The howling wind turned Globe Life Park in Arlington into a landfill Sunday afternoon, littering the field with wayward baggies. The A’s inability to field turned the game into a chamber of horrors punctuated by Sean Manaea’s pickoff error, a DP ball Ryon Healy turned into no outs, and a Marcus Semien one-hop throw that Yonder Alonso probably would have picked. Luckily home plate umpire Ron Kulpa was spared seeing any of this, owing to hysterical blindness that evidently left him able to call balls and strikes only by flipping a coin. "Sounds like tails...steeeeerike!" Khris Davis and Matt Joyce were not amused.
However, I don’t wish to discuss any of that, because while Sunday’s game was likely ill-fated for all the above reasons it was also full of strange decisions that put the A’s in a rather poor position to succeed. Let’s dissect...
Adam Rosales, LF
Adam Rosales was asked to play LF, despite having virtually no experience in the outfield. This was not because the A’s couldn’t find anyone to play the position: Khris Davis started as the DH and Matt Joyce sat against the LHP.
The season is only 6 days old and Oakland has a day off on Tuesday. Not sure why this was so necessary. It certainly was costly, as Rosales turned Ryan Rua’s two out fly ball into a 2nd inning single, followed by the requisite "backup catcher hits the A’s like he’s Miguel Cabrera" single by Robinson Chirinos (who would, naturally, HR later in the game and drive in three runs), and then a crippling 3-run blast by Joey Gallo.
I can buy a scenario where Khris Davis is physically able-to-hit-but-not-field for some specific reason, and I can understand preferring to sit Joyce against a LHP. I cannot, however, see where if Davis can’t go in LF you don’t just select Joyce when the alternative is to play someone way out of position. It came back to bite the A’s big time and was not necessary.
Not Pinch-Hitting Stephen Vogt
I get it: sometimes you want to give a player a "true day off" and the day game after a night game is a natural one to sit your catcher for all 9 innings. Here’s the thing: no matter how good or bad the Rangers prove to be in 2017, they are the reigning division champions, they are one of the teams expected to vie for the division crown, and every game against them represents a two-game swing.
Vogt had the first 5 innings off and was the obvious choice to pinch hit for Josh Phegley when the A’s trailed just 3-0 in the 6th and had runners at 2B and 3B with one out. Jeff Bannister had just gone to RHP reliever Jose Leclerc, and could not have prevented Vogt from facing the RHP.
If you feel the need to rest Vogt because you want to keep him fresh over a long season, better to give him that pinch hitting appearance and the last 3 innings and let Phegley start Monday’s day game in KC against the RHP Ian Kennedy. But don’t put your worst foot forward in a crossroads moment in a close game against your division rival.
As it turned out Phegley turned in one of the worst at bats in modern baseball history, flailing at bad sliders like they were going out of style. No way should he have been batting there unless Vogt was secretly injured or throwing up (as I was following Phegley’s last swing). It should have been Vogt’s at bat, and if you’re going to carry two catchers then you need to be willing to pinch hit one for the other as the situation demands.
Frankie Montas: Called On With The Sacks Drunk
There may be a day soon when Frankie Montas is a "lights out" reliever, possibly even the A’s sole closer. Right now, he’s a rookie with electric stuff and a track record of sometimes struggling to throw strikes.
So Robinson Chirinos, RH batter, is coming up with the bases loaded and one out in a 3-0 game and that’s when you make the call for Montas? If there is one situation to avoid with Montas right now, it’s bringing him in with the bases loaded where he cannot afford to issue a single walk.
And it’s not like good options did not abound. Ryan Dull eats RH batters for lunch and hasn’t pitched in a game since Tuesday. Any chance the A’s had to win evaporated as Montas walked in a run and allowed all three of Sean Manaea’s inherited runners to score.
Here’s my complaint: all three odd decisions have in common that they put players in a position to fail. Rosales stuck out in LF, Phegley batting against a RHP in a high leverage at bat, Montas asked to come in with the bases loaded. Their results were predictable because they were set up to fail. And in every case, clearly more logical options were right in front of the A’s. And while I hardly view an April 9th game against Texas as "crucial," for as long as you’re in the hunt for a playoff spot you have to view head-to-head matchups as being exactly twice as important as those against teams in other divisions, because each game represents a two-game swing against that team.
I love Bob Melvin and I continue to think that he is generally a good strategic manager overall. I just found some of the decisions today to be odd, to put it charitably, though I would admit that a manager could push all the right buttons and still come up short on a day that the team can’t field, hit in the clutch, or take a ball, with a rally on the line, that is actually called a ball.
The A’s were probably going to lose today no matter what. But could they please lose with the right players?