Well that went poorly. The Oakland Athletics were on top of the world, stomping on AL Central teams like tiny little bugs. They won their first two games of the week against the Tampa Bay Rays, extending their winning streak to five games. And then, the lights turned out with one out remaining in the finale in Florida. The Rays came storming back and walked off against Luke Gregerson (surprise!), and then the A's got swept (in dominant fashion) by the Blue Jays in Toronto. Suddenly, that five-game winning streak turned into a four-game skid.
Despite the brief slump, the A's are still in good position since they had such a large cushion built up in the standings. The Tigers have once again taken over the top winning percentage in the AL, but Oakland gets four head-to-head matchups against them this week to do something about that. Meanwhile, the Angels are knocking on the door of the AL West and are now just 1.5 games back, and the Rangers and Mariners are both hanging around .500, waiting to make a move. Even the Astros are ... no, just kidding they're still terrible. The A's pushed across only 13 runs in their six games this week, but they still lead the league in scoring. They're also still tops in the AL in run prevention, having allowed only 158 overall; next best in the AL is Detroit at 191, and they've played four fewer games than Oakland has (Seattle and Kansas City, at 192 runs allowed, have each played one fewer game than Oakland). Worry as much as you want, but as long as the team is scoring and pitching better than the rest of the league, everything is probably cool.
Among the team's top performers were, um, nobody. Everyone kind of sucked overall. Brandon Moss homered twice, but his Player of the Week hot streak cooled down last week. Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes homered as well, but they didn't do much else and their heroics came in losing efforts. Donaldson did show some improved plate discipline, though, and his seven walks to five strikeouts are a small silver lining to me. Derek Norris went 2-for-16, but he still drew five walks. Kyle Blanks looked pretty bad. Pretty much the best part of the week was Nick Punto going 3-for-10. On the pitching side, Sonny Gray threw eight great frames in the extra-inning loss in Tampa Bay, and Sean Doolittle locked down both of his save opportunities despite giving up his first walk of the season. Here's a look at some of the major story lines of the week.
Smell The Glove
The A's didn't hit well last week, and while they didn't pitch horribly they also weren't world-beaters (or even Canada-beaters) in that department. However, they flashed some leather to keep things interesting. It starts with the usual suspect, Josh Reddick.
Yoenis Cespedes showed off his arm, which is apparently even more impressive when measured using the metric system.
Coco Crisp was not to be out-done by the bright Canadian sun.
The infield made some plays too, between Alberto Callaspo at his natural position ...
... shortstop Jed Lowrie channeling his inner Derek Jeter and making up for a lack of range with a strong throw ...
... and newcomer Kyle Blanks making his mark at first.
Even Lucas the Blue Jays' ballboy got in on the action.
The Athletics are a top-10 defense team in the Majors, according to most of the metrics. Josh Donaldson has accrued 11 Defensive Runs Saved, which is tied for third among all MLB defenders at any position (behind Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon, tied with Troy Tulowitzki; Donaldson is also fourth in UZR). His DRS total last year was 12, and he's already reached that level in the first half of this season. Note that DRS can go up or down based on defensive performance, so it's more like an ERA than a home run total; poor play in the future could lower Donaldson's total if he doesn't keep up his current performance. (Josh Reddick is tied for 18th at plus-5 DRS.)
Doo settles in
The bullpen didn't technically blow a save last week, but it did blow a game when Dan Otero came one strike short of finishing off the Rays on Thursday. Staked to a brand-new one-run lead and entering his third inning of work, Otero coughed up the tying run. He then left a couple of inherited runners for Luke Gregerson, who served up the walk-off bomb. (Note: The night before, Gregerson allowed hits to two of three three batters he faced in the eighth inning of a one-run game. I officially no longer feel comfortable with him in set-up situations.)
Don't blame Sean Doolittle for any of that, though. He didn't pitch in that extra-inning game, because he had been busy saving the two previous contests. He's now 2-for-2 since taking over as the closer.
Doolittle did finally issue a walk, for the first time since Aug. 31, 2013. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has thus decreased from infinity to 32, which is still good but doesn't have the same ring to it.
Pomeranz gives up a run
It was bound to happen eventually. Drew Pomeranz made his third start of the season on Tuesday and turned in his third straight outing of five scoreless innings. However, he started again on Sunday and finally hit a snag. He allowed a monster home run to Edwin Encarnacion, and he also loaded the bases to lead off the fifth; Jim Johnson came on in relief and stranded two of those three runners. While two runs in four innings isn't terrible in principle, Pomeranz was not good. He also got himself into big jams in the first and fourth but worked out of them, and he killed both his performance and his efficiency by walking five batters. It was a bump in the road for a young starter, and he'll need to tighten up his command in his next appearance.
Pomeranz's line as a stater so far, in four games: 0.95 ERA, 19 innings, 19 K's, 8 walks, 13 hits
The offense didn't do much, but the A's did get homers from each of their key middle-of-the-order sluggers. Donaldson's was an absolute smash.
The one from Cespedes came on an R.A. Dickey ... fastball.
And the one from Moss came off of a left-hander (cool) who had not yet allowed a long ball all season (cool cool) and was the team's only hit of the day (cool cool cool). OK, Moss's homer wins the Dinger of the Week contest that I just made up as I was writing this sentence.
The first-place Blue Jays
The last time the Blue Jays went to the playoffs was 1993, when the season ended like this.
Since then, they have had nine seasons with a record of .500 or better, but they have not exceeded 88 wins in any campaign (1998). They've finished as high as second only once, in 2006. It's been 20 years of watching the Yankees and Red Sox run the division, with brief windows of success by the Rays and Orioles. Only the Jays have failed to get their piece of the pie.
That may end in 2014. There's still a lot of season left, but the Red Sox and Rays are struggling and the Jays are hitting their stride. They have a couple of serious boppers in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, a couple more highly productive hitters in Melky Cabrera and Adam Lind, even more power with Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus, and an element of speed and distraction with Jose Reyes and Anthony Gose. Their pitching isn't as good as it looked last weekend, but Mark Buehrle is producing like he did in his prime, Drew Hutchison is finally healthy and looking fantastic, R.A. Dickey just showed that he's still capable of dominating a game, and their bullpen has a few powerful arms. It's not a perfect team, and I hope they'll acquire another pitcher during the season, but Toronto could finally have a shot at an AL East title. It's just happening a year later than we all thought it would.
There's not much to analyze from last weekend's series in Toronto. The Jays simply out-played the A's for three days, which is a thing that good teams will do now and then. The takeaways are that the A's will go through slumps from time to time (and that the key is the minimize their length), and that this Jays team is legit. We even shared our crushes for each other on Twitter:
Aw, you guys! @athleticsnation @bluebirdbanter pic.twitter.com/XdSg9fb6Pg— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) May 25, 2014
The important thing is that even when the A's lose, they're always in it down to the last out. In their four losses last week, one went to extra innings and the A's led in the 11th; in the next two, they brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth; and in the last one, they only lost by two runs. They've only lost three games this year by more than three runs, and their biggest margin of defeat has been six. When you're in every single game, you always have a chance to steal one. Heck, even in the game that Otero and Gregerson lost to the Rays, the A's had beaten rival closer Grant Balfour in the ninth just to take it to extra innings. Because they stayed close, they nearly snatched a victory at the last second. That's why run differential is important. Lots of blowout wins mean lots of games in which the other team has no chance to come back, and lots of close losses mean lots of game in which you are in a position to do so. The question for Week 9 is whether the A's can quit with the close losses and get back to the blowout wins.
Have a happy Memorial Day, remember our troops whose service has allowed us to enjoy all of this wonderful baseball, and if you can't get yourself to a BBQ then just whip out your phone and yell "PRINT SANDWICH!"