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Game #7: ESPN’s A’s Lose 1-8

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The A’s went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position and played like the team the national media sees rather than living up to their potential.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Texas Rangers
Jed can only carry this team so hard.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Each year, every team in baseball enters the season with two stories being told about them. One is the narrative in the national media, and one is collective hopes of the fans. Sometimes those expectations align closely - both the media and any given Cubs fan will tell you that they’re going to be a contender again this year, and literally nobody on Earth expects the Padres to be decent.

Then there are teams like the 2017 A’s. If you read pre-season summaries in ESPN or Sports Illustrated, you’ll see warnings of a team with bad bats, poor defense, and inconsistent young pitching. Yet if you check our preseason predictions here on AN, you’ll see considerably more optimism - a young rotation with a lot of potential, Marcus Semien as a legitimately decent shortstop, and perhaps more bop in the bats than anyone will give us credit for. Nobody is calling us a surefire playoff team or anything, but I think most of us here think this team is being undersold.

The first handful of games of the season seemed to confirm the AN narrative. The A’s entered today’s rubber game against the Rangers with a 3-3 record, but overall the first few games of the season gave great reason for optimism. The A’s were a top-10 scoring team in the MLB, we’ve seen multiple respectable pitching performances from our starters, and our defense has been surprisingly decent.

Unfortunately, today we got ESPN’s A’s. Here are the only things you really need to know about today’s game:

  • A’s pitchers gave up 5 walks
  • The A’s committed 3 errors (Healy, Semien, Manaea)
  • Oakland hitters struck out 11 times
  • The Athletics were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base

The only real action for most of the game came in the 2nd inning. On 3 consecutive pitches, Manaea gave up a bloop single, a line drive single, and a 3-run home run. Rosales was inexplicably positioned almost at the warning track for Rua’s bloop, and Joey Gallo could not have been set up better for his blast if he had chosen the pitch himself. It was a situation that was entirely preventable, and yet it escalated so rapidly.

Manaea wasn’t done with his 1-pitch shenanigans. On the first pitch of the 3rd inning, he hit Carlos Gomez, then threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt to move Gomez all the way over to third base. Manaea followed up with a 4-pitch walk and a wild pitch that put runners on second and third with nobody out and we were all ready for the complete implosion. But it didn’t come. Manaea used the Rangers’ aggressiveness against them, striking out Mazara, Napoli, and Odor in order to escape the inning unscathed. It was a fantastic turnaround after it seemed like Manaea had been totally knocked off his mental game. It felt like the moment for a comeback...until absolutely nothing happened.

The A’s got multiple runners on in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th innings and failed to knock any of them in. The A’s went 0-9 with runners in scoring position during this stretch and kept flirting with making the game interesting without making a move. There were some warning track fly balls and some ugly strikeouts, but nothing to close the seemingly insurmountable 3-run lead the Rangers had.

Manaea hit Nomar Mazara in the head to start the 6th inning and it was a scary moment all around. Fortunately, Mazara was fine. Manaea, however, was not. A hard-hit ball scooted under Healy’s glove for another error and then Manaea gave up a walk to load the bases with one out. Despite Manaea achieving a personal best 10 strikeouts in only 5 1/3 innings, he was not able to get out of the inning as Bob Melvin went to Frankie Montas out of the bullpen.

Montas’s outing was…suboptimal. A walk and a single put the Rangers up 6-0, tagging Manaea with 5 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. Montas would give up another walk in the 7th but nothing else. He’ll get there.

The A’s made Matt Bush work in the 8th inning in one final attempt to salvage the game. Between a hit by pitch and a couple of singles (including their first hit with RISP all day), the A’s managed to load the bases and score 1 run on a wild pitch, but the final out of the inning came after 2 extremely questionable strikes called to Matt Joyce to snuff out the rally.

Robinson Chirinos tagged Daniel Coulombe in the 8th with a deep home run to make it 8-1. We also got a Semien error (the third and final A’s error of the day) on a throw to Healy.

So the A’s blew their opportunity to get above .500 for the first time this season. And boy, did they have lots and lots of opportunity today. It’s tempting to say that home plate umpire Ron Kulpa was kulpable - I know every fan likes to blame the umpire, but his strike zone was truly abysmal today. Go back on MLB Game Day and look at pretty much any batter in the 4th or 5th innings (or Matt Joyce’s egregious strikeout in the 8th) and you’ll see at least one grossly mis-called pitch. It may have been a factor but overall the A’s just did not have it in any sense today. We’re on to Kansas City next, and we’ll see whose team gets off the plane.