If the last week of Oakland Athletics baseball is any indication, then the Houston Astros got ripped off by taking a $50 million payday to move to the American League. The A's split a pair of games in New York against the Mets and then swept the Marlins in Miami for a 4-1 record in a rare five-game week (thanks to off-days on Monday and Thursday). Combined with their sweep of Washington in May, the A's are now 7-1 against the National League this season. And, entering Monday's contest against the Tigers (spoiler alert: it went wrong in virtually every way possible), Oakland still led the Majors with a 51-30 record and a plus-135 run differential. They sat 1½ games over the next-best Milwaukee Brewers and 5½ games over the runners-up in the American League, the Tigers and Angels. (Note: Monday's Tigers game will be included in next week's review.)
On the hitting side, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss, John Jaso, and Coco Crisp led the charge by batting .300 or better, while Josh Reddick went 5-for-11 with a triple and two walks in his return from the disabled list. Unfortunately, Reddick immediately re-injured the same body part that had just recovered (his knee) and went back on the DL. Ununfortunately (i.e., fortunately), Nate Freiman made his 2014 debut in place of Reddick and immediately swatted a three-run homer against the Marlins with his new Rickey-inspired batting stance. Josh Donaldson continued to struggle (5-for-22, one extra-base hit, six strikeouts) and the team totaled only three long balls, but the A's still scored 29 runs in five games for an average of just under six per contest.
On the pitching side, things didn't go so hot. Scott Kazmir got absolutely wrecked by the Mets (seven runs in three innings) for his first bad start of the year, and Sonny Gray and Jesse Chavez also turned in subpar five-inning outings. However, the back of the rotation was there to pick up the slack. Buck Mills looked like a different man in his second start of the season, issuing no walks (but a lot of hard contact) in keeping the Mets off the board until the seventh inning, and Tommy Milone tossed seven solid frames to save the bullpen after a 14-inning marathon that saw every single A's reliever take the mound. In the pen, Sean Doolittle blew his first save since becoming Oakland's full-time closer and also lost his impressive streaks of consecutive batters retired (8⅓ innings) and consecutive scoreless innings (26⅓ innings). But once again, the less-heralded members of the staff came through when no one else could; Jim Johnson had a pair of quality multi-inning outings and Jeff Francis earned the first save of his professional career after inheriting a bases loaded, one out jam with a one-run lead in the 14th. In that game, the seven members of the pen combined to toss nine innings and allow just one run on seven hits and two walks with 11 strikeouts. And Jim Johnson batted.
Here are the main stories from the last week of A's baseball.
A couple weeks ago, after Drew Pomeranz scuffled through a horrible game against the Rangers, I took a look at how Oakland compared to other top teams in terms of disaster starts. As it turned out, the A's had recorded only three such starts, in which the pitcher gave up more earned runs than innings pitched, whereas most other teams had already suffered that fate five-to-10 times. Kazmir's rough night made that four A's disaster starts on the season, and it marked the first time that one of the top three starters (Kaz, Gray, Chavez) got smoked like that. This is to remind you of two things. First, it happened. And second, it was an extremely rare occurrence and was probably just a blip on the radar. These things happen now and then, and it's OK as long as they are isolated instances.
Attack of the former A's
There was Donnie Murphy. There was Steve Tolleson. There was the Rajai Davis delayed stolen base. There was Collin Cowgill. There was Murphy again, for some reason. And then, there was Chris Young. He's having pretty much the same awful season he had last year, but this time for the Mets. And it turns out that the A's are his 2013 Astros, the team that he just inexplicably wallops when he faces them. Young homered twice in the first game (off of Kazmir and Johnson) and then again in the second one (off of Luke Gregerson). He hit four bombs in his first 202 plate appearances of the season, and then he managed to hit three in his eight trips to the plate against arguably the best pitching staff in baseball. This may be something that no one has ever said in the history of mankind, but I'm really glad that we don't play the Mets again this year.
Oh, and Bartolo Colon spun eight fantastic innings of one-run ball, allowing only four hits and a walk while striking out eight. Kinda hard to complain about that one after watching him do that week after week in the green and gold the last two seasons. Can't help but notice that the team Oakland then swept, the Miami Marlins, had no former A's on the roster.
OK, those were two real bummers to start off the recap of a 4-1 week. Here is Brandon Moss hitting an absolute moonshot off of Zack Wheeler.
The A's went on to win that one 8-5 to earn a split in New York.
Giancarlo Stanton is a superstar. Off the top of my head, he's probably one of the five best position players in baseball. But even superstars make mistakes, and apparently Stanton has been so busy hitting homers that no one thought to tell him about Yoenis Cespedes' arm.
You don't watch a lot of baseball, do you Giancarlo? The only thing worse than the decision to run on Cespedes was the weird slide by Stanton that likely made the difference between being safe and out.
Oh yeah, you also shouldn't run on Craig Gentry.
In fact, here is just a handy flow chart if you're wondering whether or not to run on an Oakland outfielder.
Guide to running on A's outfielders: pic.twitter.com/V6MhouVGgn— Ken Arneson (@kenarneson) June 10, 2014
Play of the year?
The A's have made so many amazing defensive plays this year that it's tough to remember which ones were marginally better than the other ones. There could be 10 plays that were better than Tommy Milone's on-the-run dig of Alberto Callaspo's throw to first, but one way or the other this was a heck of an effort by Milone both in terms of hustle and ability.
It's not technically an RBI strikeout because the run scored on an error, but this isn't something that you see every day.
Moss struck out swinging, and the ball hit the dirt. When catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia recovered it, he checked on Coco at third and then threw to first to complete the out. However, Coco waited until the moment Salty looked away and then broke for home. By the time left-handed first baseman Garrett Jones had cleared himself a throwing lane and Salty had gotten back into position in front of the plate, Coco was streaking across for a run borne of pure hustle.
Welcome back, Six-Eight Nate
Remember Nate Freiman? He's baaaack.
That's a new batting stance that he learned from Rickey Henderson, even though it is the utter opposite of Rickey's signature low crouch. I, for one, am excited to find out if this new stance will unlock the power that Freiman possesses but failed to show last season. At the least, though, he was the difference in the finale against the Marlins; that three-run blast came in a 4-3 victory. He's also wearing jersey No. 35 now, so he's got a stance from Rickey and a number from Frank Thomas. If those things don't make him a star, nothing will.
Oh, and check out that bat flip. That's MLB quality right there.
Reddick wasn't the only Athletic to go down last week. Derek Norris was knocked out of Friday's opener in Miami, and this time it wasn't the result of any part of his body being hit by a ball or bat or any other foreign object. His back simply tightened up, presumably from chopping down too many trees on his days off. No word on how much time he'll miss, but fortunately the A's have so many good catchers that they have to stick them in the outfield just to keep them from getting bored.
Jeff Francis, Proven Closer
The 33-year-old Francis entered Saturday's game with no saves in 235 appearances over a 10-year career. Granted, only 18 of those outings were in relief, but still. The point is that he'd thrown over 1,200 innings over a long MLB career and this was the first time he'd ever entered a game in a save situation. With the bases loaded, one out, and a one-run lead, he struck out Salty looking and then induced a flyout from Donovan Solano to seal a wild, seesaw affair that felt like it would be won by whoever had the last at-bat.
The next day, the seemingly fully recovered Ryan Cook recorded his first save of the season, also by retiring Solano. Hmm, maybe consider pinch-hitting for Solano if he represents the last out of the game, Miami?
In Cook's last five outings, he's allowed one run in 6⅓ innings (1.42 ERA) with eight strikeouts against just four hits and a walk. Looks like Cook is heating up. (That was a culinary joke.)
Never, ever, ever say die
The A's continued doing what they do best last week: never giving up. On Friday, they were down 5-4 in the eighth after the Marlins staged a shocking comeback with a five-run sixth. However, Oakland scratched out a run in the eighth and then added four more in the ninth to turn a nailbiter into a comfortable win.
On Saturday, they were down 5-4 in the fifth but tied up the game and eventually took the lead. When Doolittle faltered to blow the save in the ninth, they battled to keep things going until they could push one across in the 14th. On Sunday, they took a solid 4-1 lead and then withstood the Marlins' comeback attempts to hold on for the sweep.
The A's won't win every game, but they'll be a factor in each one. If that doesn't sound like a big deal to you, then think about that feeling you got in 2011 when the other team took a moderate lead in the middle innings and you just turned off the TV to save yourself some time. You haven't had that feeling this year. Not once. (Except maybe Monday against Colon, but pobody's nerfect.)