Every so often, A's fans are blessed with the opportunity to watch a weekday day game. It's rare, but sometimes the Wednesday day game is televised. Unfortunately, this was one of those days.
The A's continued their annual May swoon with a rather pathetic 6-2 loss to Texas, dropping them two games below .500 and seven games behind the Rangers in the AL West. Given that Oakland was 13 games back at one point last year before ultimately winning the division, I'm not terribly worried about the standings right now. Still, though, it was a lot cooler when they were in first place last month.
Before we get into the unfortunate details of this game, I would like to remind everyone that this happens every year. The A's start slow, and in May it seems like every player on the team has completely forgotten how to hit or pitch or field or whatever combination of those things they are paid to do. Then, assuming that the team was supposed to be good in the first place, something clicks in June and everyone starts playing well again. The A's are perennially a second half team, which is small consolation to fans during the first half but is still an important thing to keep in mind. A's fans are always forced to look toward the future, even when the "future" is supposed to be now.
Or, to put it another way: Last year, after 42 games, the A's were 21-21. That is one game different than their current record, and it only took a bunch rookies and journeymen veterans to turn it around last year. This year, there are legitimately good players up and down the lineup, and the young starting pitchers are all sophomores now. It is way less of a stretch to expect this team to turn it around than last year's squad. Optimism!
Dan Straily started for Oakland today, and he struggled with his control. After two quick innings, he ran into trouble in the 3rd when he plunked Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus with consecutive pitches to load the bases. Lance Berkman then ripped a line drive into the right-field corner which mercifully landed foul, mere inches away from being a bases-clearing double. Unfortunately, Baseball Zeus immediately corrected his mistake by allowing Berkman to fist a little blooper over Eric Sogard for a two-run single. Ugh.
Straily made it through the 4th despite walking two batters, but he ran into more trouble in the 5th. Andrus reached on a fairly routine grounder to short when Jed Lowrie's throw pulled Daric Barton off the bag at first; the play required a little bit of range, but most MLB shortstops make it without a problem. I am confident that Adam Rosales would have made that play without issue. Consider this my official vote for Rosey every day at short and Lowrie every day at second base, with Sogard on the bench full-time as the utility man.
Rosey is the only MLB-caliber player in the organization right now who can handle shortstop, and he's OPS'ing .813. He does have some small-sample platoon splits, but I don't really care. Play him every day until someone else proves they can handle the position defensively, and if he keeps hitting a little bit then that's just icing on the cake. That was supposed to be the plan with Sogard, but his offense has been atrocious and this defensive set-up is clearly not working; according to John Dewan's Defensive Runs Saved statistic, Lowrie has already been worth negative-8 runs at shortstop (not counting today). That would be a poor full-season total, and Lowrie has done it in 262 innings. This was also his 7th error, and he isn't the kind of guy who has awesome range and makes errors on balls that other players wouldn't reach. He just sucks at shortstop. And, before anyone suggests this, Sogard isn't a very good shortstop either (good enough to back up, but not to start). It needs to be Rosales. Every day.
With Andrus on first, Straily didn't pass up on the opportunity to allow an unearned run. Berkman drew a walk (Straily's fourth of the game), and Adrian Beltre lined an RBI single to right-center. That was the end of Straily's day; his final line included 4.1 innings, 4 walks, and 2 strikeouts. But hey, he didn't allow a homer!
With the starting pitcher failing to make it through the 5th inning, Bob Melvin turned to Jesse Chavez, his long reliever. Chavez actually hasn't been that bad this year. In his 6.1 innings of work entering today, he'd struck out five batters against only two walks and hadn't allowed a homer wait never mind he just gave up a 3-run bomb to Nelson Cruz on his first pitch the of the game. Damnit. Why can't we have nice things?
To his credit, Chavez settled down after serving up the big one, and kept the Rangers silent through the 8th inning. His final line read like this: 3.2 innings, 3 strikeouts, 1 walk, 3 hits, one earned run (just the homer to Cruz; the other runs were charged to Straily). He's now thrown 10 innings this year, with 8 strikeouts and 3 walks. That is a completely acceptable line for a mop-up reliever. If you think that's weird, though, then this next paragraph is going to blow your mind.
There have been lots of calls lately to shake up the starting rotation. Straily looks lost, Parker is still struggling to go deep into games, and Anderson's body is made of tinker toys. Sonny Gray is doing well in AAA, but it is highly doubtful that he will be promoted before the second half of the season unless he brings his walk rate down immediately. No, the most likely candidate to take a turn in the rotation is already on the 25-man roster: Jesse Chavez. He was fantastic in five starts in AAA this year, and he's got the endurance to last at least five innings. What's worse, I might actually be OK with giving him a shot. Wait, hear me out! He hasn't sucked yet this year, and everyone else has. That's my argument. Anyone have a better idea? (And yes, I feel dirty for even suggesting this, but I'm desperate right now.)
The good news is that, after Cruz's homer, the Rangers didn't score again today. The bad news is that Oakland's lineup fell completely silent against Texas starter Alexi Ogando. When I say silent, I don't mean that they got some runners on base and failed to capitalize. I mean that Ogando had a no-hitter going through five innings. He nearly made it twice through the lineup, but Eric Sogard summoned all of his Elf Magic and ripped a double to deep center field to lead off the 6th. He then moved to 3rd on a groundout by Coco Crisp, and scored on a sac fly by Derek Norris (who had replaced John Jaso behind the plate after Jaso took a pitch to the right shin in his 4th inning at-bat). No shutout!
What followed was a perfect illustration of the A's season so far. With the seal broken, Lowrie and Cespedes hit back-to-back singles, bringing Brandon Moss to the plate with two outs. Moss ripped a liner into the gap in right-center, and Nelson Cruz made an absolutely unbelievable diving catch to rob what would have been a two-run double. Just unreal. Cruz hasn't been a good fielder since 2010, and the ball was slicing away from him toward center field. I have absolutely no idea how he got to that ball, but it was just one more in a line of solid hits by A's players that just seem to find their way into opponents' gloves. These hits will eventually fall in. They have to.
Oakland had one last breath of life in the 7th, when they loaded the bases for Coco Crisp with one out. Coco was activated off of the DL today, and he didn't go on a rehab assignment. That means that this was his first game action in two weeks, so it would be unfair to expect too much of him in this game. He ended up hitting a sac fly to left to bring the score to 6-2, but A's fans were hoping for more. We wanted to see a grounder through a hole to plate a pair, or an RBI walk off of a wild pitcher. This was the guy (Michael Kirkman) who gave up a walk-off homer to Brandon Hicks last year, so you'll excuse us if we had some delusions of grandeur with an actual Major League hitter at the plate.
That was all of the fight that Oakland could muster today. Pat Neshek was solid in his inning of work, and I'm still confident that he can turn it around and pitch well this season despite his currently-inflated walk rate (his ERA is 2.81 despite the walks).
Don't fret, A's fans. We go through this every year. Everything looks terrible in May, and then someone comes back from the DL with a vengeance (Young/Reddick), or a minor leaguer (*cough* Peterson *cough*) comes up and catches a hot streak, or a random journeyman (Brandon Inge, John Mabry, etc.) shows up and injects life into the lineup. Billy Beane won't watch his team play like this for too much longer without addressing its weaknesses. Just continue to have patience and let him work his magic.
It might also help to find a new hobby for the rest of May. Learn to knit or something, I don't know. We'll call you in June when the A's are winning again.
The A's have tomorrow off, which means that they can't lose! The Royals come to town on Friday to open a weekend series, with Jarrod Parker taking on the red-hot James Shields. First pitch is 7:05, and baseballgirl will have your Game Thread.