First off, nothing goes worse with bad skill than bad luck and I want to acknowledge that for everything they have may have done wrong recently, the A’s also haven’t had a whole lot of good fortune.
Last night, for example, the bottom of the 1st inning would have ended scoreless had Carlos Beltran’s squibber been 6" closer to Jharel Cotton (who missed it with a valiant dive), 6" closer to Trevor Plouffe, or hit a fraction harder — Plouffe’s throw to 1B missed getting Beltran by a hair. Then in the 4th inning, fractions of seconds prevented Adam Rosales from completing a play in the hole on George Springer that would have kept the A’s in front.
Meanwhile, Plouffe’s would-be HR fell a foot short banging off the top of the high wall and his resulting double was turned into an out by the inability of MLB to get calls right even when they are staring at replays.
Then there’s the skill part: Josh Reddick saved two runs with a running catch Matt Joyce only dreams of making. Stephen Vogt, who went to bed 33 on one fine February evening and woke up 60, managed to commit catcher’s interference twice and strike out on a pitch that hit him in the foot, is now batting .203/.226/.322.
That all being said, what a team can do regardless of its physical ability is to play smart, fundamental ball to maximize its skill set — whatever that skill set may be. Perhaps my biggest frustration with the A’s right now is how often they are falling down in the areas where they are capable of succeeding even if they don’t currently boast the league’s finest athletes.
Case in point: twice in one game down in Anaheim, A’s outfielders were caught laying back on their heels catching the ball. First it was Matt Joyce, catching a fly balls flat footed and lobbing a throw back to the infield as Cameron Maybin tagged up and went to 2B. Then it was Jaff Decker, laying back on a base hit to field it casually and not prepared for a throw to 3B as Albert Pujols lumbered around 2B and caught Decker off guard.
Following the first play, you could see Joyce complaining to his infielders that they didn’t alert him to Maybin tagging. What Joyce overlooked is that on every fly ball with a runner on base, his job is to get in optimal position to catch and fire the ball at the cutoff man and/or next base. That’s just lazy fielding, which you would hope Decker would see and file away, not imitate just a couple innings later.
Last night’s game was not just determined by bad fortune and inferior talent. The "red hot" Yulieski Gurriel has now come to the plate 73 times this season and he has walked exactly once. The A’s approach was to throw a pair of two strike fastballs right down the middle (later Gurriel got a breaking ball in a similar location), which Gurriel punished each time for key hits. Location mistakes? Perhaps. Was Gurriel a strong candidate to chase an offspeed pitch in the dirt or swing wildly at a fastball nowhere near the strike zone? Most definitely.
Speaking of pitch calling, Evan Gattis burned the A’s on a two-strike fastball that Vogt stood up for and asked for the pitch "above the letters". Not a bad idea unless you happen to be pitching to Evan Gattis, one of the few hitters who can actually hit that pitch hard and has burned the A’s before on that exact pitch. Gattis, with a career .305 OBP despite batting .997 against the A’s, is another high qualified candidate to chase balls in the dirt that are literally not hittable.
I don’t know why the A’s like to throw so many strikes, and pitches out over the plate, to hackers. It used to drive me crazy how the A’s allowed Yuniesky Betancourt, a bad hitter who never saw a pitch he didn’t like, to burn them time and time again by throwing him far too many strikes. I just looked it up, and sure enough Betancourt, a career .261/.285/.388 hitter, enjoyed a career line of .295/.316/.419 against the A’s. These are guys who get themselves out unless you get in the way.
This is the kind of stuff that is currently driving me crazy, because you can’t do a whole lot about being less talented or experienced than your competitor. But you can have your head and brain more in the game than the A’s have at times, and it would be super fun if the green and gold could at least put its best foot forward even if the feet aren’t the most talented ones around.