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Game #3: A’s defense gives it away against Angels

This game should have been much closer.

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s lost to the Angels 8-3 on Saturday, but the score doesn’t tell the whole story. This was a winnable game for the A’s, but their defense failed them repeatedly and cost them too many runs to overcome.

The season opener on Thursday showcased Oakland’s expected strengths and weaknesses, but the games on Friday and Saturday have been the opposite. The questionable starting pitching has looked surprisingly good the last two days, between Sean Manaea and Daniel Mengden, while the superior bullpen has crucially failed to prevent the opponent from extending leads both times. The vaunted lineup has been unable to capitalize on rallies or score runs, and the defense has displayed little of its supposed improvement. This isn’t how any of this was supposed to go.

*** Today’s Game Threads: Part 1 | Part 2 ***

The mistakes on Saturday began right from the first batter of the game. Zack Cozart lined a hit to right field, and Stephen Piscotty dove for it but came nowhere near making the catch. It skipped by him to the wall and was ruled a triple, and Cozart quickly scored on a double by Mike Trout. In all likelihood Cozart would have scored even without the extra help, but either way it was a sign of how the afternoon was going to go for Oakland.

It got worse in the 3rd. Rene Rivera led off by lining a ball directly at Khris Davis, and all Khrush had to do was reach down and grab it. Instead it sailed past his glove and skipped to the wall, where it was ruled a double. Bruce Maxwell then let a pitch go straight through his legs to move the runner up. A few pitches later, Maxwell couldn’t corral Strike 3 to Trout, letting the superstar reach base for free. The next batter tapped a tailor-made GIDP ball to shortstop, but Marcus Semien flubbed it and got zero outs while a run crossed the plate. After that, a single by Albert Pujols scored Trout. By all rights Mengden had retired the first four batters of the inning (lineout-strikeout-strikeout-groundout), but instead the defense turned it into a two-run gift basket.

The Angels earned a proper run in the 5th (doubles by Trout and Pujols), but Oakland got back to its Yakety Sax show in the 6th. With two on and two out and Liam Hendriks in for relief, Maxwell caught lead runner Jefry Marte napping halfway off second base after a pitch in the dirt. However, his response was to rush a throw behind Marte, giving time for the runner to change direction and move up to third. The inning could have been over right there, but Maxwell botched the opportunity and kept the rally alive. An ensuing double and single plated three runs, capitalizing on the extended chance and pushing the score to 7-0.

Another word about that clutch 6th-inning double, off the bat of Cozart. It landed virtually at the feet of Piscotty, who had earlier gone into an all-out dive for a Cozart hit that he hadn’t even been close to. He dove when the situation had called for calm routine, and he sat back when the situation had called for the extra effort.

Add it all up, and Mengden was far better than his pitching line indicates. He definitely deserved one of his runs (in the 5th), and he probably earned another one (in the 1st), but the rest were entirely the fault of his teammates. He wasn’t dominant by any means, and the Angels managed some good contact off him here and there, but he made a quality outing that will be recorded as a borderline disaster.

Things didn’t go much better for Oakland on the offensive side. Some hard-hit balls went right at defenders, and it took until the 6th to break through against starter Matt Shoemaker. In that inning the heart of the order loaded the bases to bring up Stephen Piscotty, who had already struck out to end a potential rally in his previous at-bat. This time Piscotty got the job done, though, pulling a single through the left side to drive in a pair. Reliever Cam Bedrosian took over and Matt Chapman greeted him with a double to score another run, but that was all the A’s could manage. They loaded the bases once more in the 7th, but Matt Olson struck out looking to end their last best hope.

This game wasn’t exactly how we thought the 2018 A’s would look, but it’s the kind of frustrating sloppiness and inconsistency you should always expect from a young team. The defense and overall fundamentals simply must improve, and the lineup will need to scratch out the clutch single more often when the dingers aren’t soaring, but at least two of the three starting pitchers have been strong so far. Community member Joe Rudi’s Catch put it best in the Game Thread:

“They’re like a puppy; young, energetic, eager and growing. But, like a puppy, they’re gonna shit on the rug and chew up some shoes from time to time.“

Go get ‘em tomorrow, boys.

Key lines

A few notable performances in the box score:

Mengden: 5⅔ ip, 6 runs (5 earned), 5 Ks, 1 BB, 7 hits

  • Should easily have been 7 innings and 2 runs, but for the total collapse of the defense behind him. The walk he issued was the first by an A’s starter this year.

Khrush: 2-for-3, BB, 2 2B

  • The only Oakland hitter who truly figured out Shoemaker, with a pair of doubles.

Piscotty: 1-for-4, 2 RBI

  • His first RBI as an Athletic.

Chapman: 2-for-3, BB, 2B, RBI

The A’s are back in action on Sunday at 1:05 p.m., with Shohei Ohtani making his MLB pitching debut for the Angels. Daniel Gossett goes against him for Oakland.