"Hey, things could be worse." - Oakland Athletics fans, a week ago.
Things got worse.
The A's entered the week with a one-game deficit in the AL West, coming off a momentum-building series win against the division-leading Angels. They took two out of three in Houston to start the week, which allowed them to keep pace in the pennant race. And then ... splat. The A's fell flat on their faces as they got swept in a four-game set in Anaheim. That's a 2-5 record for the week, and now a five-game deficit in the division with 26 games remaining. It's not an insurmountable obstacle, but it's a daunting challenge. Oh, and Coco Crisp hurt his neck again. This is not a happy time to be an A's fan.
As usual, the problem was the offense. Oakland scored 13 runs in the two victories in Houston, but managed only two in the loss there. Then, they totaled four runs in the entire four-game series in Anaheim, including a streak of 29 consecutive scoreless innings. Twenty-nine straight innings without a run. They scored in the sixth on Thursday, then lost in 10 innings. They got shut out Friday. They got shut out Saturday. Then they scratched out a meaningless run in the eighth on Sunday. Holy busted lineup, Batman. Without a viable starter to replace Garrett Richards, the Angels just didn't bother with a starter at all on Saturday; eight relievers combined for a three-hit shutout, which may have been the most unacceptable loss in my entire baseball-watching life.
Lost in the ineptitude of the offense was the performance of the red-hot Josh Donaldson. As if to teach us all a lesson in how one star hitter can't carry an entire lineup, Donaldson went 12-for-24 with a homer, four doubles, five walks, and only two strikeouts (.500/.613/.792). It didn't matter. Jonny Gomes and newly acquired Geovany Soto found success in limited at-bats, and Sam Fuld hit a big game-winning home run, but that was about it. The lineup combined for a line of .195/.286/.286 with four home runs, good for a wRC+ of 67. It was an ugly week at the plate.
The pitching was better, but not good enough to win with zero runs of support. Jeff Samardzija was excellent, pitching into the eighth inning twice; he allowed only two runs each time and totaled 19 strikeouts with only one walk. Jason Hammel was good for the third time in four tries, going seven frames and allowing just one run on three hits. Drew Pomeranz took care of business in his spot start with the most Pomeranz line ever -- only 5⅓ innings, but no runs scored (plus seven strikeouts!). Sonny Gray and Jon Lester each turned in quality starts, though they were the lower end of quality with each giving up three runs. Only Scott Kazmir failed to put the team in a position to win (1⅓ innings, six runs, four walks).
The bullpen was much as it was early in the season -- awesome except for when it mattered. Luke Gregerson ruined Hammel's start by serving up a three-run homer to Chris Carter to blow the save and take the loss. Eric O'Flaherty came in for the save on Wednesday and gave up another homer to Carter, though O'Fats still managed to seal the victory. (Note: Carter also homered against Shark on Monday, so he went yard in every game of the series. Curse of the Former A's.) Then, the pen was unable to hold the Angels down long enough to win in extras on Thursday, though the umpires sure didn't help; Ryan Cook ended up taking the loss. On the bright side, Dan Otero and Fernando Abad were both good, and Jesse Chavez finally turned in a solid outing in long relief (four innings, one run).
Wait, I'm not done. The defense was bad too. The A's committed at least one error in every game last week, and a few were costly. A miscue by Stephen Vogt at first base on Tuesday opened the door for Houston's game-winning rally, though even a two-run homer by Carter would have been enough. The Astros scored their first run on Wednesday courtesy of an error by Sogard at shortstop and a wild pitch by Cook. The following chain of events led to a run off of Lester on Friday: infield single, error by Sogard at short, bunt single, RBI walk. On Saturday, Sogard botched a ground ball to spark a two-run rally in an eventual 2-0 loss. OK, maybe the defense was fine overall and the problem is just that Sogard isn't a shortstop. Good news: Jed Lowrie is back in the lineup for Monday of Week 23.
Here are the main stories from last week, or at least the ones I didn't already complain about in the intro.
May as well get the good vibes started early. The A's need to make a big comeback in the division, so what better way to get pumped up than to remind ourselves that this team is really, really good at making comebacks. On Wednesday, they entered the ninth inning trailing 3-2, and they didn't exactly have their strongest hitters coming up. It didn't matter:
That's Sogard and Fuld for the win. We'll take what we can get right now.
Donaldson is still an MVP candidate
Mike Trout will be the MVP this year, because the writers were apparently just waiting for him to make the playoffs to vote for him and he will make the playoffs one way or the other this time. But let's remember that Donaldson is still a superstar, and that Baseball-Reference still has him atop its AL WAR leaderboard (7.1, with Trout at 6.6).
These hits aren't the most dynamic, but they were part of a three-hit, three-RBI day in a comfortable victory. Let's just bask in those happy thoughts for a moment.
Oh, and your weekly reminder that Donaldson is this year's hands-down Gold Glover at third.
Oh nono, get well Coco!
This highlight kind of sums up how last week went. Coco Crisp has been battling a neck injury for months, but he's mostly gutted through it and played well anyway. On Friday, Chris Ianetta hit a ball that was on a trajectory to clear the fence in center field. Coco got back, timed his leap, and snared the ball in his glove ... and then his wrist smashed into the top of the wall, the ball dropped out, and he re-injured his neck somewhere between there and the ground. It was nearly an amazing defensive play to preserve a scoreless tie, right up until it was a crippling two-run homer that also crippled one of the team's best players.
And that is how last week went for the A's.
Worst. Call. Ever.
I don't know if this is the worst call I've ever seen in an MLB game, but it's definitely high on the list.
Aybar hit the ball. Otero and Moss went to field it. Aybar, who had plenty of baseline to work with, inexplicably chose to run straight into Otero, who was already in possession of the ball at that point and tagged the Angels shortstop. Ruling: obstruction, error on Otero, Aybar gets first base. It makes absolutely no logical sense. There was a running lane available, and Aybar was tagged out. That is an out, no matter how you slice it.
The play mattered and it didn't. It gave the Angels a leadoff runner in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth. The next batter bunted the ball into exactly the same spot, and this time Otero and Moss both hesitated, undoubtedly based on the events of a couple minutes prior; the batter reached first base on a ball that would otherwise have been fielded easily. They ended up loading the bases intentionally, and the A's called on Fernando Abad and Ryan Cook to finish the inning. The A's got out of it, but the Angels needed only three batters in the 10th to plate the winning run.
Alright, the Angels didn't win in the ninth. Aybar was not the winning run. But that play, which in my eyes resulted in two runners on and nobody out, meant the A's had burn two extra relievers and it brought up the Trout/Pujols/Hamilton part of the lineup much faster than would otherwise have been the case. It had a huge butterfly effect on the contest and I truly believe the game should have been replayed from the point of Aybar's at-bat (with Aybar in the dugout and one out on the board in the ninth). The Angels may still have won anyway, but the way it happened felt like the umpires handed it to them. In a happier week, this play may not have mattered much. In this nightmare stretch, it's just the poisonous cherry on top of the poop sundae.
Oh, and this strike zone from umpire Gerry Davis on Sunday didn't exactly help any of us feel better about the state of officiating in baseball.
That played a big part in Kazmir walking four batters and allowing six runs in the second inning. It also came the day after Davis was reportedly reprimanded for acting unprofessionally toward the A's. Can't help but wonder if that's not a coincidence; after all, umpires are championed for being human, and getting payback against someone who just got you in trouble with your boss is an awfully human thing to do. Read more here, here and here.
When I said that O'Fats sealed the victory on Wednesday after giving up a homer to Carter, what I really meant was that Andy Parrino sealed it. Here was the final play of the game.
He can't hit, but at least he can do something well on a baseball field. That's more than I can say for Alberto Callaspo.
Welcome, Geovany Soto!
With John Jaso concussed, Stephen Vogt unable to catch due to a foot injury, and Derek Norris clearly struggling, the A's added catcher Geo Soto last week. Soto caught a pair of games and looked fantastic behind the plate. He also went 2-for-5 with a double and two walks, which is nice production at the plate. Hopefully, Soto can continue to shore up a catching corps that was once one of the biggest strengths on the roster. Sometimes, even when you're three-deep at a position, they all still get hurt anyway. Just ask the Rangers.
That was a rough week, but the A's are still firmly in the playoff picture and their schedule gets awfully soft in September. The pitching staff is still really good. There are a couple new hitters, and some old ones should be coming back off the DL soon.
Hey, things could be worse.