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I Hate Deja-Vu: Back to Back Bullpen Collapses Possibly Change Season For A’s

Well, I’m going to try to wade through the damage done by our “set-up men” over the last two nights, painful as it may be. The abridged version of this sad story is that on two consecutive days the A’s got enough from their starting pitching and offense to win two huge games against the division leaders, yet fell horribly short in the most disgusting of ways, and the fact that this happened twice in less than 24 hours is enough to frustrate even the most stalwart A’s fan right now.

In defense of Geren (feel free to debate at will the decision to pull Eveland in the sixth), despite the full ‘pen, he is not working with a lot of options right now, which is why you hope that the A’s could have managed to find enough good relief pitching to take at least one of the games. To me, it seemed like Geren hedged his bets to save pitching for both games, and I absolutely think this was a mistake. I would have rather blown out our entire ‘pen last night to get the series win, and not worried about today’s game at all. It doesn’t get worse than losing both of these games; the A’s had a very real chance of being 3.5 games back at the close of this series, and are now 5.5 back, and in danger of falling further behind next weekend.

But while Geren’s bullpen moves can be scrutinized in multiple threads until we are tired of it, the real truth is that the only relief pitcher who has provided any actual relief has been Brad Ziegler, and he can’t pitch every inning. The A’s were screwed last night when Harden only went five; had he pitched the sixth, Geren may have left Ziggy in for both the seventh and the eighth to get to Street. Instead, he used one of his everyday guys, and Embree failed. But who would you have rather had in that position? Brown got shelled in his last outing, Foulke appears to be done as an effective pitcher (see: today’s game), Casilla can’t stop giving up homeruns (see: today’s game), and Street can’t effectively pitch two innings. Even Gaudin gave up a run today in his inning. Put plainly, with the lone exception of Brad Ziegler (who was untouchable), the bullpen failed the A’s the last two days in every way, and I’m not sure there was a combination of pitchers that could have won either of those games, unless our manager was willing to risk Harden for an additional inning (NO), or our rookie relief pitcher for three innings and 30+ pitches (NO). Be angry all you want, but when pitchers that you have to count on to get to the closer aren’t doing their job, there isn’t anything a manager can do about it. But the truth is that the bullpen cost us not only the series win, but possibly the series sweep, and considering their success over the first half of the year, this is a bitter pill to swallow.

Eveland pitched a good game (even striking out the side in the fifth), despite his early hook. He allowed the first Angels’ run to score on a wild pitch; not exactly what the team was hoping for when they started the day, with the hot-hitting Suzuki getting a day off, and Sweeney, R maybe (hopefully) just resting his ankle. The Angels’ scored their second run in the second with a runner on third and the A’s infield in, but although Eveland got the ground ball, Crosby threw it away at home (in an interesting fielder’s choice call) to score the run.

The A’s got on the board in the fourth, as Crosby singled, but Emil Brown ruined a perfectly good double (which scored Crosby on the wild throw) by getting himself thrown out trying to take third. In later at-bats, he would fail to score a runner from third with one out, and almost hit into a double play. But he still finished the day better than Cust, who seemed to strike out in every at-bat in this series.

The sixth inning brought temporary happiness for A’s fans, as seldom-played Donnie Murphy worked a 13 pitch walk to lead off the inning, and after Rajai Davis doubled, Mark Ellis singled them both in; Davis seemingly running through a stop sign. Crosby moved Ellis to third with the first out of the inning, but Brown struck out, and failed to score the A's fourth run.

But it wouldn’t matter much. Exactly like last night, the A’s didn’t hold the go-ahead run for longer than ten minutes. After Eveland got the first out of the sixth, Hunter smashed a 3-0 pitch for a double. Eveland got the second out with no movement from the runner, but Geren hooked him after 99 pitches (and he wasn’t happy) in favor of the Foulke/Kotchman match-up. For those of you playing at home, yes, that is the LHP removed for a RHP on a LH batter.

To say that the match-up didn’t quite work would be a slight understatement. Foulke copied the playbook from last night, and not only did the tying run score, but he gave up a two-run homerun (Rivera’s first) to put the Angels up 5-3.

To add insult to injury, the Angels teased the A’s in the seventh, as a botched double-play pulled the A’s within a run. Of course, the A’s offense failed for the second time on the day to get another runner home from third, but the bullpen (this time Casilla/Gaudin) made sure that the game wouldn’t end with a one run loss (Final Score 7-4). I guess that’s something.

Gonzalez, Ellis, and Crosby had pretty good days at the plate, but it’s hard to muster much joy for them, especially when Crosby had to leave the game after hustling out a single in the eighth. I’m sure he’s day-to-day. Wes Bangston made his major league debut, and it was uneventful; he is still looking for his first hit (0-4 on the day). I don’t blame the offense in this series; they did enough to win, and Eveland certainly did his part. You can what-if it to death; the A’s certainly had their chances to score more, but really all of the blame lies with Foulke, much like Embree last night. The A’s had a better-than-average chance at the series win (and possibly a series sweep) had either game got to Street, and it just didn’t happen. And for the life of me, I can’t imagine it hurting more than it does against the Angels. Why the A’s seem to reserve the meltdowns for when it really counts, I’ll never know, but there is a lot of baseball left, and the season is not over.

The A’s need to regroup on the plane, figure out who can be used in the bullpen, and pray for some deep outings by their starters. Right now, I’d use Ziegler in the high-leverage situations, even for two innings, and maybe even regardless of the L/R splits. I'd also figure out if Casilla and Brown are really healthy, if Foulke can be shipped out when Devine returns, and if Travis Buck can possibly replace Emil Brown.

It doesn’t get any easier. The A’s limp into Chicago, home of the blazing-hot White Sox, looking to right the ship a little bit, and stay in the race.

I hope everyone has a happy holiday weekend and that things look better on Monday.