Chalk it up to situational hitting. Chalk it up to breaks. Chalk it up to whatever you want; the Rangers did just enough to win on Tuesday night.
Some three-run deficits feel insurmountable. But that wasn’t tonight’s story; tonight’s game felt, for the most part, just about within reach. To paraphrase something Ray Fosse said in the seventh inning, you kept waiting for something to happen, believing something would happen, and then you looked up and the game was over.
It certainly started well enough. After struggling with command in his first outing, Kendall Graveman made quick work of the Rangers in the first inning, working three quick groundouts. The power sinker appeared on, and Graveman looked like he was in complete control. But just as quickly as the first inning ended, so too did the hope that we might be seeing the good version of Kendall.
Adrian Beltre led off the second inning with a single on a sinker that stayed flat in the middle of the zone. Nomar Mazara doubled quickly thereafter, and the Rangers had runners on second and third with nobody out. Graveman induced another ground out, but Beltre came in to score. And Mazara scored too, on a Roughned Odor single. The Rangers scored only twice in the second, but it could have been much worse if not for Jonathan Lucroy’s quick release. Lucroy threw out three base stealers Tuesday night and had an all-around solid game.
What Ryan Rua was doing in the above video - attempting to steal third with two outs on a 2-2 count - I have no idea. One hoped the Rangers running themselves out of a prime scoring opportunity would settle Graveman down, but that didn’t quite happen.
Kendall did get a strikeout to open the third, but then Joey Gallo, apparently upset at Baseball Prospectus for even suggesting he start bunting against the shift, did Joey Gallo things and mashed a ball over the right field wall.
Chad Pinder did his part to cure the deficit in the bottom of the third. After doubling off Hamels in the first inning, Pinder homered to deep left field, extending his career line against Hamels to 6-6 with three doubles, three homers, and a walk. Not bad, I guess.
But just when the A’s needed a shutdown inning, the Rangers struck again. Mazara led off the fourth with a single and advanced to second after Graveman spiked a slider that Lucroy couldn’t quite get his body in front of. He’d score two batters later on another Odor single. It turned out, that would be all the offense the Rangers would get (and all they’d need).
It’s not that Graveman was awful. The final line definitely isn’t pretty - 89 pitches only took him through 5 innings of 8 hit, 1 walk, and four run baseball - but he had flashes across those innings where he was inducing ground ball after ground ball. The problem is still the consistency it seems like he’s been seeking for over a year now. While it’s easy to attribute last year’s struggles to injury, I’m not sure what to make of Kendall’s struggles through two starts in 2018. It’s still a small sample size, no question, but a storyline to keep an eye on in the coming weeks and months.
Despite Graveman’s struggles, the bullpen performed admirably and gave the A’s offense every opportunity to get back into the game. Liam Hendriks, Daniel Coulombe, and Emilio Pagan combined to throw four innings, allowing just two hits, one walk, and no runs.
In addition to Pinder’s big night, which included a walk to go along with his double and homer, the A’s also got two-hit efforts from Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, and a hit and a walk from Jonathan Lucroy.
But the final piece just never fell into place. The A’s collected eight total hits - not a ton but enough to have 5 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Those five at-bats? Zero hits, contributing to ten men left on base. And even in the era of power, it’s still hard to win when you strike out 13 times.
Like last night’s blocking the plate incident, tonight also featured another weird play that went against the A’s:
"I was just giving my friend a hug," - Adrian Beltre... probably. pic.twitter.com/zzJyzV9TV6— FOX Sports Southwest (@FOXSportsSW) April 4, 2018
It certainly seems like Beltre was impeding Smolinski from running, though you’d like to see Smolinski sell it a bit. Melvin had this to say after:
Melvin said that on that play in the seventh when Beltre impeded Smolinski, he was told that the runner placement was at the umpires' discretion and they felt he would not have scored. So he stayed at third.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) April 4, 2018
But another highlight was this spectacular relay:
One final bright spot to note - Matt Joyce pinch hit for Jake Smolinski in the ninth and hit a deep fly ball that was caught at the base of the right field wall. Hopefully this is a sign the ankle is feeling better, and that we’ll see him back in the lineup soon.
Sean Manaea and Doug Fister get the ball for their respective teams tomorrow night. With our ace on the hill for game three of a four game set, you’d hope for a series split at the least. And who knows, with a few more breaks, we might be able to take three of four.