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"Good Teams Don't Play A Lot Of Close Games"

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{Yes, I wrote this before yesterday's 14-4 win...I will, however, only accept partial credit for inspiring the A's to win a lopsided game.}

Billy Beane has been wrong about so many things this year -- from the wisdom of compiling an OF that will combine for about 10HRs to the credibility of defending a manager who is both a personal friend and who is failing in the eyes of both the players and the media -- that why not foul tip another one right into the catcher's mitt and call it "strike 3"?

In Thursday's buffet of unconvincing platitudes, Billy claimed that the A's "haven't played poorly; just not good enough to win," pointing out that many of the recent losses have been by one or two runs. On its face, this sounds reasonable. In fact, though, it misses the point entirely.

I don't remember where I was when I first heard the notion that what separates good teams from mediocre ones is not the ability to win the close games but rather the ability not to play too many of them. I might have been in the kitchen, or I might have been in aisle 4 at Trader Joe's, but really it doesn't matter. It's a great and important point.

Recently the A's have appeared to have quite a bit of bad luck. For example on Wednesday, the Gabe Gross "DP-shoulda-been-a-triple-play" was flukey, while Suzuki's bid, in the 8th inning, for a double that would have put the tying run at 2B with nobody out, was turned into a rally-killing DP on a terrific play by Miguel Cairo. Monday night, Ramon Hernandez' 10th inning drive hits the foul pole -- not the screen but the pole itself -- and so it doesn't take some huge stretch of the imagination to see the A's winning 2 of 3 against a solid Reds team and if only they had gotten a couple breaks we'd all be feeling pretty good about the A's again...No.

The problem is, when your pitching is decent but not great, and when your hitting is poor instead of good, you find yourself in close games in which a single break -- a fielding play, a ump's call, a "fair or foul..." -- decides the game. What's easy to overlook is that winning teams are having that play, that call, that "fair or foul..." occur while the score is 6-2, or 9-4, or 8-1, and are not depending on everything to break just right in order to squeak out a one-run win.

In other words, the A's are playing a lot of close games precisely because their offense isn't good, their pitching isn't great, their defense isn't great, and they are constantly at the mercy of hoping that nothing goes wrong -- because the moment something goes wrong, they lose. And that's not being a good team going badly. That's being a bad team that will have good stretches -- as long as Jake Fox's routine bouncer to SS takes a bad hop.