's, but it's very possible that they won't have another opportunity like tonight's.
The Angels drew first blood in the bottom of the 1st, thanks to a solo home run from longtime Oakland nemesis Howie Kendrick. That's the 36th big fly given up by Griffin this year, good for the Major League lead.
The Angels added on in the 3rd on a rally that began with consecutive one-out singles from Tommy Field and JB Shuck. Mike Trout worked a walk to load the bases, and Josh Hamilton singled on a soft fly ball to left field, scoring Field and Shuck and extending the lead to 3-0, where it would stay for the rest of the night. But it should be noted that this was no bloop single that simply fell in front of Chris Young. On the contrary, it was more of a pop-up, one that I'm 99% sure Cespedes would've caught. Young took an iffy route to the ball and pursued it tentatively once he got moving in the right direction. Given that the A's were shut out, it's hard to argue that this play was a game-changer, but it was obviously a catchable ball, and it should have been the third out of the inning.
Objectively, Griffin wasn't bad at all. He gave up his customary early home run and then allowed three singles and a walk in the third to fall behind by two additional runs. The single that did the most damage shouldn't have been a hit, either. Griffin made one real mistake, on the pitch that resulted in Kendrick's homer, and a few smaller ones, but he was fine. He recovered to work scoreless innings in the 4th and 5th, but that's where Bob Melvin called in the reserves, as Griffin had thrown 95 pitches.
Bob Melvin has said that he's going to trot out the best four starters on the roster, in order, in the Division Series. I think that's a mistake, though, considering that opponents slug .440 against Griffin in their home parks but manage just a .380 slugging average against him at the Coliseum. The disparity in home runs allowed isn't huge — only 58.3% of his home runs have come on the road — but despite that, given that the A's have all the time they need to set up their starting rotation, I think that the team is better off with Griffin pitching at the Coliseum.
Meanwhile, Oakland couldn't get anything going at all against Jason Vargas, who'd been mediocre at best this year against the green and gold. But after scoring 49 runs in their last five games, the A's just didn't have it tonight — they managed only four hits off of Vargas and never advanced a runner past first base. It's a good thing the division race is in Oakland's rear-view mirror, because this is the kind of game you want your team to get out of its system before October.
The A's did manage to hit the ball pretty hard in the 8th inning, but in no instance did that lead to Oakland having a baserunner for more than about 11 seconds. Derek Norris led off the inning by lining a fastball into right field, but it was right at Cole Calhoun, who put it away for the first out. Alberto Callaspo followed with a line drive to left-center field that he obviously thought was headed for the gap. But it wasn't — Josh Hamilton did a nice job of cutting the ball off and making a quick throw back to the second base, where the ball arrived about two seconds before Callaspo did.
The trend of getting the short end of the BABIP stick against Vargas continued into the 9th inning, which began with Josh Reddick lacing an 0-1 fastball down the right field line. It's a ball that probably goes for a double more than 90% of the time, but Mark Trumbo was guarding the line, and made a phenomenal diving play to his left to snare the shot and retire Reddick.
Daric Barton drew a one-out walk to bring up Coco Crisp, who took advantage of Bob Davidson's increasingly tight strike zone from Bob Davidson to work the count full. Crisp drove the 3-2 pitch deep to the left field corner, but former Athletic Colin Cowgill (best known for knocking Tim Lincecum flat on his back on a play at the plate) made a nice play to run it down and keep Vargas in the game. Josh Donaldson chopped the first pitch he saw to Andrew Romine at third base, who got the easy force at second to end the ballgame.
With the loss, Oakland falls to 94-64. The A's will get a chance to come away with a win in their last series of the year against the Angels tomorrow afternoon at 12:35 in Anaheim. Dan Straily (10-7, 4.08 ERA) is going up against Jered Weaver (10-8, 3.36). Alex Hall will be your host.