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Game Thread #91: A's at Cleveland

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Baseball is a simple game; you throw the ball, you hit the ball, and you catch the ball (Yes, I re-watched Bull Durham recently). Good teams do all three really well. Exceptionally bad teams fail at all three. Sometimes mediocre teams do all three at a league average. Your 2015 Oakland Athletics are really good at half of the three, but extraordinarily bad at the other half. That's why this season has been one long teAse. With stellar starts and blowout wins, the good half keeps us hoping this team can climb back to .500. But then the bad half shows up, telling us this team will never be able to break through the 7 games under .500 barrier.

One term that keeps popping up throughout the 2015 A's season, however, is "bad luck." We've seen it in the AN comments section. It's even been written about on other websites. The notion comes from the team's inability to overcome their weaknesses to win consistently despite wildly succeeding in other aspects of the game. Certainly scoring a lot of runs with stellar starting pitching should be enough, but with corresponding success remaining elusive, we are left with the impression of bad luck.

But exactly why are the A's unlucky? Here is my take:

First is the A's poor fielding. The A's have the lowest fielding percentage in the Majors at .976, which is expected when the team not only commits the most errors in the Majors, but is also outpacing everyone else by a fair margin with 78 in 90 games. What hurts, though, is the A's inability to prevent to those errors from scoring. The A's have lowest team ERA in the AL, but are 11th in runs allowed per game. This is the result of having allowed 44 unearned runs when, for example, the Royals have allowed only 13. Looking at errors in a vacuum, it's perhaps easy to say that a gritty team can work around an error, while an unlucky team allows an error to score. For the A's, the errors seem to score all too often, but even stranding errors hurts the team overall.

Second is the crummy bullpen, which combine with the errors to create a perfect storm of bad luck. As we all know, the A's starting ERA is best in the AL while the bullpen ERA is 14th. The errors generate the bad luck by decreasing the impact of the A's effective starters while putting increased stress on the ineffective bullpen. Not always, but typically, errors are outs that become base runners. Giving the opposing team more outs means a pitcher needs to face extraneous batters, which of course requires more pitches. Errors in the early innings prevent, lets say Jesse Hahn, from pitching into the 7th or 8th due to an unnecessarily inflated pitch count. Also, errors in the late innings require the bullpen to face an increased number of batters. When your starting staff is exceptional, but your bullpen is doo-doo, the negative impact of one or multiple errors is exacerbated because your reliable starters throw fewer innings while your unreliable bullpen faces more hitters. In the case of the 2015 A's, more batters for the bullpen usually equates to crooked number for the opposing team.

With a serviceable bullpen, perhaps the A's could be the gritty team that keeps the errors on the bases instead of stepping on home. Or, absent the errors, the impact of the poor bullpen would decrease as their innings and batters faced would decrease. The combination of the two, however, has been too great to overcome.

But enough with the spurious opinions about past woes. Lets focus on today's game.

It's a Sonny Sunday! But it's not so sunny in Cleveland. Weather reports says mostly cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms at around 3 PM local Cleveland time. I looked at the doppler radar, too. Doesn't look promising.

For Cleveland, the disappointing Corey Kluber (4-9) takes the rubber. Your reigning AL Cy Young award winner has seen his ERA jump a full point from 2.44 last season to 3.45 in 2015. What's strange is that Corey's walks per 9 and strikeouts per 9 have stayed relatively the same from last season into this one. Despite the record and the ERA jump, Kluber still posts double digit strikeout totals on a regular basis.

Today we see the more natural righty lineup for the A's with the usual left-swinging suspects taking their places. Butler is off getting a day of rest before the long four-day break.

Also of note, Chris Bassitt was sent down this morning. Replacing him on the roster is the familiar Dan Otero. The A's will turn a four-man rotation for the weeks following the All-Star Break.

Today's Lineups

Billy Burns - CF Jason Kipnis - DH
Stephen Vogt - C Francisco Lindor - SS
Ben Zobrist - DH Michael Brantley - LF
Josh Reddick - RF David Murphy - RF
Ike Davis - 1B Carlos Santana - 1B
Brett Lawrie - 3B Yan Gomes - C
Eric Sogard - 2B Giovanny Urshela - 3B
Marcus Semien - SS Michael Bourn - CF
Sam Fuld - LF Jose Ramirez - 2B
Sonny Gray - RHP Corey Kluber - RHP