Monthly archives: May 2007
Chapter 1: How to recognize a very good pitcher from a very long ways away indeed
Dan Haren has been the best pitcher in baseball so far this year, but he didn't have his best stuff today. He's a pitcher who is always around the plate, pounding the strike zone, throwing strike after strike. But on this afternoon, his location was off, he was throwing more balls than usual, running long counts, throwing 24 pitches in the first inning, and reaching 75 pitches after four. Although the Rangers had only managed one run off Haren early in the game, and his opposing pitcher, John Koronka looked very very hittable, I began to worry that the A's might lose this game in the end. Haren looked like he would hit his pitch limit shortly after five innings, the A's would need three-to-four innings of work out of their quite shaky bullpen to win the game. But then, the field tilted.
It happened in the fifth inning. What had been an uphill struggle for four innings, suddenly reached a peak and started racing effortlessly along like the cake of Gloucestershire cheese in today's scoreboard highlight of choice. A five-pitch inning was followed by a seven-pitch inning, and the next thing you knew, Haren had stretched his one last inning to three, and ended the day with eight innings pitched and only one run allowed.
And that's how to recognize a good pitcher. When he starts the game with an ERA below 2.00, has a bad day, and still manages to lower his ERA after the day is over: that's when you have a very very good pitcher indeed.
Game Summaries: Weekend Round-up
Some bad starting pitching caused the A's to drop the final two games of their series against Baltimore this weekend. Fortunately I didn't spend too much time dwelling on the outcomes. Saturday's loss took place as I was driving to Modesto to take in a minor league game -- Miguel Tejada hit his first-inning homer as I was walking out the door, and by the time I hit Manteca, Joe Kennedy had given way to Jay Witasick -- the universal signal for "Might as well give up on this game; Bob Geren sure has." Sunday's nearly-identical loss occurred off the television and during chore-time, so for all I know the game was staged in an abandoned warehouse in Lithicum. But that's not going to stop the mighty Game Summary machinery from rolling ever forward...
Game 48: Orioles 8, A's 3
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- B. Burres (2-2) LP -- J. Kennedy (1-4)
Went Deep: Tejada (4), Swisher (8), Buck (5)
Your Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Star of the Game: Tejada's homer set the tone for the game and pressed the Resume button on that tiresome Miggy or Chavy debate that A's fans seem fated to pontificate on until both players are long since retired. But Brian Roberts' 3-for-4, 3-RBI performance seemed more central to the outcome of the game. Every time the A's pitchers found themselves in a jam, it seemed like Roberts was there at the plate to keep Oakland from minimizing the damage.
The Turning Point: We'll go with a sequence of events here. In the top of the fifth with the score a still nominally close 4-1, Shannon Stewart stood at the plate with the bases jammed with A's; he grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. The Orioles followed that escape by adding another run, chasing Kennedy from the game, and then tacking on three more runs off Witasick in the bottom half of the inning. That's about the time the radio was switched off in the Michaels' car.
Game 49: Orioles 8, A's 4
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- D. Cabrera (4-5) LP -- J. Blanton (4-3)
Went Deep: Tejada (5), Mora (6), Swisher (9), Markakis (7)
Your Royal Kona Blend Star of the Game: 2004 Olympian Nick Markakis.
The Turning Point: From the first pitch, Joe Blanton seemed to be pitching uphill, resembling the unsatisfactory 2006 version of himself instead of the much-improved 2007 edition. Nevertheless, after five innings, the A's were still within striking distance, trailing Baltimore 5-4. Then the sixth inning came: With one out, Corey Patterson singled and stole second, and Roberts followed a Paul Bako strikeout with a walk. A double-steal moved Patterson and Roberts up a base; Nick Markakis immediately followed with a three-run homer to put the game out of reach.
This was the Blanton that made me cringe last year -- easily rattled by misfortune, unable to slam the door shut on an inning. Six of the Orioles' eight runs came with two outs yesterday, usually by way of the long ball. Blanton told the Chronicle it's because he's overthrowing and keeping the ball up in the zone. Fair enough -- the trick will be to correct the problem.
Phil's Phun Phacts: In his preceding 24 games against Oakland, Miguel Tejada had never homered -- now he's hit home runs in two consecutive games. I much preferred the timid, deferential Tejada who was ambivalent about facing his former ballclub than the relentless killing machine he is now.
This Game Proudly Brought to You by Nobody: Flipped on the TV Sunday morning to Fox Sports Bay Area -- they were showing an infomercial. Changed to Action 36 -- infomercial over there, too. So to repeat -- it's a weekend day game, and it's not on TV.
Did we lose a war or something?
No, it's part of the A's horrible TV contract. And I can say that, without knowing the terms of the deal, because unless there's an ESPN- or Fox-mandated blackout or it's a weekday afternoon game originating from the East Coast, there's no reason for a game not to be on my TV somewhere. None. Save me that small-market song-and-dance the A's have trained their fans to engage in. This is the San Francisco Bay Area; the only reason that's a small market is because the guy controlling the purse streams has declared it so.
I enjoy a good deal sport at the expense of Arte Moreno and my whole Los Angeles Angels of Whatever Orange County Municipality Strike My Fancy routine. But say this for the guy -- when he bought the Angels, he saw a team situated smack dab in the middle of Southern California and said to himself, "We are ceding Los Angeles County to the Dodgers why exactly?" Moreno thinks big, and the Angels' fortunes on the field and off reflect that. The A's think small -- from player acquisition to TV contracts to the fact that they're moving to a non-descript suburb. They could steal a page from Arte Moreno's book and stop acting like a bunch of coupon-clippers -- start with hammering out a better TV deal.
And now that we've dispensed with the A's weekend activities, let's talk some minor league ball after the jump...
Travis Buck: Early Rookie-of-the-Year Leader?
Before this season started, it was a seemingly foregone conclusion that the Rookie-of-the-Year award would come down to either Delmon Young or Alex Gordon, with Adam Lind perhaps challenging. So far, they're all disappointing -- none have an OPS above .680.
Travis Buck currently has an OPS of .913, good enough for fourth highest on the A's. However, that mark leads all American League rookies with at least two plate appearances per game -- and his nearest challenger, Elijah Dukes, is almost 100 points behind him. To put that in perspective, Buck's OPS is #21 in all of the American League.
Buck hit his fifth homer of the season last night, an opposite field shot against Baltimore's John Parrish. It was Buck's third opposite field homer this season and his fourth against a lefty. It was also his third homer in a row against a John -- Papelbon, Sanchez and Parrish. John Lackey should be worried.
That scatterplot is taken from Greg Rybarczyk's wonderful Hit Tracker.
At the end of April, Buck seemed to still be trying to catch up with MLB pitching. Pitchers were making adjustments faster than he could, and consequently Buck's line on April 30 was .190/.338/.413/.750 in 63 at-bats. Then came May. In this month, now nearly complete, Buck is hitting a much, much higher .359/.435/.744/1.178, though in just 39 at-bats.
Throughout his two years in the minors, Buck hit wherever he went. In 497 combined at-bats in Vancouver, Kane County, Stockton, and Midland, Buck hit .328/.399/.511/.910 with ten homers and 53 doubles. His batting average is lower in the majors so far, but the rest of his numbers line up nicely.
Though the AL RoY award would be a nice addition to the Oakland mantle, even if Buck doesn't win, his contributions to an otherwise anemic offense could be key to Oakland making the playoffs this season. After Dan Johnson, Jack Cust, Nick Swisher and Buck, there's not much pop to the Oakland lineup. Well, until Milton Bradley comes back from the overpopulated DL, but that's another topic for another day.
Game 47 Summary: The Triumphant Return of Game Summaries from Their Hawaiian Slumber
If there is a template for your typical 2007 A's win, I think it breaks down thusly: stellar starting pitching keeps the opposition at bay until somebody -- usually Nick Swisher -- comes through with a big hit. For Friday night's win over Baltimore, Dan Haren supplied the stellar starting pitching while the role of Somebody, Usually Nick Swisher was played by Nick Swisher. That's the kind of a gameplan that lends itself to .500 or thereabouts seasons, but when it works, it's a beautiful thing to watch.
Game 47: A's 3, Orioles 2
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- D. Haren (5-2) LP -- E. Bedard (3-3) S -- A. Embree (2)
Went Deep: Swisher (7), Millar (5)
Your Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel Cuvee XXIX Star of the Game: Very obviously, it's Dan Haren, who pitched seven innings of two-hit ball, with only high game-time temperatures and high pitch counts in previous starts preventing him from pitching even deeper into the game. Haren's 1.70 ERA now leads the American League -- only San Diego's Jake Peavy has a lower earned-run average.
This is about the time we would start agitating for Haren to be considered as the Junior Circuit's starter in the All-Star Game, but the last time an Oakland pitcher got the starting assignment in the Mid-Summer Classic, it didn't turn out so well. Oh, Mark Mulder got the win in that game, best some Bush Leaguer who's currently scuffling his way through the Yankee farm system. But that was just about the high-point of Mulder's 2004 season. After starting the year 12-2 with a 3.21 ERA, Mulder's post-All Star game performance troughed into a 5-6, 6.13 ERA death march. He had given up just 9 home runs in 131 2/3 pre-All Star Innings; he gave up 16 homers in the final 94 innings he pitched during that season. And his strikeouts-to-walks ratio fell from 2-to-1 to 1-to-1. That off-season, Mulder was traded away for a trio of players... that included Dan Haren.
So I'd rather not have a summer repeat is what I'm saying.
The Turning Point: Let's go with Alan Embree entering the game in the eighth to retire Brian Roberts with a runner in scoring position. That kept the A's ahead 3-1 entering the ninth, and the way the bottom half of the inning turned out, Oakland would need ever out it could get.
I Probably Should Have Included This Link in Yesterday's Notes But Better Late Than Never: Lenny DiNardo is amused to learn that all White Sox fans who rush on to the field do not, thankfully, look like William Ligue, Jr.
Today's Backhanded Jason Kendall Compliment: When the A's catcher gunned down former Athletic Jay Payton in the third, it was the first time in 31 attempts that he had caught an opposing runner stealing. Beware, would-be American League base-stealers: When you run on Jason Kendall, there's only a 78 percent chance of you arriving at your destination safely!
A's Bullpen Tilts Left: With the addition of Erasmo Ramirez, the A's bullpen now has more lefties than a Berkeley town meeting. Besides Ramirez, there's Embree, Jay Marshall, Ron Flores, and Lenny DiNardo (who's headed to the starting rotation to spare us the discouraging sight of Colby Lewis' name among the probable pitchers).
Now That's a Stadium: Not that this has anything to do with anything, but Camden Yards is easily my favorite place to watch a baseball game. My personal top three: 1. Camden; 2. Dodger Stadium; 3. Wrigley Field. The other two have at least one flaw that keep them from the top slot (horrific traffic in the case of Dodger Stadium, high ticket prices in the case of Wrigley), but in terms of accessibility, affordability, sight lines, atmosphere, concessions, and the general friendliness and knowledge of the local fan base, Camden Yards takes the prize. I've rearranged travel schedules to the East Coast -- including red-eye flights and cross-country cattle-car excursions on Southwest -- just so that I could fit in a game at Camden Yards. There's not many other stadiums I would do that for.
All in All: This has been the second Haren-Bedard match-up in Baltimore this year, and both games followed an eerily similar pattern: Dan Haren is nails for most of the game, Bedard pitches well enough but gives up some critical runs, and then the A's bullpen does its level best to blow it to no avail. It's worked out pretty well for Oakland thus far, even if it is getting a little bit predictable.
Friday Odds and Ends
There's a few things I've missed while being negligent in my Game Summary duties. The first is the knock-down drag-out debates I have in my own skull over who should get Star of the Game honors in situations like Wednesday's 4-0 win over the White Sox when multiple players can lay claim to the title. For example, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more worthy recipient than Chad Gaudin, who turned in 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball to drive his ERA down to 2.58... except Gaudin can direct much of the thanks for his fourth win of the year to my main man Jay Marshall, who entered the game to face a bases-loaded jam. Marshall induced a pair of feeble ground outs and preserved the clean sheet. Gaudin or Marshall? Marshall or Gaudin? In the end, Chad Gaudin was the Albertson's Reduced Fat Milk Star of the Game on the strength of his starting performance, but boy, was Marshall's relief stint sweet.
Yes -- Albertson's Reduced Fat Milk. My bones have felt especially flinty as of late.
The other thing I miss is coming up with the Phun Phacts, especially when one falls into my lap, like it did Wednesday. Whether Jon Weisman knows it or not, he supplied me with this inadvertent Phun Phact: two of Hiram Bocachica's 14 career home runs have come on May 23 -- one of them on Wednesday at Comiskey II, and the other five years ago at Miller Park, when the best-named outfielder in baseball homered off Jose Cabrera.
I propose that the wall calendar in the A's clubhouse be permanently set to May 23 in an effort to spark similar longball heroics from Mr. Bocachica.
I need to devote some of the attention I'm paying to the A's to baseball games being played literally in my own backyard.
Alameda 7, Berkeley 6: Wes Moyer's bases-loaded single past a drawn-in infield brought in the winning run in the bottom of the seventh of an NCS 3A East Bay first-round game at Alameda's Lincoln Park.
Seriously -- Lincoln Park is like a block from my home. I could hear the cheering from my kitchen while I made dinner Wednesday. Why the hell didn't I go?
Saturday's quarterfinal -- also to be contested at Lincoln Park -- poses an interesting dilemma for yours truly. The Alameda Hornets -- last year's Class 3A champions, incidentally -- will be taking on the San Ramon Valley Wolves. I graduated from San Ramon Valley. I live in Alameda. Who, oh who, shall I root for? The alma mater? The home-town nine? Be true to my school? Root, root, root for the home team? Oh, cruel baseball gods -- whatever shall I do?
Well, I'm going to Modesto watch a minor league game, actually. But I tell you, on that drive down Highway 99, I'll be torn up inside!
Judging by comments to the San Francisco Chronicle, Eric Chavez is not a dedicated reader of Catfish Stew.
"Billy (Beane) put together a good team. We're just falling apart physically."
Chavy, Chavy, Chavy -- an occasionally insightful man might suggest that the reality of the second sentence negates the accuracy of the first.
Ow! Me Team!
Since returning from my trip, I haven't had the bandwidth to resume the game summaries -- Please! Please! For the sake of society, contain your rioting! -- which I blame on a couple of factors. First, there's been the odd start times of the White Sox series -- 7:11 Central time, owing to a deal the Sox struck with some sort of convenience mart chain... I haven't yet been able to figure out who. The upshot is, I can usually listen to a batter or two at the office before it's time to catch my ferry home. By the time I putter across the bay, get home, whip up some dinner for me and the missus and flip on the TV, the game isn't over per se, but it's long since been decided. Especially if Colby Lewis is your starting pitcher.
And the other reason? Well, Ken touched on it the other day...
for the Oakland A's, 2007 has been just dragging along, starting, stopping, unable to kick into gear for one reason or another.
Yeah, they're kind of a drag to watch this year, aren't they? Not a bad team, necessarily, but certainly not a very interesting one. Is there anyone in the A's lineup who makes you stop what you're doing and take notice, because you have a feeling that they're going to make something happen? Nick Swisher, certainly, and Jack Cust for as long as his alien overseers choose to keep the real Jack Cust in captivity in a saucer orbiting Romulus 5. And on the flip side, you have two players in the lineup who are absolutely painful to watch swing a bat -- Jason Kendall and his bottomless assortment of ground outs and Eric Chavez. Throw in the increasingly maddening Happy Talk With Glenn and Ray, and I'm sure you can imagine why A's games haven't exactly been appointment television for me these days.
But I still keep tabs on the action. (What? I'm supposed to develop hobbies at this late date?) And with the A's using the disabled list for the 12th time this season -- welcome home, Milton Bradley -- there's a general mood out there that I find a bit puzzling.
Whenever the A's place another body on the DL -- don't worry; it'll happen again soon enough -- the reaction among fans, commentators, and the general baseball-following populace seems to involve some griping about the A's ill fortune, how star-crossed the season has been thus far, how the baseball gods must be angry, and oh, the wind and the rain! If I can presume to sum up the typical reaction, it would be this: Can you believe the rotten luck the A's seem to be having with all the injuries this year?
To which I would reply: Yes. I kind of can.
If luck, as Branch Rickey once suggested, is the residue of design, then it follows that bad luck is the residue of blueprints so ill-conceived they'd get you thrown out of architect school for crimes against humanity. Sure, the A's are experiencing a run of colossally bad luck when it comes to rounding up enough healthy bodies to field a team these days. But that's because the front office made a number of decisions when assembling a roster that made such a bleak End Times scenario increasingly probable.
Or to put it more plainly, Billy Beane seemed to go out of his way to load up on guys who have a knack for debilitating themselves one way or another.
This is not just the benefit of hindsight. We all probably should have seen this coming by the time pitchers and catchers reported to Phoenix. Don't believe me? Then let's build us a chart, using three sources. The first column is the names of players who've spent time on the A's disabled list this season, as of the wee small hours of Thursday morning. (We're excluding 60-day DL occupant Chris Denorfia -- he was like this when we found him, officer!) The middle column is culled from the Positional Health Reports Will Carroll assembled over at Baseball Prospectus heading into this season. We'll use Will's color-coded system -- green for normal risk of injury, yellow for elevated, and red for high. The final table lists whether or not that player spent any time on the DL last year with the number of games missed in parenthesis, if available; I've pulled that from the A's 2007 Media Guide.
That table cries out for some explanatory notes.
* Near as I can tell, Dan Johnson wasn't disabled, but he spent most of 2006 battling eye problems. I don't think that makes him injury prone, and the cause of his injury this year -- a collision during a spring training game -- is just one of those things that happens and not necessarily the sign of a player who can't stay healthy.
** Kotsay didn't go on the DL, but he only played in 31 of the A's final 51 games, owing to his achy-breaky back.
*** Snelling was, of course, a Mariner in 2006. Here's the relevant portion of his BP Player comment: "It was another knee injury this time, the seventh surgery of the Aussie's career, and the fifth on his left knee."
**** Like Kotsay, Street spent some non-DL downtime on the active roster in 2006; he missed 12 games between April 19 and May 1 with a strained right pectoral-minor muscle.
So... looking at the above chart, the only 2007 DL occupants who should take anyone by surprise are Dan Johnson and Mike Piazza. (That is, if a 38-year-old ex-catcher getting injured can be considered surprising. But, since like Johnson, Piazza was knocked out by a freak happenstance of the game, it's really not accurate to say that the warning signs were there.) All the other players in that chart were either listed as high risks for injury by a man who makes his living tracking these sorts of things or had a history of spending time on the DL or both.
Rich Harden is injured? You don't say. And Milton Bradley is on the DL again? Man, I would have thought the first nine times would have taken care of those aches and pains. And Duchscherer is injured, too? Man, who could have seen that coming? Except for Will Carroll. And Baseball Prospectus readers. And anyone with access to newspapers and a functioning memory. But other than that -- shocking, this rash of injuries!
Actually, the surprising thing isn't the number of A's who've spent time on the DL this year -- rather, it's that there aren't more Oakland players joining them in O.R. Will Carroll assigned red lights to Mark Ellis and Bobby Crosby, and a yellow one to Eric Chavez -- apart from the occasional bump-and-bruise-inspired day-off, none of these three have missed significant time, but would it shock you if they did? I couldn't find a Positional Health Report for Shannon Stewart, but you have to figure a guy who's only played in 55 percent of his team's games over the preceding three seasons due to assorted foot maladies isn't what we could call a sure thing for good health.
(But look on the bright side, A's fans -- one positional regular rates a Blue Light, the special designation Will gives to players who are among the least risky in the game. That would be Jason Kendall, the .197-slugging catcher who has just two more extra base hits than I do this year. Superb.)
We can gripe about bad luck and demand Larry Davis' head on a spit and wail about the unfairness of it all, but at some point, we need to acknowledge that Billy Beane was perfectly aware of the kind of team he was assembling and the challenges posed by keeping this assortment of players healthy and on the field. Ultimately, he's the one who put together a roster heavily populated by players who've lost time to injury in the past and stand a pretty fair chance of losing more playing time in the future. Instead of blaming it on some non-existent assembly of baseball gods, shouldn't we be directing some of the stinkeye in his direction?
Or to use a metaphor that probably isn't very good, but it's lated, so here goes: If you walk up to a blackjack table with the intent of repeatedly hitting on 16 no matter what card the dealer is showing or how many face cards may still be in the deck, at some point your inevitable losing streak ceases to be bad luck. It's just bad strategy.
Blanton's Rough Outing is My Fault...
It figures that two days after I write that Joe Blanton may have finally found the good stuff he had in the minors, he gets shelled in Chicago. And I was in town to see it... although my seat, in section 110, was so far away from home plate that my 300mm lens didn't really allow much better pictures than the one you see above. I should really know better than to make judgements -- good or bad -- on pitchers that I'm going to see. See Kennedy, Joe in Kansas City (after I ripped him in spring training), and Blanton, Joe in Chicago (after I declared his return to dominance).
While Nick Swisher's 5 RBI would usually be enough run support for the A's league-leading pitching staff, Swisher's buddy from Kentucky couldn't hold down the White Sox. Blanton's line against the worst-hitting team in the league? 5.1 innings, eight hits, six runs (four earned), four strikeouts and two walks. You know he's not pitching well when the player of the game is arguably Darin Erstad (three hits, three RBI). It wasn't a terrible game, I suppose, but it was definitely Blanton's worst -- and shortest -- start of the season.
It was also my shortest game of the season, in terms of innings watched. I must admit, for the first time in a long while, I left a game before the last out was in the books. Trying to beat the rush to the red line EL, I left after Ron Flores came out of the game in the eighth inning. It appears that all I missed was Jay Witasick getting one out, and Bobby Jenks scaring the hometown fans and giving false hope to the green-clad spectators by giving up a walk and a single to begin the ninth. I still feel guilty, though.
Today, Colby Lewis -- another pitcher with excellent minor league numbers that haven't translated well to the bigs -- will try and even up the series. Lewis isn't nearly the pitcher Blanton is, and is 28 years old, so don't take my little comparison too seriously. In 179 2/3 MLB innings, Lewis has struck out 132 while walking 110, with a fairly ugly 6.76 ERA.
Better To Be Inside Paris Hilton Than Outside Matt Morris
Few things are less exciting than sleeping, but Sunday's A's-Giants game may have been one of them. I arrived back in the Bay Area after my 11-hours-jammed-into-a-French-sardine-can flight from Europe Saturday afternoon, and headed out to the Coliseum the next day still zonked by jet lag. A good nap would have been more valuable to me than watching Matt Morris put the A's bats to sleep for nine innings with his assortment of well-located slop. On another day, I may have been able to appreciate Morris' craftsmanship, but on this day, I was simply bored.
I would have much preferred to have seen Barry Zito's return to the Oakland Coliseum on Friday night than this game. That would have had some emotional resonance worth remembering. Unfortunately, with a 4AM CET game time and a 10AM flight out of Charles de Gaulle Airport (which, I must add, seems to have been designed by committees of Microsoft engineers rather than Jonathan Ive), I spent the entire game sleeping inside Paris Hilton.
If I had to relive one of these--either the night inside Paris Hilton, or the day outside Matt Morris, I suppose I'd take the sleep. But really, aside from the relief of finally returning to home and family, I'd rather just forget the whole weekend. Here is pretty much the only thing worth remembering from Sunday's game, Travis Buck's triple off the centerfield wall:
And that's enough of that. To me, personally and for the Oakland A's, 2007 has been just dragging along, starting, stopping, unable to kick into gear for one reason or another. It's time to get a move on. Let's get this party started.
Aloha Means Hello
I just flew back from Kauai, and boy, are my arms tired.
What? I don't stare silently at you when you make jokes.
Anyhow, now that two-thirds of the Catfish Stew authors are now safely back in their villages -- enjoy that tour of the European Union, Ken -- here's a brief, just off the top of my head summary of what happened to the A's during my eight-day jaunt around the Pacific:
Oh, and the A's went a very middling 4-4 during my travels, dropping two games in the standings to the hated Angels of some indeterminate Southern California municipality.
And yet, I am unconcerned by the way the A's are treading water or the mysterious ailments that seem to plague every player who steps on the desecrated burial ground which the Oakland clubhouse was apparently built over or the fact that Jason Kendall and his mighty .444 OPS and glass throwing arm are still a fixture in the lineup. Why am I unconcerned by these things?
Because if you spent eight days looking at this, you wouldn't care much about such trivialities either.
Blanton and Haren: More Stats Than You Probably Want
Dan Haren takes the mound tonight as the MLB ERA leader, tied with Jake Peavy at 1.64. Both pitchers have allowed only 11 earned runs in 60 1/3 innings.
Haren has posted some very, very good numbers so far this season. Among starters, his VORP of 19.9 is the best in the AL, while his WHIP of 0.96 is the only AL mark under 1.00. Haren's 3.43 SO:BB ratio is the ninth best mark, just behind Joe Blanton -- more on his return to success later.
There is one thing that bothers me about Haren's success, though. His BABIP is a bit low -- to the point where I'm convinced that Haren is due for a return to the norm, and it will appear that he's not pitching as effectively as he was in April and May.
Haren's BABIP sits at .237, well below his career average of .292 and the accepted MLB average of .290. That suggests that he's getting lucky on where balls in play are falling -- i.e., they're being hit right at fielders, and aren't finding the gaps at a normal rate.
Of course, you could probably have guessed, using nothing more than a gut feeling, that a 1.64 ERA is unsustainable over anything more than a month or two. Since the pitcher's mound was lowered after 1968, there have been only three pitchers who've qualified for the ERA title with an ERA as low as Haren's. Greg Maddux in 1994 (1.56) and 1995 (1.63), and Dwight Gooden in 1985 (1.53). Furthermore, only seven times has an AL pitcher had a sub-2.00 ERA in that ERA.
Apparently 1971 and 1972 were very good years to be a pitcher.
Now, I'm not prognosticating a precipitous decline for Haren, but I'd guess you'll soon see a few more games where he gives up three earned runs than one or zero. Speaking of which... these are the number of earned runs given up by Haren in his nine starts this year: 0,1,3,0,1,2,2,2,0. And the 3 was against the Yankees.
--- -- ---
Now, on to Joe Blanton's return to form that I mentioned before. In his minor league career, Blanton struck out nearly 5 times as many batters as he walked, at the rate of almost one per inning. In his first three MLB seasons, he walked twice as many and struck out 40% fewer. As I've touched on before, the difference between his apparently great rookie season and apparently mediocre sophomore season came down to a huge difference in BABIP.
Now, it appears that Blanton is back to being the pitcher he was in the minor leagues. His rates this season are strikingly similar to his MiLB numbers:
While Blanton's developing 2007 campaign isn't quite as good as his minor league career, it's a far cry from his career thus far in the Show. You can't expect a pitcher to have the same level of success at the majors, of course, but he's now pitching much more like Blanton the River Cat than Blanton the A.
Oh, and about that pesky BABIP problem Blanton had? It's now a very reasonable .275, something that leads me to believe that this might be the real Joe Blanton.
Street Shut Down
Tomorrow, the Champs Elysées will be closed for the inauguration parade for newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy. I've never seen a presidential inauguration parade before, so the thought did occur to take advantage of this opportunity and go hang out behind one of the crowd barriers I witnessed being erected earlier today all along Paris' most famous boulevard. But since there have been some violent protests following the election results, I think it's probably safest to keep my 80-year-old mother away from that scene. We'll probably go check out some museum exhibits instead.
Oh, wait...you probably wanted to read about a Huston Street being shut down, not a Paris street being shut down. About that...well, yeah, it figures, doesn't it? Is there anything really intelligent to say about all these injuries at this point? "Fire so and so, blah blah blah..." I suppose, maybe, whatever. I don't really know where to start to assign blame on this. The volume and diversity of injuries on this team is pretty much unfathomable. It's like trying to communicate something complex to someone who doesn't speak the same language as you. They don't make sense, you don't make sense, so you just kind of wave your hands and shake your head and shrug your shoulders, and sigh, and move on and hope for better luck with the next person you meet. Remind me never to express any optimism ever again.
Des Things Are Looking Upp!
Bonjour, mina ladies et monsieurs! Oh, låt mig tell you, jag am så confused maintenant.
Min mother fyllde 80 years old last week, et som present, min brother et I decided to take her till Paris. She's always wanted att se Paris, mais she hade jamais been här before.
Nu, je suis här, trying att juggla three langues at once: speaking Swedish to min bror och mor, trying to drudge up le French je haven't used since mon high-school classes 20 years ago to parler till shopkeepers et waiters et such, et only when that fails (as den ofta does), reverting back to Anglais. I har never had des problem att juggla deux langues, but le third har tied up min tunga et mon brain into complete knots.
As en resultat of ce voyage, jag n'ai pas anything brilliant att dire om les Athletiques d'Oakland. Jag har not seen un game for över en vecka. Mais je read les box scores på webben, so det seems like les Athletiques are doing pas mal. Oui?
Så, how about that Jacques Cousteau?
There Is No Joy in Lihue
The locals don't care to hear your talk of baseball, friend. Here in Kauai, we are still coming to grips with the local nine's 2-1 loss to Kaiser in the state baseball tournament. (Punahou goes for its fourth consecutive title tonight in the finals against Pearl City, for those of you following along back on the mainland.)
Regrettably, the state tournament is taking place over on Oahu, so I've been unable to fulfill my dream of watching an honest-to-goodness baseball game while in Hawaii. I did, however, come across what I can only assume is the baseball field where the high school team plays when my wife and I went to the farmers' market in the Vidinha Stadium parking lot to load up on papaya and mango. Vidinha Stadium hosts football, track, and soccer, but right next door, there's a very nice baseball field -- 330 down the lines, 400 to straightaway center, 365 to the power alley in left, 385 to the power alley in right. (Left-handed power-hitting free agents -- do not sign with Kauai!) Just beyond the outfield fence, you get a scenic view of the mountains behind Lihue -- not unlike the view of the Oakland hills you used to get at the Coliseum before Mt. Davis came along. No, I did not bring my camera to take a picture. Yes, I am a dummy.
Meanwhile, back on the mainland, the A's beat Cleveland 8-2 on homers by Bobby Crosby and Jack Cust and another strong outing by Joe Blanton. I listened to the game on MLB Gameday while I was cooking dinner for my wife and her assorted relatives. I have decided that the $15 outlay for getting audio of baseball games, even when I'm halfway across the Pacific, may be my wisest purchase ever. That includes my house, my college tuition and any money spent on medicines I need to live.
I am pretty sure that the fact the A's have started hitting the ball well the moment I landed in Kauai is unrelated to my presence on the island. But I'm willing to spend more time on the beach in the name of research.
The beach is within view of my hotel room. I turn my head 45 degrees and I can see a lovely swimming pool. The temperatures in the 80s, but the trade winds are keeping things from getting too oppressive.
So naturally, the first thing I do after checking in is make sure the Internet connection is working. It wasn't -- turned out the setup is not wireless as implied by some of the hotel's promotional material and that I would need an Ethernet cable. So I trudged down to the front desk to ask for one from a clerk who gave me a look like, "Wait a minute... you are here on our beautiful garden isle that looks like it was assembled by some Hollywood set decorator. Stroll for two minutes and you could be wading in the Pacific. And you want to log onto the Internet?"
Yes, I do. "I have to check on a baseball score," I explained to the clerk, as if that would suddenly add clarity to my request. I am the first one to admit this may be a sickness.
So I got my cable, logged on, and wouldn't you know it, someone at Yahoo screwed up and posted the score of a Raiders-Chiefs game. Near as I can tell, a field goal from Sebastian Janikowski helped put the game out of reach. Well done, fellow Pole.
The A's game was over by the time I landed in Lihue, so I didn't get the opportunity to scan the AM dial looking for a signal from the mighty A's radio network. I did, however, flip on the TV and my hotel room to discover we get Fox Sports West. They were showing a replay of the Angels' thrashing of the Indians, and Rex Hudler was enthusing about the hustle and grit and sticktoitiveness of some Anaheim player or another.
Wait, wait, wait -- my only exposure to baseball here is going to involve Rex Hudler? I thought this place was supposed to be paradise.
So I was watching the A's-Devil Rays game on Sunday, and my six-year-old daughter asks, "Who's that guy?"
"He's a new player on the A's," I said. "Chris Snelling."
"Who??? Chris Smelly???" she replied, in obvious delight at the possibilities.
"No, not Smelly. Snelling. He doesn't stink, unlike some other A's hitters I could name."
* * *
When an entire lineup seems to stink, it's sometimes hard to tell for sure if the entire lineup really stinks, or if the team is just running into a series of good performances by the opposing team. But all it takes is one new player (Dan Johnson) or two (Chris Snelling, Jack Cust) to be inserted into that lineup and not stink, to confirm that, yup, the rest of the lineup stinks.
But even the successes of these three recent additions to the A's lineup may be misleading. The whole lineup might still stink, but the stench is simply being masked by the even more malodorous pitching staffs of Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
* * *
But who are we to talk? Catfish Stew must not smell too good itself. Consider:
Nobody on Catfish Stew wants to be anywhere near each other. And clearly, you especially want as much distance as possible from that putrid Ken Arneson fellow. We won't reveal his exact location to protect the innocent, but this picture was taken by him yesterday high above a remote northern ocean:
Keep away from us. Keep far, far away.
Aloha Means Goodbye
So the first time I ever cheesed it to the Garden Island, it was right after watching a desultory 9-7 loss to the Red Sox at home that launched a three-game sweep. In the time it took me to traipse about Kauai, the A's would go on a 2-7 schneid, culminating in a disastrous three-game sweep in Toronto. Fans of Moneyball will remember that road trip ending with Jeremy Giambi saying some things he probably shouldn't have on the flight back to Oakland. By the time I returned to the Coliseum, Frank Menechino and Carlos Pena were exiled to Sacramento and Giambi the Lesser would soon be sent to Philadelphia for a bag of used baseballs (used baseballs in this case = John Mabry). The A's were 19-25, 10 games behind the Mariners. By the time the season ended, aided and abetted by a 20-game win streak you might have heard about at some point, Oakland won the division. Let's not talk about what might have happened once the playoffs began.
So with my plane leaving for Kauai again in a scant seven hours and the A's a game out of first place, I'm hopeful that the A's will undergo some similarly dramatic transformation similar to what happened after my 2002 trip. Maybe one of the seemingly innocuous trades Billy Beane made will yield something pleasantly surprising, much as Mabry's acquisition five years ago did. Maybe the A's GM will get fed up with a player -- might I suggest the catcher who can neither hit nor run the bases -- and send him to Siberia. Maybe something will happen to make me think this team is something more than the .500-ish squad it appears to be thus far.
Or maybe the A's will just keep on keeping on.
Anyhow, this is a round-about way of explaining why the game summaries have slowed to a trickle, as I get ready for my trip, and will now become entirely non-existent as I leave the mainland. I imagine A's games will be more than a rumor to me -- I've got Gameday Audio after all, and apparently, the A's network of radio affiliates includes a station in Kihei (though a check of the station's Web site suggests it contains a lot of blowhard talk-show hosts and not much baseball). Anyhow, I hope I can pick up an inning here or there and maybe even weigh in with a pithy post or two in between mai tais.
Here's hoping that this week's trip turns out a lot for the A's than my last visit to Kauai in 2004. Oakland went 2-2 during that visit, and while it held a two-game advantage over the Angels by the time I got back to the mainland, that lead proved very temporary.
On an absolutely beautiful night in Kansas City, the A's improved to 28-6 in Kauffman since 2000. Chad "Go Dan!" Gaudin now has seven starts under his belt in 2007, and is carrying a 2.40 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. With 34 strikeouts, he's just two shy of his career-high, set last season as a reliever. More importantly, he's only walked 14 batters so far -- a much better SO:BB rate than he's had in the past.
So, is Chad Gaudin the real deal as a starter? Considering that he's so far faced the Angels (twice), Rangers, White Sox, Indians, and Devil Rays -- who have some of the top offenses in baseball -- I'm tempted to say that Gaudin is indeed for real. He probably won't keep his ERA under 3.00, but he sure looks good so far.
Though, I have to say, he sure turns his lead foot outward a long way when he strides. That doesn't look so good...
The Friendly Confines of... Kauffman?
I've been going to Kauffman Stadium to watch baseball games as long as I can recall. The first few times my parents or grandparents took me to games, I remember being more enthralled with the fountains in the outfield than what was going on the astroturfed field. I recall George Brett as an aging DH (yea, I'm a young'un, I was just nine when Brett hung up the spikes). I also distinctly recall buying an A's felt pennant from a vendor in the stands, and feeling very proud of it. Speaking of which, do vendors even sell pennants in the stands any more? I haven't seen one in a very long while...
So now, I'm headed down to K.C. to take in the A's series. I've been assured there's an internet connection in my luxurious Super 8 accomodations, so I should be able to snap a few pics of the game and check back in with you all in the coming days.
Over the past few years, I've attended almost every game the A's have played in Kansas City. It seems odd now to go to a Royals game and not see the A's in the visitor's dugout. It also seemed quite odd last year when the A's did the unthinkable and lost a game in Kansas City. Over the past seven seasons, Oakland has not only won the majority of games in Kauffman, but has utterly dominated the series.
Since 2000, Oakland has won 27 of the 33 games played at Kauffman. Not only do they have an .818 winning percentage over that time span, they've won in dominant fashion -- average score: A's 7.55, Royals 3.39. Oakland pitchers have put up a combined ERA of 3.07, with a WHIP of 1.25. The A's have outhomered the Royals 56-17, while putting up a AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS line of .296/.376/.522/.898 -- roughly the career numbers of Hal Trosky or the 2006 season of Grady Sizemore.
It will be interesting to see if the offensively inept A's can continue their winning streak against an improved yet inconsistent Royals squad. It all kicks off Tuesday, as Go-Dan-Go! takes on George of the Rose. Wednesday's game will be the $55 Million Bablyonian Epic against Facial Hair-en. The Thursday afternoon matchup looks to be MISTAAA KENNEDY and either Luke "I am your"
On Friday, I'm due to be jailed for bad punning against humanity, and likely sentenced to 90 days in the Berman wing of the special prison for punners.
Game 28 Summary: Swish!
Let's keep this short and to the point, as I have to board a plane this morning to take me to an anniversary for the event for the newspaper that took a fresh-faced youngster and set him on the path to become the hideous monster you see before you today. This is sort of like Darth Vader going off to hang with some of his old Sith buddies.
Game 28: A's 5, Devil Rays 2
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- J. Duchscherer (3-1) LP -- G. Glover (0-2) S -- H. Street (8)
Went Deep: Dukes (4), Swisher (5)
Your Diablo Creek Merlot Star of the Game: I imagine that some people read my contributions to this blog and think, "Man, Phil, is there a member of the A's you even like?" Actually, I imagine it's more like people read my contributions and think, "Boy, I hope Ken will post something soon," but play along, OK? Anyhow, yes -- while I rant and rave about the Jason Kendalls and the Jay Witasicks and their ilk, there are members of the A's who not only don't make me cringe in horror but actually fill me with this weird sensation I can only guess is optimism. Or gas.
Anyhow -- Milton Bradley. Love the way he plays. Love having him on the team. Who else? Well, none other than tonight's star of the game, Nick Swisher.
It wasn't always so. The past couple of years, I've felt varying degrees of frustration about Swisher and his approach at the plate. I refer you to this item I wrote two years ago in which Kenny Chesney of all people criticizes Swisher's two-strike approach in a June 15, 2005 game against the Mets.
Kenny Chesney! The country music singer! And he was right! Swisher, heal thyself.
Well, Swisher has. I've noticed this year he's cut down on swinging wildly for the fences when a base hit will do -- it's getting to the point where the few times he has done this (like when he had yet to hit home run No. 1 and was pressing touch), it really stands out. I don't have the time before my flight to verify this, but it seems like he's doing a better job of hitting in two-strike or two-out situations, particularly with runners on.
Take Friday's game. Swisher hit the decisive three-run homer on a 2-2 count after Brian Stokes made him look silly with a pair of change-ups. And yes, Swisher swung for the fences when a base hit might have also done the trick, but take a gander at the thought process -- and yes, I'm alarmed as you are that Nick Swisher has a thought process -- as described in this morning's Chronicle.
Simply calling time brought Swisher another chorus of boos -- but he settled back in and crushed the next pitch from Stokes on a line into the stands in right. That three-run blast, coming in Swisher's first game back after missing a week and a half with a hamstring strain, gave the A's a 5-2 victory over the Devil Rays.
So yeah, I like Nick Swisher because I see him as not only improving, but actively working to do so. It makes me think there's hope for the rest of us.
Well, not you, Jason Kendall.
The Turning Point: Laziness would make me cite the Swisher home run, but how's about the two-on, no-out situation in the bottom of the seventh where Dan Haren retired the Devil Rays without allowing a runner to score. If he doesn't keep the 2-2 tie intact, then perhaps Swisher's ninth-inning heroics don't happen.
Dreaded Larry Davis Sighting: Actually, the health news is not as unnerving as usual. Swisher was back on the field after missing nine games. Bradley is on pace to come off the DL Tuesday when eligible. Esteban Loaiza got moved to the 60-Day DL, but that's an administrative move to make room for the newly acquired Jack Cust on the 40-man roster; Loaiza was unlikely to be ready to pitch much before the first week of June anyhow. And speaking of newly acquired players, Chris Snelling managed to take the field -- and even score -- without requiring medical attention. So there's that.
Of Interest Perhaps Only to Me: The Nasty Boys Nick Swisher refers to in the Chronicle article up above are a former professional wrestling tag team, led by Brian Knobbs who have apparently retired to the St. Petersburg area and spend their leisure hours making a scene at Devil Ray games. I know this because my brother-in-law also lives in the St. Petersburg area and has spent nine innings seated in the vicinity of Mr. Knobbs, who he says is a good egg.
Me, I was always more of a Demolition man.
All in All: And with that, time to head off to the airport. Enjoy today's game.
Another Instant Trade Analysis
What's the point of this trade? I can only guess. Both players were once prospects who showed some promise, but flopped at the major league level. Seems on the surface like a pointless shuffle of bodies.
Here's my guess. The A's have two players, Mark Kotsay and Esteban Loaiza, currently on the 60-day DL, who are likely to come off in June. When that happens, two players are going to have to be moved off the 40-man roster, and I'm guessing that one of them is going to be Jeremy Brown. Also, Brown is currently on the DL with a calf strain, so Closser provides catching depth, plus another healthy body in Sacramento.
Either that, or he just wants to give A's bloggers something to do besides complain about the lousy offense, Nick Swisher's game-winning home run today notwithstanding.
For completions sake, the Tim Hudson trade is now worth Closser, Brad Halsey, and Dan Meyer. Given that Halsey's probably gonna be out of here at some point from his recent whining, and Meyer is just now returning from the injury that has ruined the past two seasons for him, the jury on that trade is still out.
Mulder trade? See today's starting pitcher. Dan Haren is awesome.
Nine Carl Everetts, Five Bronson Arroyos
It was famously stated in Moneyball that a team of nine Scott Hattebergs would score more runs than the Yankees. That got me thinking... What player, multiplied by nine, would be equivalent to the A's current offense?
Right now, Oakland is sporting a truly ugly .234/.309/.355/.654 line of avg/obp/slg/ops, roughly the same as the season that Carl Everett put up in Seattle (.227/.297/.360/.657) last year -- before being cut for offensive ineptitude.
No wonder it's been so painful to watch the A's hit this season. We're watching a circa-2006 Carl Everett go out there and hack.
As bad as the hitting has been, though, the pitching has been superb. The A's current stat line of a 3.26 ERA in 243.0 innings with 184 strikeouts and 80 walks is strikingly similar to the excellent season posted by Bronson Arroyo last year in Cincinnati. Arroyo had a 3.29 ERA in 240.1 innings with 184 strikeouts and 64 walks.
So, then, the A's have been a team composed of a National League-level elite pitching and terrible American League DH flailing at the plate. No wonder they have a record of 13-14. Nine Carl Everetts in the lineup and five Bronson Arroyos in the rotation seem to add up to a near-.500 record -- not to mention one very strange clubhouse.
Looking at the big picture, with a current runs scored to runs allowed ratio of 104:99, the A's would be expected to be one game over .500 at this point. With 27 games played, at the current rate, this team should score just 624 runs, but only allow a measley 594. That would be the first time since 1990 that Oakland has allowed less than 600 runs. It would also be the fewest runs scored by the A's since 1979. What do 624 runs scored and 594 runs allowed project for an expected record? 85-77.
I've got to believe that the hitting will improve (and get healthier) much more than the pitching will falter over the course of the rest of the season, though, so 85 wins is probably a little low.
Instantaneous Trade Analysis
The Chronicle reports, via blog, that Jack Cust is the A's answer to the latest injury woes. (When Jack Cust is the answer, you are, perhaps, asking uncomfortable questions...) The Chronicle further notes that Cust is "a longtime favorite of Oakland GM Billy Beane." If that particular phrasing sounds familiar, that's because a variation of it was used to describe the newly acquired Chris Snelling in the morning papers.
So... Cust and Snelling are examples of players that Billy Beane likes. You don't suppose someone could show him some highlights of guys like Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez so he can start to develop affinities for that class of player, do you?
On a more positive note, Snelling has been an Athletic for more than 12 hours now, and he is yet to suffer a debilitating injury. Please keep him encased in his Nerf-lined travel box until first pitch in Tampa on Friday, Larry Davis.
Beane Strikes Again
And the winner of today's injury lottery is...Mike Piazza! Congrats, Mike! Your sprained shoulder has won you a four-to-six week vacation in beautiful Darlington, England, birthplace of railroads, and home of UK Postal Code DL!
So the A's add even more important depth to their disabled list, but don't go thinking Billy Beane is satisfied yet. Beane certainly has his faults, but his most redemptive quality as a GM is probably his ability recognize when he's made a mistake, and correct it quickly. Beane followed his brilliant trade for Chris Denorfia, who is out for the year with Tommy John surgery, by inexplicably acquiring a healthy Ryan Langerhans from the Braves. Recognizing that Langerhans might actually be able to stay in the lineup for an extended period of time, Beane quickly got rid of him, sending him off to the Washington Nationals after only two games in the green and gold, in exchange for former Mariner Chris Snelling. Snelling is actually healthy at the moment as well, but his track record suggests considerably more upside than he has displayed of late. Snelling is probably the only player in the major leagues who can rival Bobby Crosby and Rich Harden for the title as the majors' second-most brittle player (behind only the incomparable Carl Pavano) and may, in fact, surpass his new teammates. He is apparently so brittle that even the mere mention of his name can send him to the DL--the USS Mariner blog took to calling him "Doyle" in an effort to prevent further injury.
Even though we still don't know who the PTBNL is going to the Braves for Langerhans, I am positively giddy over this trade. With the exception of the A's lone albatross, Jason Kendall, the A's have never had more flexibility and more potential up and down the lineup to do damage to themselves than they have right now. Maybe Snelling will be blinded by his new white shoes and trip and fall over himself. Maybe he'll bump into one of the invisible people in the locker room, and break a leg. Or perhaps Crosby and Snelling can collide with each other in shallow left field, and take each other out for good in one big bang. The possibilities are endless; the sky is the limit. It's a great time to be an A's fan.
This Explains A Lot
A lot of weird things happen to the A's. Clusters of injuries, massive, team-wide slumps, inexplicable mental mistakes at the worst possible time. All of them quite hard to believe, and quite hard to explain. But it all makes sense now, thanks to Jay Witasick. All this time, there's been an invisible man in the A's locker room:
"There's another man in this locker room, goes by the name of Badger. If the lights were out, it was completely dark, you could see him. You would. It's like the aura. Actually, if you hold a blue light up to him, he glows a lot."
Badger is a mischievous little gremlin, isn't he? I wonder if, after putting the entire A's outfield on the disabled list, he got bored and decided to go poke holes in some Yankee hamstrings, too. Which, given the miraculous Scutaro homer, might lead you to suspect that Badger is a Red Sox fan, except then how would you explain last night's improbable A's comeback?
Curt Schilling has a post on his blog about last night's game, where he discusses everything except the unexplainable comeback. First rule about Badger: don't talk about Badger.
Oops. What am I doing? Backspace backspace backspace backspace backspace....
Game 26 Summary: Buck Shot!
Earlier today, when recapping this weekend's A's-Devil Ray games, Ol' Man Grumpus wrote:
And with the Red Sox already beginning their ceremonial beatdown of the A's as I type this...
And you know what? That sentence was deadly accurate at the time it was constructed. The Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the A's in Tuesday night's game, and by the time, I began the walk from my office to the Ferry Building, it was 4-1 Boston, with all signs an portents pointing to a merciless thrashing at the hands of the BoSox.
And yet, by the time the ferry pulled into Alameda, the A's had closed the gap to 4-2. And before I could drive home, it was all knotted up at 4 on the strength of a Travis Buck home run.
So yeah, that made my little preamble to the previous post -- not to mention the decided negativity -- look positively outdated less than three hours after I posted it. And I, for one, couldn't be happier to look so foolish.
Game 26: A's 5, Red Sox 4 (10)
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- J. Duchscherer (2-1) LP -- B. Donnelly (0-1) S -- H. Street (7)
Went Deep: D. Johnson (1), Buck (3)
Your Undrinkable South African Shiraz Star of the Game: I think a 3-for-5 performance that includes a game-tying home run off a closer who had, prior to tonight, yielded just two hits all year is more than enough to push Travis Buck over the top. For those of you scoring at home, this makes Buck the first player to repeat as our Star of the Game honoree in 2007. (If you were dying of curiosity, the first player to repeat as Star of the Game in 2006 was Nick Swisher, who followed up his two-homer performance against the Tigers on April 18, 2006, with a top performance in an April 24 game against Texas.)
By the way, if I can pass down one piece of advice to you folks before Ken takes my posting privileges away, do not drink Lindeman's South African Shiraz, 2005 vintage, no matter how compelling the price point at your local Albertson's. This 99-pound-weakling-bodied red has the faint aftertaste of turpentine with hints of licorice and ass. Serve it only to felons or people you don't particularly care to drink with ever again.
The Turning Point: The Buck home run, coming as it did against the normally automatic Jonathan Papelbon and on an 0-2 count to boot.
To Joe Blanton, Our Deepest Apologies: Joe Blanton didn't pitch that poorly in the first inning, but still found himself on the short end of a 3-0 game, thanks to some dinky hits and a poor fielding decision by Bobby Crosby. The old Joe Blanton -- or at least, the caricature I've constructed in my head -- would have fallen apart after the first, yielding walk after walk and looking like he'd rather be any place else in the world than on the pitcher's mound.
That didn't happen tonight: Remove that first inning from consideration and Blanton pitched six innings of one-run ball on just two hits. Maybe that's not All-Star caliber stuff, but he kept the game within reach until the A's could start stringing consecutive hits together to erase the Red Sox's lead.
At the beginning of the year, I said that I would be more than happy to admit how wrong I was about Joe Blanton if he kept turning in effective pitching performances. He kept up his end of the bargain, so I'll keep up mine. Joe Blanton's a good pitcher; the A's are fortunate to have him. And my earlier exhortations to trade him are, again, the reason why the only way I should be allowed anywhere near the Coliseum is with a paid ticket.
Phil's Phun Phacts: It took Bob Geren 26 games to match Ken Macha's four-year total for getting ejected from a baseball game.
Geren was thumbed in the fifth inning, ostensibly for arguing a swinging third strike call on Eric Chavez by Charlie Reliford. I was incommunicado at this particular moment, but I'm going to guess that what Geren's real beef was the preceding call when Mark Ellis hit a ball down the third base line that the ball boy fielded. The umps awarded Ellis a ground-rule double and made Jason Kendall stop at third. I have a sinking suspicion that Geren suggested to Reliford, in blunt and forceful language, that he jobbed the A's out of a run. (Edited to Add: Errrr... not exactly. Susan Slusser's report, which contains details that the AP version did not, says that Geren was in fact arguing Reliford's call of a check swing when he got the heave-ho.)
Back to Macha: His first and only ejection came on May 9, 2005, when he was sent to the showers after arguing balls and strikes with Mark Carlson during the midst of a 13-5 thumping. The player involved? Jason Kendall. The setting? Fenway Park. What is it about those two things that make A's managers so irascible?
Bonus related phun phact! This is the second road game this year in which an Oakland player belted a ball down the line into no man's land, only to be forced to stop at second when the home team's on-field personnel stuck their figurative nose where it didn't belong. In the first inning of the April 22 game in Arlington, Eric Chavez hit a ball down the line that the Rangers' ball girl decided to pick up. Chavez was ordered to cast aside his dream of a two-out triple and pull up at second.
Boston grounds crew -- please watch the umpires at all times for fair/foul signals before fielding would-be foul balls during Wednesday's contest.
Easy, Street: I've been to one game at Fenway Park. Assuming you don't run into any vile drunkards -- hey, good luck with that, friend -- it's a lovely place to see a ballgame. But I've never really subscribed to the widely held viewpoints about its charm and its splendor and its magic. Again, setting aside the aforementioned vile drunkards, Fenway Park is charming and splendorous and magical -- that is, until the team you root for has to go into the ninth inning protecting a one-run lead and suddenly the pop flies down the line that are easy outs in your cow pasture of a ballyard turn into walk-off home runs for the local nine. Take your charm and your splendor and cram it, Roger Angell!
One good thing about Fenway, though -- it hastened the advent of Huston Street, Closer. Think back to the halcyon days of 2005, just a day after Ken Macha defied all medical pronouncements and got himself ejected. On May 10, then-closer Octavio Dotel was called upon to protect a 2-1 lead. With one out, he walked David Ortiz and then served up a fat ol' pitch to Kevin Millar who knocked it into the theoretically cheap seats for a 3-2 Sox win. The very next day, Dotel was again called upon to protect a lead, this time a 5-4 margin that came about after a four-run A's rally in the top of the ninth. Ortiz walked, Millar flied out, and then Varitek homered. Thank you, fans, and drive home safely.
Less than a month later, Huston Street had recorded his first save. And yes, he only became the closer after Dotel underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery. But still, the solace I take in those two miserable games is the knowledge that the Street Era was going to begin sooner rather than later.
And Street plays a considerable role in the A's recent run of good fortune against the Sox. In the admittedly small sample size of 9.2 innings, he's never given up so much as run, let alone blown a lead. I still have to turn off the TV in the late innings when Boston's up at bat, but at least when I turn the TV back on, I'm more confident that the A's won't be dead and buried with Street in there.
All in All: I have an unfortunate tendency to dwell on the negative. If this were an action movie, Ken would be the unflappable scientist that proposes rational, well-thought-out solutions, I'd be the panicky, hot-headed military guy who screams things like, "We don't have time for your theories! The President needs us to take action now!" and whom the audience secretly hopes gets punched in the face by the hero before the final reel.
Well, no negativity this evening. The A's got a good win against a fearsome opponent in a ballpark where their failures outweigh their successes. As the saying goes, this win in Boston was as sweet as the cream pie for which the city is named.
Desultory Game Summaries from the Weekend
I'm going to take credit for the A's big win over Tampa Bay Saturday. Ken e-mailed me that morning, asking if I wanted to use a pair of extra tickets of his. And while I did, I had made plans with my wife for that afternoon and scuttling them after spending Friday night at the yard didn't seem to be part of a long-term strategy for marital bliss. So the A's, freed from my withering gaze, broke out the bats, plated 12 runs and enjoyed a rare laugher over a hapless opponent.
But I did go to Sunday's game, and even if you didn't know the result, you could probably guess what happened there: the bats went back to sleep and took the starting pitching with them, as Oakland finished the month below .500 and looking up at the increasingly shrinking backsides of the Anaheim Angels.
And with the Red Sox already beginning their ceremonial beatdown of the A's as I type this, let's summarize the remaining games against Tampa-St. Pete.
STOP CASTING POROSITY! An Oakland Athletics blog.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 01
12 09 08 01
12 11 10 09 08
Ken: catfish AT zombia d.o.t. com
Ken's Greatest Hits
28 Aug 2003
12 Jan 2004
31 May 2005
11 May 2005
29 Jun 2005
8 Jun 2005
19 Jul 2005
11 Aug 2005
7 Sep 2005
20 Sep 2005
22 Sep 2005
26 Sep 2005
28 Sep 2005
29 Sep 2005
18 Oct 2005
9 Nov 2005
15 Nov 2005
20 Nov 2005
13 Dec 2005
19 Jan 2006
28 Jan 2006
21 Feb 2006
10 Apr 2006
16 Apr 2006
22 Apr 2006
7 May 2006
25 May 2006
31 May 2006
18 Jun 2006
22 Jun 2006
6 Jul 2006
17 Jul 2006
13 Aug 2006
15 Aug 2006
16 Aug 2006
20 Aug 2006
11 Oct 2006
31 Oct 2006
29 Dec 2006
4 Jan 2006
12 Jan 2006
27 Jan 2007
17 Feb 2007
30 Apr 2007
27 Aug 2007
5 Sep 2007
19 Oct 2007
23 Nov 2007
5 Jan 2008
16 Jan 2008
4 Feb 2008
7 May 2008
20 Jun 2008
4 Feb 2008