In March, during Spring Training, the Rays travelled to Cuba to play a few "just for fun" baseball games against the national squad of the island nation less than 100 miles south of the Florida Coast. The Rays won, fairly handily, but the end result of the game wasn't really the point. For all intents and purposes, there is a substantial barrier that looms large between the United States and Cuba that has stood strong for half a century, but in recent years, there have been several steps made in order to break that barrier, with slow moving results and varying impacts. The Rays' game in Cuba pierced through the barrier in a way that politics can't really do. Sports and the love of competition is a language that people speak globally, regardless of differences between individuals and the governments they are citizens of. By speaking the language of baseball in Cuba, a language that is truly one of Cuba's defining features, both nations took major steps forward in bringing down that which separates them.
Coming into today's game, the main barrier that the A's were brushing up against was the team's general incompetence to play a game that simultaneously had all of good pitching, good hitting, and good defense, or, frankly, even two of the three. The team has occasionally been showing levels of potential and greatness, but consistency has been an issue that has yet to show any signs of letting up.
The most consistent aspect of the offense this season has been its inconsistency. There are games where it appears there are no weak spots in the lineup, with a strong mix of contact and power hitters, capable of putting up a crooked number in almost any inning. Then there are games, like today, where the team can't buy a hit, or a walk, and even foul balls can magically turn into groundouts in the eyes of the umpire. Certainly not to detract from his performance today, but Matt Andriese is relatively new to the pitching scene, and could very well be a dominant pitcher over the course of his big league career, but in today's game he was able to work around falling behind in counts and hanging offspeed pitches in the heart of the plate, and managed to pitch a complete game shutout on barely more than one hundred pitches. The A's are near the bottom of the league in walks taken and there is no mystery as to why, when batters are all too willing to chase after pitches they cannot drive in batters' counts. The primary barriers to the offense performing well has been its lack of patience at the plate and lack of situational hitting, and in today's game the offense ran straight into the barrier and left nary a scratch.
The pitching staff has yet to hit any sort of consistent stride this season. At season's beginning, the starting pitching was performing well enough, and the bullpen was perhaps overworked but performing at an elite level. However, as the season has gone along, the starting pitching has lost all of its effectiveness and the bullpen was unable to maintain its dominance as its workload increased. In today's game, Kendall Graveman's pitches had strong movement paired with good speed, a combination that would normally be very potent, but Graveman's biggest barrier to success in the majors is his control, and his control was certainly lacking in today's game. Graveman couldn't finish the sixth inning and only managed one strikeout to three walks, and four runs. Two of those runs came on a home run courtesy of Brad Miller in the third inning, and the other two runs came as Graveman tired in the sixth and started to give up a swell of hits. Triggs and Rzepcynski pitched in relief of Graveman for the final two innings of the game, surrendering two more, ultimately meaningless, runs and continued to show some cracks that are forming around what was very recently a very solid bullpen. For this pitching staff to succeed, the starters must break down the barrier of rarely pitching deeper than six innings (usually less) in a game, and the relievers must break down the barrier of breaking down over the course of a very long season.
The defense didn't have a chance to make much of a difference in whether or not the A's had a chance to win today, but it too, was toiling away in mediocrity. The A's failed to make some big plays in the field that could have potentially saved some runs, but it can be hard to blame a defense for not making consistently elite plays, and the defense wasn't expected to be great this season anyways. Danny Valencia made another throwing error from third, but on the flip side, Khris Davis had an outfield assist on a Rays' TOOTBLAN, for what was the singular A's highlight of the game when all was said and done. The biggest barrier for the defense is merely performing at a level that would instill a high level of confidence for the pitching staff, and that added confidence on the mound could maybe, potentially, lead to slightly better results overall.
Sometimes, baseball can be used to break down barriers between nations with decades upon decades of bad blood between them, if even slightly. Sometimes, barriers exist because of baseball itself. With the loss today, like the Great Barrier Reef, the A's hopes and dreams are slowly and surely getting whitewashed away and irreparably damaged. After last night's encouraging victory, the A's endured yet another setback- It is not too late for this team, but damage is being done, and some serious barriers need to get broken down, and fast, for this team to have any hope of competing come September and October.
What a boring game today.