If there are 3 words every woman wants to hear, there are also 3 words every A’s fan dreads and they are “Luzardo Shut Down”. However, before getting to the many negatives let me open with some silver linings.
First off, the hope and expectation appears to be that this is an injury from which Luzardo can recover with rest, rather than another in the string of “Tommy John surgeries/shoulder surgeries” that has been the fate of every single top A’s pitcher or prospect lately.
Also, if Luzardo was to have a setback best that it happen before he was added to the the big league club or 40-man roster. The prized lefty’s service clock has not yet begun, nor even his options, and so what has been delayed is only his debut, with the A’s presumably about to get 6 seasons, and parts of another, of his services whenever he is able to take the mound.
Adding to the gloom today was the exit of 1Bman Matt Olson with a hand injury. As if losing 2 games to a rather meager-looking Mariners’ lineup wasn’t bad enough.
Clearly the pitching was a big part of the problem, as the A’s gave up 14 runs in 2 games. But to my eyes, a combination of poor situational hitting and ‘old school’ thinking equally prevented Oakland from sweeping instead of getting swept.
Time and time again, Oakland failed to advance runners who reached 2B with 0 outs or 3B with 1 out. Just add “productive outs” to the equation and the A’s win both games. Of course, succeeding in these situations is easier said than done, and it isn’t terrific analysis to watch Jurickson Profar foulout with runners at 2B and 3B with 0 outs and point out that “he probably shouldn’t do that”.
There were, however, opportunities put in front of Oakland. The A’s almost defiantly refuse to bunt, but there is in fact a place for it. Perhaps none more clearly than when your #9 hitter, and DP expert, Nick Hundley is batting with runners at 1B and 2B and nobody out. Move the runners over, put two in scoring position, force the infield to play back, and good things are likely to happen. Let him swing away and...well, it doesn’t take a soothsayer to make a cogent prediction.
Where a lack of resourcefulness most overtly cost the A’s, though, was in game 2 as Robbie Grossman pinch hit with runners at the corners and only one out in the bottom of the 8th and the game tied 4-4. With Blake Treinen heating up in the bullpen, you pretty much figured that if the A’s could push home that run a win was imminent.
Playing on a field with especially slow grass, against a team that had Ryon Healy at 3B and Jay Bruce at 1B, staring the A’s in the face was an old Joe Maddon trick and that was a safety squeeze — just drop the ball up the 1B line, make sure the bunt gets down, and trot home with a single run, the only run Oakland needed.
This is not to say the A’s should embrace small ball like it’s 1980 all over again. It’s to say that Oakland is going to pound a lot of HRs this year but also needs to know how and when to sneak across that extra run in between crooked numbers and towering drives. But whether it’s a lack of creativity, or just another popup stranding a leadoff double, the A’s lost 5-6 runs to a lack of execution in “productive out” situations and this irked me as much as the ineptitude of some of the pitchers — we knew that was going to happen sometimes, and that’s more of a physical limitation.
On the topic of fundamentals and execution, one moment stands out in my mind from game 1. Runner at 3B, 1 out and a towering fly ball to medium right-center is hit so high both Ramon Laureano and Stephen Piscotty are camping under it long before it comes down. Why didn’t Laureano, he of the truly special throwing arm, call for it and take charge? That sacrifice fly was a big run at the time, and for Laureano to peel off and give way to Piscotty made no sense.
Positives from the Tokyo series? I thought J.B. Wendelken, Lou Trivino, and Blake Treinen all looked lights out. Marcus Semien appears to be locked in and while Profar’s defense is not gold glove caliber I love the way he turns the DP (something that stood out to me even in Arizona a couple weeks ago).
One final thought around the rotation...This is not a rotation leading with Dave Stewart and Mike Moore, so it is far from imperative that the same two guys team up to pitch the first four games just because there is a week in between games 2 and 3. For Fiers and Estrada to pitch the games March 28th and 29th means taking them off turn and giving them 8 days in between starts. But the gap from them to Brett Anderson and Frankie Montas is minimal, if it even exists. Would you be particularly surprised if Anderson and Montas outpitched Fiers and Estrada any random turn through the rotation?
So why not let Fiers and Estrada pitch in the Bay Bridge series, staying right on turn, and then again over the weekend against the Angels, with Anderson and Montas getting the call for the A’s first two real home games? I think in this case staying on turn is more valuable than worrying about in what order those four SPs face the Angels.
Losing Luzardo and Olson is a big blow, and flying halfway around the world just to lose two games isn’t exactly an upper either. Let’s hope this continent is better to the A’s, and that the A’s aren’t afraid to play the game right once they return to natural grass, the great outdoors, and a sensible time zone. I could have done without these 48 hours, but luckily two days doth not a season make. Okaerinasai.