It was bound to happen eventually. The Oakland Athletics have been rolling for four months, but they finally fell flat against some weaker teams last week and experienced the closest thing to a slump they've had all year. They went 2-4 after dropping series that they could have and should have won against the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals.
Of course, the biggest news of the week was the pair of trades the A's made at the non-waiver deadline on July 31. They sent Yoenis Cespedes (and a draft pick) to the Boston Red Sox and Tommy Milone to the Minnesota Twins for ace starter Jon Lester, platoon masher Jonny Gomes, and center fielder Sam Fuld. Lester is now the ace of the staff, Gomes is the left field slugger against lefties, and Fuld is leading off and playing center in the absences of Coco Crisp and Craig Gentry (though Coco returned to the field at the beginning of Week 19). We've already written pleeeeenty of words about those deals, said our hellos and goodbyes, and all the rest, so visit our StoryStream to learn everything you could ever want to know about these deals and their ramifications.
On the field, the biggest story was the ineptness of the offense. Even before Cespedes was shipped up to Boston, the A's were shut down by Brett Oberholtzer and Dallas Keuchel -- not bad pitchers, but guys the A's can beat. Against the Royals, and sans Cespedes, they were stymied by Jeremy Guthrie and James Shields, only one of whom is good at pitching. In those four games, they scored a combined six runs. Fortunately, they tallied 15 runs in their two victories, including an eight-run fifth inning against Jason Vargas and the Royals on Saturday. The list of hitting heroes is quite short: Josh Reddick. That's pretty much it. Derek Norris was good as well (6-for-18), but Reddick stole the show by going 8-for-20 with three homers, two doubles, and no strikeouts. In fact, until he went down swinging against the Rays on Monday (Week 19), he hadn't struck out since July 24 -- a span 34 plate appearances. He is now hitting .258/.311/.436 for the season (110 OPS+) and suddenly looks like a factor again after two years of aimless wandering. Someone had to step up to replace Cespedes, and Reddick is answering the call so far. On the other hand, Stephen Vogt finally cooled off despite starting the week with a homer; he went on an 0-for-17 skid that since extended into an 0-for-20 in Week 19. Of course, he still finished the week hitting .327 (now .321, after Monday's game).
Despite a top-ranked offense, the pitching is now the high-profile aspect of the team. The staff allowed 27 runs in six games, which isn't even that bad (4.5 per game), and that total was buoyed by disaster starts by Jason Hammel (eight runs) and Jesse Chavez (six runs). Note that Hammel is the No. 5 starter and can't go anywhere but up, and that Chavez is no longer in the rotation after the addition of Lester. Sonny Gray had a dominant start in a losing effort, Lester was good-but-not-great while winning his debut, and Shark and Kaz both had forgettable-but-not-terrible outings. Dan Otero was the only reliever to allow a run, and he offset that by throwing four innings -- that's like having a 2.25 ERA, which happens to be Otero's exact ERA for the season.
Here are the main non-trade stories from the last week.
Remember when this used to be a regular thing?
Of course, this still is a regular thing:
Need someone to fill the shoes of your departed star outfielder? A Reddick with a 110 OPS+ is a star and at least a five-win player. And he just happens to be a fun-loving fan favorite, in the mold of Jason Giambi and Nick Swisher. Life is just so much happier when Reddick is playing well.
The new roster
Things have changed, so it's worth taking a moment to look at the re-vamped roster.
Starting Rotation (in the order I think they will be placed in Oct.)
(Triple-A depth: Drew Pomeranz)
Bullpen: Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson, Ryan Cook, Fernando Abad, Dan Otero, Eric O'Flaherty, Jesse Chavez (Triple-A depth: Evan Scribner pending waivers, Fernando Rodriguez, Joe Savery)
Catchers: John Jaso, Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt
First base: Brandon Moss, Nate Freiman (Kyle Blanks DL)
Second base: Eric Sogard, Alberto Callaspo (Nick Punto DL)
Shortstop: Jed Lowrie
Third base: Josh Donaldson
Left field: Jonny Gomes (vs. LHP) (Moss vs. RHP)
Center field: Coco Crisp, Sam Fuld (Craig Gentry DL)
Right field: Josh Reddick
Welcome, new guys!
Jon Lester got a nice ovation after his debut start in Oakland, and he endeared himself to the fans with a nice tip of the cap in response.
Gomes had a big hit in his first start back with his hometown team.
And Sam Fuld is either an alien, a ninja, or a wizard. I haven't decided which one.
The offense struggled, but it still showed what it's capable of when things get rolling. The A's entered the ninth inning in Houston on Tuesday staring at a 4-1 deficit, but they put together a six-run rally to stun the Astros and steal the game.
It's a good thing they did, too, because without this big inning they would have been swept in the series.
Of course, you could say the same thing for their series against the Royals. They got shut out in the first game, and Reddick was the only one who could figure out Shields in the finale as his two solo homers accounted for the only runs. In between those two games, they put up eight goose eggs in a contest they won 8-3. In other words, they scored all eight runs in one big inning, helped out quite a bit by some royally poor defense.
Interestingly (or not), that rally came at the exact midpoint of the series -- the fifth inning of the middle game. Note that Punto pulled his hamstring during that rally and is now on the DL, but should presumably return quickly.
Anyway, while the offense went south, most struggling teams don't put up innings of six and eight runs in the same week when they are at their worst. And of course, that last-minute comeback against the Astros was yet another example of Oakland's never-say-die attitude. The A's still lead the Majors in runs scored, 10 more than the second-place Angels.
Billy Burns: Don't blink or you'll miss him
Burns got his first taste of the Majors last week. He was up for a few days as a stopgap before the team acquired Fuld. He didn't steal any bases, but he did get a few at-bats (0-for-5, no strikeouts) and even started one game. Here's his very first MLB plate appearance.
Now that's an MLB-caliber lineout! He's now getting his first taste of Triple-A, which is odd for a guy who's already made his MLB debut.
Just Shooty Me
A's fans were subjected to several days of Shooty Babitt in the broadcasting booth last week. Although these particular quotes are from Monday (Week 19), I'm sure he said equally ridiculous things during the Royals series.
Lowrie missed a home run by "two Cheerios," according to Shooty. #Shootyisms— Athletics Nation (@athleticsnation) August 5, 2014
Shooty, stop saying guys have "leakage." Gross.— Athletics Nation (@athleticsnation) August 5, 2014
I don't know. Now that I'm numb to the annoyance of his constant non-game-related babbling, is it possible that he's kind of ... charming? Like, a sort of comic relief in the booth? He still seems pretty terrible as a baseball announcer, and I still yearn for Ray, but I'm kind of starting to get entertained by the ridiculous things that come out of his mouth. He's like a fictional announcer from a comedy movie (like Dodgeball or something), a caricature of the industry, except he's in real life. Two Cheerios? I mean, I laughed. And I kind of wanted to know what absurd thing he'd say next. Small doses are probably best, and I definitely want Ray in there as much as possible, but Shooty may not be as devoid of merit as we initially thought.