As a slacker student and therefore psychology major, one of the first things I learned is that correlation doesn't mean causation. Today, I learned that was wrong, as the A's won 7-0 and Billy Butler did not play. Coincidence? No way.
Scott Kazmir started for the A's, pitching a clean first frame, but topping out around 90 MPH. The gamethread was anxious to say the least, as our premier trade chip and recently injured starting pitcher looked less than 100%. Boy were we wrong.
For the Rangers, rookie Chi Chi Gonzalez (no relation to Speedy, per wikipedia) got the call. Coming into today, the righty had thrown 14 and 2/3 innings, giving up 0 runs of any sort. The A's would break that streak immediately, as Billy Burns led off the game with a walk and immediately stole second base. Burns has been arguably the A's best hitter for a month without really finding his groove on the basepaths. Today, without any hesitation he plucked second and showed just how valuable his speed can be, turning a bases empty walk into a quick double. Semien followed suit with a questionable strikeout looking, but Josh Reddick and Ben Zobrist picked him up with groundball singles to plate Burns. Vogt followed with a four pitch walk, loading the bases and giving the A's a chance to break the game wide open. Instead, Brett Lawrie crushed a grounder to shortstop Elvis Andrus on the first pitch for an easy double play, ending the thread. The ghost of Billy Butler lingered. It was yet another inning where the A's scored at least one fewer run than they should have, and gave the feel of one of those days.
With a 1-0 lead, Kazmir put the game on cruise control, casually setting down Ranger after Ranger. Through the first four innings, Kazmir allowed a single baserunner (a walk to Adam Rosales, of all people). In the fifth, the Rangers got their first and only hit of the day, as shorstop Elvis Andrus lined a single to center, breaking up the no-hit bid. Kazmir kept strong, and thanks to some nice defense by Billy Burns (see below) and Marcus Semien, cruised through 8 innings allowing just 3 baserunners while striking out 6. Scott was masterful, mixing his pitches beautifully, hitting his spots, and keeping the Rangers off balance all afternoon. Remember how I said we were worried about Kazmir's velocity in the first? He hit 93 in the seventh, showing a veteran ability to pitch and not throw, and saving his best stuff for later innings. He had the effortless look we've grown so accustomed to, and controlled the game from start to finish. It goes without saying that this Kazmir start was crucial for a variety of reasons, and rest assured that Scott still has it.
It wouldn't be an A's recap without a paragraph dedicated to defense, but today it's for a good reason. Billy Burns played the centerfield we've expected from the speedster all year long, making an amazing diving catch and an amazing leaping catch. Let's watch them right now.
Again, up until now Burns' defense and baserunning has been underwhelming considering his speed but today that wasn't the case. He was the best position player on the field in most aspects, and you can see just how much of an impact his speed can have on a game. Marcus Semien also had a great day defensively, ranging far for a ground ball and linedrive, two plays I'd bet he doesn't make a month ago. There's no doubt he's improved his hands and arm, and today we caught a glimpse of some superior range. I'm still no believer, but if a month of Wash can take him this far, there might be a major league shortstop in there after all.
The score remained 1-0 going into the bottom of the eighth, as the A's missed opportunity after opportunity to break the game open and score some insurance runs. They finally came through in the eighth, as Mark Canha hit a long homerun to left, scoring Stephen Vogt and stretching the score to 3-0. Yet again, the home run came off a right handed hitter and I think 100% of fans would choose Canha in the DH slot against RHP over Billy Butler. Following Canha, Phegley walked, and resident zombie Sam Fuld doubled to complete a 3-4 day putting runners at second and third with one out. Billy Burns, who does it all, hit a sac fly to center, plating Phegley and extending the score to 4-0. Andy Parrino broke Las Vegas by walking and not striking out, which I almost made the lede. Just so we're clear, Adam Rosales and Andy Parrino walked in the same game. Baseball is stupid. Josh Reddick sealed the deal by crushing a homerun of LHP Ross Detwiler and giving the A's a 7-0 lead. It was a fantastic, exciting, fun, and needed 8th inning, and a good reminder that this team scores runs.
Today wasn't all good, as the A's still let opportunity after opportunity to break the game open pass them by. In innings 1-7 the A's left 9 runners on base, going 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Also, we got our share of bad Brehtttt today as Lawrie went 0-3 with a plunking on 6 total pitches seen and a double play. His contact and swings weren't terrible, but I've seen more patience from dogs at dinnertime. Brett is a strange dichotomy of awesome baseball and dumb baseball, and it as the very least, always entertaining. But screw all that, because today was an awesome win against a decent team, and the A's are going to win the AL West!
Record wise, the Rangers are not a bad team. Players wise, well maybe. But in order to turn it around, the A's have to beat teams like this on a regular basis, and consecutive wins against the 2nd place Rangers will go a long way if the A's hope to complete a highly improbable comeback. But I still believe! The A's head down to Los Angeles of Anaheim tomorrow, to take on Mike Trout's neck and the Angels. What a perfect time to start a winning streak.