The A's just lost two of three to the Angels, and you can probably pin the series loss on me. I attend several A's-Angels games every year, and the last time Oakland beat a team from Anaheim in my presence was over 17 years ago, the day Rickey Henderson tied Lou Brock's career stolen base record.
Since that day, I have been a better good luck charm for the Angels than the Rally Monkey himself. The Angels should put me on their payroll. They should pay me to go see their games against the A's. In tight ballgames, they should show pictures of me on their scoreboard, like this:
I went to the game on Saturday night, and of course, the Angels beat the A's. It was a game that made clear the difference in the standings between the two teams. I think both teams have roughly equal talents--good pitching, solid defense, and an offense somewhat lacking in power. But the Angels play a cleaner, more mature game. The A's used to be able to match the Angels solid-play-for-solid play. But this year, the A's are playing five or six players each day who are in their first full major league seasons: Kurt Suzuki, Daric Barton, Jack Hannahan, Travis Buck, Ryan Sweeney, and Carlos Gonzalez. And you can probably also include Jack Cust in that category, as well. These young players are talented, but there's an inconsistency that comes with youth that adds up. A bad swing here, a misjudgement there....
Saturday was my first in-person look at Carlos Gonzalez, and I was impressed. He's got a nice, smooth swing that's quite lovely to watch. I kept trying to think of who he reminds me of, but I couldn't put a finger on it. The names Grady Sizemore and Carlos Beltran came to mind, but I couldn't tell you why. Here he is doubling in the third inning:
Of course, he's a rookie, and he made a rookie mistake by getting doubled off second on a line drive to left field, killing a potential rally for the A's:
The Angels will get themselves thrown out on the bases at times by being aggressive, but that's a mistake of a different kind than the mistake Gonzalez made here, which is simple carelessness. As this group of A's players mature, I'm sure they'll make fewer and fewer fundamental mistakes like this. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think the A's will reach that level of maturity in time to catch up to the Angels this year. The 2008 Angels look rock-solid to me, a team that plays baseball soundly in every aspect of the game. I just can't see them going into the kind of nosedive that would give the upstart A's the opportunity to catch them.
Aside from Gonzalez, I also got my first look at Athletics Nation favorite, rookie sidearmer Brad Ziegler. I'm not really sure how to judge sidearmers, except by the results. Vladimir Guerrero almost took him deep on his first pitch, but that's nothing to be ashamed of. Vlad can take just about any pitch deep. Aside from that scare, Ziegler got outs, and so he looked as fine to me as a funky sidearmer can look.
Thank goodness for Mark Ellis and his 12th-inning grand slam off the foul pole Sunday afternoon. The A's survived that 12-inning Tightrope, and so they're still a Livin' Thing. If the Angels had swept this series to go up 6 1/2 games, we'd be saying "It's Over" to the AL West race. Believe Me Now, had the A's lost this game, their playoff hopes would have Turned to Stone. Baseball Prospectus might not believe it, as two of their three methods for predicting playoff odds still have the A's as favorites to win the division. But BP is working some Strange Magic there. I'd sooner believe in Shangri-La than believe the A's will come out ahead in this year's division Showdown. Here's one vote for the ELO version as the one most resembling reality.