Last week in Oakland, things got real. It started with a devastating sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, including a walk-off grand slam by Rajai Davis in one game and a shutout by Rick Porcello in another. Justin Verlander was supposed to be bad now, but he still beat the A's handily. But then, things turned around, quickly and in a big way. Oakland rebounded to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays in four games, which was even more sweet because the Jays had swept the A's in Canada in May. Oakland managed to win the seven-game season series against Toronto despite starting 0-3, which could be relevant later in the season if any tiebreakers are needed to decide playoff seeding (and also note that the A's lost their season series with the Tigers, 2-5). While the A's were playing the Jays, though, Billy Beane was hard at work on a Friday night, and, on July 4, as our BBQ's wound down and we waited for the evening's fireworks, the news broke that the A's had traded Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and Dan Straily to the Cubs for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Bring it on, says the American League? Oh, it's been brought'en.
The story of the week revolved around pitching. It started poorly, with Sean Doolittle serving up the come-from-behind game-winner to Davis in the ninth inning on Monday and Jesse Chavez getting smashed by the Tigers on Wednesday. But the A's allowed only four total runs to the Blue Jays over their four-game set, which is particularly impressive because the Jays have scored the fourth-most runs in the Majors this year. Scott Kazmir made two impressive starts and allowed two runs in 12⅓ innings while striking out 15 batters. Sonny Gray threw a seven-inning, one-run, five-strikeout gem on Thursday, and Samardzija matched it exactly in his Oakland debut on Sunday. In the pen, nobody except Doolittle and Jim Johnson allowed a run. The A's 304 runs allowed are bested only by the Mariners (299) and the Nationals (300).
The offense can be summed up with the phrase, "I believe in Stephen Vogt." The catcher-turned-right-fielder went 11-for-24 with a double and a triple, and although he walked only once he also didn't strike out a single time. Vogt has only struck out eight times in 92 plate appearances (8.7 percent) and has only swung and missed at 4.2 percent of pitches he's seen, both of which put him in Alberto Callaspo territory as far as making contact and putting the ball into play. His .372 BABIP will come down, and with it his .356 average, but as long as he keeps making contact on nine out of 10 swings and hitting line drives he'll continue to be an offensive weapon. Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, Coco Crisp, and Craig Gentry also had big weeks, hitting .333 or higher. Moss, Coco, and Josh Donaldson hit the only three homers for the week, but Jed Lowrie finally had a few doubles land in and Nate Freiman added a couple of his own. The A's still lead the Majors in runs scored (439), over the Angels (432 in one fewer game) and the Rockies (432 in one more game). The Blue Jays are the only other team over 400.
Here are the main stories from the last week.
The Shark Trade
The A's needed to bolster their starting rotation, and they did so in a big way by adding Samardzija and Hammel. The price was steep -- Oakland's top two propsects, Russell and McKinney, as well as a lesser starter in Straily. We've already written plenty of words on this deal and its ramifications, so to read more you can check out the StoryStream that includes all of our coverage.
In the meantime, here is some footage from Shark's debut on Sunday.
Six Seven All-Stars
The Oakland A's are sending sending six players to the 2014 All-Star Game. There are seven 2014 All-Stars on the Oakland A's. Both statements are true!
Celebrate 7 A's going to #ASG w/ $7 tix to 7/22. Available until 5pmPT today or while tix last http://t.co/FRf0fdMMoy pic.twitter.com/XetdaQKC5d— Oakland Athletics (@Athletics) July 7, 2014
Samardzija was selected to the NL team as a Cub, so he will be listed as an All-Star but not allowed to play in the game. That makes sense; pitching against his current league would mean pitching against his chance at home-field advantage in the World Series, and pitching for the AL right now would make no sense since he hasn't been playing in it all year.
The six reps from the A's:
3B Josh Donaldson (starting)
C Derek Norris
OF Yoenis Cespedes
1B Brandon Moss
SP Scott Kazmir
RP Sean Doolittle
It's the most players the A's have sent to the All-Star Game since the three-time defending champ 1975 club sent eight players. Donaldson is the first position player to go since 2003 (Ramon Hernandez), and the first to start since 2000 (Jason Giambi). The only other A's player to start in the 21st century was pitcher Dan Haren in 2007.
When recording history, you don't get to just leave out the bad parts if you want to doo a good job. So, it is with a heavy heart that I include this video in the review. When you watch it, try to just be happy for Rajai, whom we will always love for his past contributions to Oakland. And then use it as a rallying cry, as fuel for motivation.
OK, that wasn't so bad, was it? And, to cleanse your palette, here is Doo bouncing back later in the week and looking like his old self.
Of course, the worst news of all is that he issued another walk, this time to Austin Jackson. His season line is now 61 strikeouts to two walks.
Welcome, Eric O'Flaherty!
Last winter, the A's signed left-handed reliever Eric O'Flaherty to a two-year contract even though he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. It was a move designed to produce a delayed reaction, so that a quality reliever could be added midseason beyond the seven guys on the Opening Day roster. It was also a buy-low on a guy with a 2.85 career ERA.
O'Fats arrived in Oakland last week, and his first two outings went well. He faced seven total batters in his two innings of work, allowing just a single and needing only 19 pitches to record six outs. He's a pitch-to-contact guy who throws his fastball over 80 percent of the time and gets opponents to hit the ball on the ground.
Roster move summary
There was quite a bit of shuffling last week. Here's where the roster stands at midday Monday:
Jeff Samardzija (trade acquisition)
Eric O'Flaherty (activated from 60-day DL)
(Pending) Jason Hammel (trade acquisition)
(40-man) Kenny Wilson (claimed on waivers)
Tommy Milone (optioned to Triple-A, for now)
Jeff Francis (designated for assignment, probably gone)
(Pending) One of Jim Johnson/Buck Mills (DFA, definitely gone)
(40-man) Dan Straily (traded)
(40-man) Nick Buss (DFA'd, then outrighted to Sacramento; no longer on 40-man)
One more move has to be made to get Jason Hammel onto the 25-man roster. That move will almost certainly be a DFA for either Jim Johnson or Buck Mills, and I think everybody hopes it's Johnson who goes. Not only is he irredeemably bad this year, but Mills serves as a more appropriate long man and is a competent spot starter in an emergency. Since Hammel was already added to the 40-man roster, the A's will free up a space when they DFA either Johnson or Mills; that spot has already been filled by outfielder Kenny Wilson, claimed on waivers from the Blue Jays on Monday, per a press release from the team. You've never heard of him and you probably never will again. Outfielder Nick Buss, who was DFA'd to make room for the guys from the Cubs, was outrighted to Sacramento, so I assume that means that he cleared waivers and will remain with the organization. He was already unlikely to appear in Oakland this year, and now there's no way since it would require cutting someone else to put him back on the 40-man roster.
Happy Independence Day!
The Athletics played for America's honor on July 4 when they took on the only non-USA team, the Toronto Blue Jays. It was an epic struggle, as the scoreless tie extended for 12 innings. But the rockets red glare, the fly balls dying in the air, gave proof through the afternoon that our pie was still there. Nick Punto delivered the walk-off hit, for America, and the USA beat Canada 1-0.
The bat is still cold, but the corner remains hot and Donaldson's glove has the fire to match it. Here's an incredible double play:
... and here's Tarp Catch 2 (begins with a clip of Tarp Catch 1 from last year):
Donaldson's 18 Defensive Runs Saved are third in the Majors regardless of position, behind only outfielders Jason Heyward (24) and Alex Gordon (19). The next third baseman is Pablo Sandoval, at plus-8. The next AL third baseman is Manny Machado, at plus-6. Donnie's UZR ranks fourth among all players, and his UZR/150 is fifth. At the very least, he will win a Fielding Bible award this year, and hopefully he'll get the Gold Glove he deserves as well.
Dan Otero, winner
Otero notched another victory in relief on Friday, pushing his record to 7-1. He is now tied for 24th in the AL in wins, along with Justin Verlander, John Danks, and Bud Norris, among others. He leads all MLB relievers in this stupid statistic and is on pace to be the first Oakland reliever to rack up double-digit wins since Billy Koch went 11-4 in 2002. (In 2003, Keith Foulke went 9-1 and Ricardo Rincon went 8-4; five other relievers won seven each since then, including Duke twice).