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Notes As The A’s Take The Field In The Catbird Seat

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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Oakland Athletics
“Make mine a double!”
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since Opening Day, the A’s will take the field in a position where if the season ended today they would be in the post-season. For the 128th consecutive day, they will take the field in a position where if the season ended today I think we’d all be quite surprised.

Owners of the 4th best record in all of baseball (just as I said, in March, that Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson would lead us to be), the A’s now officially drive the jetski that is their wild card fate while seeking to make up the 5 games which separate them from the Houston Astros. Good times in Oaktown right now.

Here are some questions, and suggested answers, on this 3rd of August...

Is Nick Martini for real?

To this I suspect yes and no. Was John Mabry for real? Not really. But was he for real in 2002 as the A’s stormed to a division lead, a record winning streak, and 103 wins? Without a doubt. So even if Martini’s run of excellence is not sustainable over many years it is most certainly important now.

My take on Martini is that his patience and good eye are real and that he should be a player who can consistently keep his walk rate on the high side. I don’t see a whole lot of slugging and down the line I expect this to take its toll on his batting average. Teams have not yet committed to playing Martini as shallow, in the outfield, as they can, and while Martini hopefully has more pop than the likes of Eric Sogard and Billy Burns those hitters offer examples of how many hits get taken away by “7 man infields”.

In particular I am surprised teams do not play their LF shallower, as Martini has shown an impressive ability to slash the ball the other way but is not going to hit many balls over a LFer’s head.

Ultimately, I see pitchers employing the “Daric Barton approach,” throwing Martini lots of strikes and playing him shallow, daring him to hit the ball past the defense. And I’m not entirely sure how much Martini can combat this approach. That could yield a .240/.320/.360 type of hitter, which would be problematic in that Martini is neither a speed burner nor a defensive wizard — though he has looked quite competent in the outfield so far.

For that reason I think it’s essential for the A’s to continue to view “LH batting OFer” as an area of need going forward. That being said, the job Martini is doing right now is terrific and the job is his to lose. Just because he might not have a 5-year career of sustained success doesn’t take away from the value he brings right now. And for 2018 I would heartily endorse getting what you can from him while he’s hot even if down the line he profiles more as a 4th outfielder and maybe a great guy to have on the bench.

Perhaps one of the core 3 outfielders will be Ramon Laureano, who flies a bit under the radar on prospect lists but offers much to be excited about. This is a player whose skill set suggests that he has batting average skills, on base skills, good power, good speed, and a great outfield arm. There isn’t really anything he appears not to be above average at doing, with the one possible exception of hitting RHPs. Which is kind of a big thing. But so far in 2018 Laureano has hit RHP just fine (.297/.363/.511), even if not quite as well as he has mashed LHP (297/.425/.563). Color me excited to see what Laureano can do in the big leagues.

Can The A’s Sustain Success With This Rotation?

For as long as the A’s have been winning with a piecemeal rotation devoid of much established greatness, you are tempted to say yes and just point to the past to explain your prognostication. To me, though, it’s a “Yes, but only if...”

The A’s can’t sustain getting games to the house by panicking and sending Lou Trivino and Juerys Familia out there to protect a 4-run lead (Monday night) and then panicking and asking Trivino to protect a 4-run lead with 2 outs and 0 on in the 8th and then a 5-run lead in the 9th (Wednesday afternoon).

The fact is, from here on out every game is going to feel like “that one we have to secure,” what with the A’s literally tied with Seattle in the loss column for a playoff spot and needing to gain 5 games on Houston for the division.

I’ve said this before but I think it bears repeating: for the A’s to sustain success absent a strong rotation, they are going to have to trust their “medium leverage” relievers in situations like this. On Wednesday, the A’s were down both Familia and Petit, and undoubtedly the decision to pitch Trivino was influenced by the day of Thursday.

But surely Emilio Pagan could have been trusted to enter the 8th inning of a 7-3 game with 2 outs and the bases empty. (Heck, even after giving up the HR Buchter could have faced the next hitter now that the bases were empty and the team still led by 4 runs.) Or at least keep Trivino to 8 pitches by asking Pagan to navigate the 9th with the A’s now leading 8-3, and with Treinen available as backup should things begin to go south.

If the A’s start to view a 4-run lead like a save situation, only trust a 5-run lead to their top guys...then no, this rotation is not going to get it done because this rotation is designed to force the A’s to run a lot of relievers out there night after night. It can’t be the same ones even when the team is pretty comfortably ahead.

Perhaps Bob Melvin can get away with this level of “conservative panic” for the next week and a half when the A’s have days off once this week and twice next week, but I think it’s a dangerous mindset as well as not the best message to send your middle relievers. Let’s start to look at Pagan as a guy who is not risky to go to if you lead by 3-4 runs, Hatcher (and you all know how much confidence I have in him) as a perfectly good option to eat up an inning with a 5-run lead. You’re going to need them eventually, may as well trust them now.

Do The A’s Need A Second Lefty In The Pen?

Not sure, but they need a first one. I’m a bit concerned about what I’ve seen lately from Ryan Buchter, who has allowed homeruns in each of his last two appearances. I’m not seeing the velocity (Buchter has been sitting around 91 MPH a lot of the time) or explosiveness on his fastball and the hitters’ reactions tell you that he is not as deceptive as he was earlier in the year.

I guess what I’m saying is that at the very moment I have more confidence in Petit and Pagan than I have in Buchter, which would make the A’s only LH reliever their #6 “plus guy” out of the pen. Given that most teams have a key LH batter in their lineup — the Mariners have Kyle Seager and soon Robinson Cano, the Astros have Josh Reddick, and so on — it’s a bit unfortunate if the first few relievers you count on are all RH. Then again 3 of them are so good that platoons don’t matter, and that might save Oakland.

Still, I’m hoping that Buchter is fully healthy and just in a slump and that the deceptive high heater will return soon to make him the “true plus reliever” he was before landing on the DL.

And here’s hoping that what the A’s see in Brett Anderson that I don’t is fully on display tonight as the A’s host the Tigers at 7:05pm. Let’s not just sit in playoff position for a day — let’s make it a habit!

Poll

How Do You View Nick Martini Going Forward?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    A minor league steal who will post a plus OBP for years
    (56 votes)
  • 27%
    A worthy starting outfielder in a platoon
    (131 votes)
  • 40%
    A solid backup outfielder but not a starter
    (193 votes)
  • 6%
    A bench player at best
    (31 votes)
  • 13%
    Nice story, but out of baseball within a couple years
    (62 votes)
473 votes total Vote Now