"Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.
Justice the founder of my fabric moved:
To rear me was the task of Power divine,
Supremest Wisdom, and primeval Love.
Before me things create were none, save things eternal, and eternal I endure.
All hope abandon, ye who enter here."
--"The Divine Comedy: Inferno," by Dante Alighieri
With fires breaking out all over California since El Nino concluded its modest deluge of the great state, it was Billy Burns who delivered a refreshing victory over the Angels last night. But despite that scintillating victory, the A's continued to flame out spectacularly. Fire has amazing power, and when harnessed can provide warmth and comfort, guidance and safety, and is capable of both destruction and regrowth. When it isn't harnessed it can be unstoppable, reducing everything in its path to cinders. Right now, the A's are engulfed in a sea of flames with no clear way out.
One might even say that the A's are in Hell. This game was a microcosm of that fact.
According to Dante's Inferno's interpretation of what exactly Hell is, there are nine levels, each of them representing a sin of some sort, and all of them are not fun at all. Level one is "Limbo."
Limbo could be the offseason, where the A's were amassing talent but it was unclear of how it was all going to come together. Today though, Limbo came in the form of the uncertainty of how the team would perform without a starting pitcher to take the mound. The A's have had their fair share of bullpen games this season already, but this was the first time that the team was doing it intentionally, with all other options injured or underperforming. Andrew Triggs was called up to make the "start," with the hope that he would be able to provide three or four innings of solid pitching, and then essentially play it by ear and mix and match from there based on the game's situation. Luckily for the A's, Triggs would be able to do just that, navigating around a few baserunners in his first three innings without allowing a run, before surrendering a booming shot to Mike Trout to begin the fourth and being removed in favor of Ryan Dull.
Lust is the A's offense consistently making egregious offerings at pitches that may have looked nice when they were released, but were downright ugly up close. In the bottom of the first inning, after Stephen Vogt nearly hit a home run but settled for a double after it hit off the top of the wall, the usually very dependable Danny Valencia quickly fell behind 0-2 and then had an impressively ugly swing to close out the inning without pushing a crucial run across the plate. Tim Lincecum performed strongly in his return to the majors, and potentially has what it takes to be a competent major league starter again, but the A's hitters all day were taking aggressive, lustful hacks at his offerings as though he was the same pitcher who has recently been better known for blowing smoke rather than pitching heat, and all they could show for it was weak contact all over the field.
Gluttony is Lincecum feasting on the A's bats for six total innings while allotting just four hits and two walks with two strikeouts, but his main meal was weak ground balls, as he managed eight groundouts on the day. Lincecum doesn't have his old fastball and likely won't ever be the elite pitcher that he once was, but today he proved that he could still pitch effectively, albeit against a mostly anemic offense. Lincecum's one blemish came in the third inning, as a walk of Vogt, after Burns singled earlier in the inning, facilitated a Valencia single that drove Burns in. While Valencia was able to redeem his first at bat with the RBI hit, that was the only run the A's would score in that inning and for the entire game.
Greed is the A's lack of situational hitting. Valencia swung at a 3-0 pitch to drive in Burns, but most of the time the A's greedy over aggression in hitters' counts would not yield positive results. Despite every batter being ahead of or even in the count against Lincecum (besides Vogt) in his final three innings on the mound, only one batter (Valencia) reached base, which was on a five pitch walk, and Valencia was immediately erased by a double play that Khris Davis hit into on a 3-1 count. The over aggressiveness at the plate has plagued the A's all season, and is the prevailing reason that the team's walk rate is so atrocious.
Wrath is the Angels erupting for five runs in the sixth inning. Up to this point in the game, Triggs had been relieved by Ryan Dull and Marc Rzepcynski, with Ryan Dull giving up a solo home run to A's killer Johnny Giavotella but no other damage done, leaving the game with a score of 2-1 after five innings. Fernando Rodriguez was brought in to further the bullpen's efforts, looking to right his ship after looking shaky in his previous outing, and struggling over his last month or so in the season, but after a strong finishing of the fifth inning his ship sank in the sixth as he was tagged for three runs and removed before he could get out of the inning.
Heresy is the A's relief corps needing to act as starting pitchers far too often this season. This was not the first game where the A's would be forced to use six or seven pitchers (today it was seven), and while the bullpen had continuously risen to the challenge starting on opening night, already the wear and tear is starting to show. Axford, who started the season so well, was consistently the first man out of the bullpen to start the year, and has been given innumerous high leverage situations relative to his peers so far this season, but in todays' game he was the fifth man out of the bullpen in a 3-1 game with runners on second and third. Axford needed just one out to escape the inning, but absolutely could not touch the strikezone, throwing an equal number of balls and strikes, walking two, and allowing two additional runs to score on top of the runners he inherited from Rodriguez. When the sixth inning came to a close the score was 7-1.
Violence is the amount of players that the A's have on the disabled list. This game had disaster potential from the outset, and while a good amount of blame should and does fall on the players themselves not executing when they should be, the injuries, especially to those on the pitching staff, have made a bad situation for the A's exponentially worse. The A's are using their ultra-emergency relief pitchers meant to forever be stashed away in the minor leagues in high-leverage situations and are sending out the pitcher who is #9 on the team's depth chart to start on the mound tomorrow. This game was still a winnable game, and injuries should not be to blame for the loss, but the sheer fact that the A's were forced to start Billy Burns in right field and pitch a bullpen game when the bullpen is already tops in the big leagues in innings pitched is highly indicative of the current state of the team's health.
Fraud is the complete lack of results coming from the offensive side of the field. Were it not for Max Muncy's ninth inning double, the A's were at risk of not getting a single base hit since the third inning of the game, when Valencia drove in Burns, which would have meant that the team that was twice nearly no-hit by the Brewers' pitching staff and nearly perfecto-d by Colby Lewis would have been no-hit for the final six innings of this game. The offense wasn't supposed to be on a level of, say, the Blue Jays or Red Sox or Orioles, but it was supposed to be full of tough outs from top to bottom. With Reddick out of the lineup, there is currently arguably one or two starters who would be considered a tough out.
Treachery is the A's losing at home to the Angels yet again, falling two games behind them for second-to-last place in the standings, no more substantial reinforcements on the way, and all the solutions to the franchise's problems will result in the current team being worse. A's are now 28-40.
--To all folks in fire's way, stay safe and all of AthleticsNation is collectively sending their well-wishes.