The Oakland A’s continue to be the most confusing team in baseball.
The A’s hit the ball hard and ran wild on the bases but somehow couldn’t buy a run in an 8-1 loss to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday at the Coliseum. They went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, collecting their only run on a solo homer.
It’s baffling how Oakland managed to not score in the first four innings, despite putting runners in scoring position in each frame. This is a lineup that entered the day ranking Top 10 in the majors in batting with runners in scoring position, and Top 3 in the majors in at least hitting the sac fly, and they watched four golden opportunities go by. They got on base at will, and hustled their way into four stolen bases, and ended up with nothing to show for it.
Before the game I wrote about how new acquisition Starling Marte is exactly the hitter the A’s needed as a speedy on-base threat, and tonight he fully came through in every way, and it still wasn’t enough to lift whatever curse has befallen this lineup. Inconceivable.
In the 1st inning, Mark Canha led off with a single, and then Marte hit what should have been a single except he hustled it into a double. Right on! Second and third, nobody out. But All-Star slugger Matt Olson popped out, and arguably the clutchest hitter in baseball Jed Lowrie struck out, and new lefty-mashing catcher Yan Gomes faced a lefty and blasted a 102 mph groundout. Zero runs.
Starling Marte gets a 2B in his first AB with the A's at the Coliseum pic.twitter.com/jYAbadNIYK— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) August 4, 2021
In the 2nd, new contact-and-hustle utilityman Josh Harrison made contact and hustled, hitting a single and then leading a double-steal in front of Matt Chapman. Right on! Second and third, one out. Another walk loaded the bases. All they needed to drive home a run was a fly ball, and Canha delivered one to right field ... but not quite deep enough. Harrison was thrown out at the plate by Wil Myers, an outfielder who doesn’t have a good arm and hadn’t thrown out a runner at any base all season. But today was the one day that his throw accidentally sailed directly to the plate on a perfect one-hop, and even then he only got Harrison by a step. Zero runs.
Two A's bugaboos showed up on this double play -- no hit with RISP and thrown out at home pic.twitter.com/oFvNBx3jbZ— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) August 4, 2021
In the 3rd, Marte tried again. He singled to lead off, then on the very next pitch he stole second. Right on! Runner on second, nobody out. Olson grounded out, which was at least productive enough to move Marte to third. But Lowrie struck out again, and Gomes flew out. Zero runs.
How about the 4th? Ramon Laureano led off with a double. Right on! Runner on second, nobody out. The rest of the inning went in this order: Harrison sharp lineout, Laureano steals third, Chapman strikes out, Elvis Andrus deep flyout. Put those events in any other order and the A’s score at least one run. Laureano steals before Harrison’s liner? Would’ve been a sac fly. Swap Andrus’ flyout and Chapman’s strikeout? Sac fly. It had to go exactly like it did for that collection of plays to come up empty. Zero. Runs.
In the 5th, Marte homered. Getting on base and setting the table wasn’t doing anything, so he just took care of the whole run by himself. Naturally, there was nobody on base when it happened. The bags had been packed with A’s all day. They’d put their leadoff man aboard three times in four innings. But in the 5th the leadoff man struck out, and the next batter hit a solo homer. That’s the 2021 A’s in a nutshell, and there’s really no good reason why it keeps going this way.
Marte crushes his first home run with the A's pic.twitter.com/dTrzKkTPyb— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 4, 2021
This is the part that really kills me about all those runners left on base. It’s not just that they went 0-for-10 with RISP in the span of four innings. It’s that only three of those 10 failures were strikeouts, and they each came with exactly one out on the board. The third out was always some kind of hard contact or deep fly, something that could have done damage if it had only been the second out. But nope, that second out was always a strikeout, perfectly timed to eliminate the one thing (sac flies) that this team is best at on offense. Except for the one time they did hit the sac fly only to be robbed when a bat-first outfielder made his best defensive highlight of the season. I mean. C’mon.
Leading off the 7th inning, Andrus ripped a liner to the right-center gap, measured by Statcast at a 105 mph exit velocity with 65% odds of falling for a hit. It was caught. That was his second piece of triple-digit contact tonight, both loud outs. Leading off the 8th, Olson hit a flare against the shift, but instead of dribbling into left field it turned into another brilliant defensive play by the Padres. Leading off the 9th, Laureano doubled, but the next three batters were retired in order — with the second out via strikeout, of course.
What more can you do? Five hits, two walks, and four steals all in the span of four innings still wasn’t enough to score a run. Thirteen chances with RISP, all for naught, but they managed to find time for a solo homer. Lowrie is perhaps the clutchest hitter in baseball right now, but he struck out twice w/ RISP, and later with nobody on he walked and then hit a 102-mph 388-foot flyout. This futility is almost impressive in its statistical unlikeliness, similar to a small Bull Terrier eating an entire wheel of cheese out of the fridge. Because how did little Baxter even do that?
The A’s had nine pieces of contact with triple-digit exit velocity (rounding up one at 99.9). That’s the same number they had on Saturday when they were shut out, and the same number they had on Sunday when they scored eight runs. Tonight it yielded three hits and six loud outs, and even that would have been enough for at least four runs with luckier sequencing, without changing the actual results of any at-bats or adding any more hits.
And what does better luck look like? Try this on for size.
Oakland starter Sean Manaea got into trouble early. The first batter he faced hit a solo homer on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. The third batter he faced hit a 112-mph liner directly off Manaea’s inner right thigh, so for the rest of the game he was playing with that fresh bruise on the leg that he plants all his weight on with every pitch.
The 2nd inning brought a rally that Manaea rightfully earned his way out of, but the Padres scored anyway. With two on and two out and a 1-2 count, he got No. 9 batter Jake Marisnick to go around on a checked swing, but the first-base ump missed the appeal call for Ball 2. Next pitch, Manaea nailed the bottom of the zone for an obvious strike, but tonight there was no bottom of the zone, since every umpire gets to make up his own rules on a daily basis, so a pitch that would have been Strike 3 in almost any other game was instead Ball 3.
Now forced to conjure up a fifth strike in this at-bat, Manaea finally faltered and left one up, and Marisnick singled for an RBI. Then the next two batters hit RBI singles. Should have been a scoreless inning after a Marisnick strikeout, but instead it was three runs, because obviously we all tuned in to see the artistic stylings of home-plate ump Paul Clemons.
The wheels fell off after that. Manaea never really got back into the game and didn’t make it out of the 5th inning, and it’s easy to give him a mulligan for this tough night. The bullpen mop-up crew lumbered through the rest of the evening, letting through a few stray extra runs that were meaningless at that point.
I’ve never seen a team this talented do this many good things in every game and still just constantly lose. I’m running out of synonyms for frustrating and confusing and unlikely and uncanny. Their 0-for-13 with RISP drops them from 10th to 13th in that category (.254), out of 30 teams, which is still better than average (.251).
You might think this loss was worse than all the recent one-run margins. It wasn’t. It was exactly the same game. By the end of four innings, Oakland could very reasonably have been leading 4-1 without doing anything differently than they did except for swapping the sequencing of their own strikeouts and flyouts, and getting just one of the two deserved strike calls on Marisnick. Instead, we got this crapfest.
Keep hitting like this and you’ll score runs. Keep playing like this and you’ll win games. It would be virtually impossible not to. Try again tomorrow.