Baseball Toaster Catfish Stew
Monthly archives: July 2005


Trade Dudline
2005-07-30 17:48
by Ken Arneson

This is the least interested I've been in the trade deadline in years. I suppose it's because I can't figure anything that the A's really need, there's nobody on the market I'd really want, nor is there anyone obvious they need to get rid of. If the A's make a move, it'll be a surprise.

Bill King said last night on the radio broadcast that he dislikes the trade deadline, because it tends to distract attention away from the game on the field. Most years, I'd disagree, but this year, I'm on his side. And so, to the field:

I went to the game this afternoon (didn't take my camera, sorry) with a bunch of families in our neighborhood. I missed a couple of innings escorting a group of kids to the Stomper Fun Zone. But no problem, I did manage to catch the only inning that mattered in this game.

Zito gave up three early runs, but he didn't seem to be pitching poorly from where I sat. It was more a series of "these-things-happen" happenings: a two-run homer, and a bloop single, a steal, and a seeing-eye grounder.

* * *

Meanwhile, Nate Robertson pitched three perfect innings to start the game, throwing only 28 pitches. Two of the outs were rockets hit right at infielders, so I still held some hope.

In the bottom of the fourth, I figured we needed to change our luck, so I got everyone around me to start mentioning the fact that Robertson was throwing a perfect game.

"Did I mention that Robertson was throwing a perfect game?"

"No, but the Tigers' pitcher is throwing a perfect game."

Jason Kendall led off with a walk.

"Hey, there goes the perfect game. But he's still throwing a no-hitter."

"Really? Hey, and you know what else? Robertson is throwing a no-hitter."

Mark Ellis singled.

"Did I mention that Robertson is throwing a shutout?"

"No, but the Tigers haven't given up a run yet."

A bloop single by Chavez loaded the bases, and then Jay Payton hit a screaming liner into the left-field stands for a grand slam. The crowd goes wild!

* * *

And after the crowd went wild, Ivan Rodriguez went wild. Bob Cluck visited the mound after Robertson went 2-0 on the next batter, Dan Johnson. When Rodriguez got back to the plate, he suddenly started yelling at the home plate ump, Ted Barrett.

Pudge threw a world-class tantrum. He got right in Barrett's face and started shouting. Alan Trammell ran out and got in between them, but that didn't stop Pudge. He continued to shout, needed two other Tigers to restrain him and escort him back to the dugout. When he got there, he threw a bag of balls onto the field. Then, as he took off his catcher's gear, he threw that onto the field, too.

Man, that was good stuff. When Pudge retires, let's make him a manager. He'd could be quite entertaining.

* * *

A couple batters later, Scott Hatteberg hit a two-run homer to make it 6-3. At this point, the out-of-town scoreboard suddenly changed to show the Angels' 7-5 lead in the 9th had become a 8-7 Yankee victory.

Quite a turn of events. A few minutes earlier, the A's were being no-hit, and the Angels were sending K-Rod to the mound in the 9th with a two-run lead. It looked like the A's might fall to 4 1/2 games out, and suddenly it became 2 1/2. The momentum in the pennant race shifted just like that.

* * *

The rest of the game felt like going through the motions. I didn't have much doubt about the eventual outcome, even though the Tigers threatened a few times to tie it up or take the lead.

The Witasick/Kennedy trades have made the bullpen complete. They could use Duchscherer and Calero for more than an inning, as they did last night, and still have Witasick available to pitch the 8th the next day. They have two longmen in Yabu and Kennedy, and two lefties in Kennedy and Rincon. And then there's the reliable Huston Street to close things out.

Unless you count the back injuries to Kotsay and Kielty, this is a team without a single hole on its roster. I'm comfortable with everybody on the 25-man roster and the role they are on the roster to play.

Heck, Marco Scutaro played left field today in the absence of the "K's", and did a competent job. He played one ball off the wall and threw a perfect strike from the warning track to second base. He may have extended his career a year or two with his play today; there's probably some Tony LaRussa out there who would love to make use of his versatility.

So that's why I'm so bored by this deadline. Billy Beane doesn't really need to do anything. He only has to make a trade that he would clearly win. I would certainly welcome that, but I'm not anticipating anything but the next game on the schedule.

A's vs. Indians: A Photo Finish
2005-07-28 02:45
by Ken Arneson

I happened to score a free ticket to yesterday's game, and what a game it was! Over 40,000 people showed up on a Wednesday afternoon for Root Beer Float Day, where local celebrities serve dessert to raise funds for Juvenile Diabetes. A good cause, a huge crowd, perfect weather and an exciting comeback. It was a blast.

I came early to take some pictures with my new digital camera. I took a lot of pictures around the ballpark, many of which I'll post this weekend. But the game was so exciting, I wanted to get up the game photos pronto, which I've done. You can check out the Big Comeback Slideshow here (JavaScript required).

The first half of the game wasn't great, but it could have been worse. Dan Haren was not sharp at all. The Indians were hitting the ball hard off him all day, and Haren was lucky to escape having given up only four runs on 12 hits in 5 1/3 IP. From where I was sitting in the early innings, way down the first base line, I couldn't tell why Haren was struggling. Based on Haren's lack of ground ball outs, I'd guess that he was getting his pitches up.

Scott Elarton gave up consecutive doubles to lead off the game, but thereafter was exactly as sharp as Haren wasn't. The A's pounded ground ball after ground ball, and got nothing more off Elarton but a sixth-inning solo shot by Bobby Kielty.

Trailing 4-2 in the 7th, it was time for a change. Thanks to some friendly connections, I managed to "upgrade" my seat to get much closer to the field, where I could take some better game photos.

Arthur Rhodes replaced Elarton in the 8th, and it was a welcome sight, since the A's could do nothing with Elarton. Rhodes was booed, as I expected, when he was announced. Rhodes walked Bobby Crosby to lead off the inning, and I thought "same old Rhodes". He was terrible in an A's uniform. But Rhodes seemed recovered the fastball he was missing all last year, making him quite tough on lefties again. Chavez and Hatteberg hit weak grounders, the latter a double play, and Rhodes audibly expressed his satisfaction as he walked off the field.

Huston Street came on in the top of the ninth and kept the score at 4-2. His Cleveland counterpart, Bob Wickman, came on in the bottom of the ninth to do the same. Wickman succeeded in holding a two-run lead the previous night, but was not as sharp the following afternoon. The A's hit four singles off him, and tied it up. To extra innings we go!

Street got through the 10th unscathed, and David Riske came on for the Indians in the bottom half. Riske got two quick outs, but then Mark Ellis, who had pinch run for Dan Johnson in the ninth and stayed on to play first base (for only the second time in his career), singled to right. Jay Payton followed with a double to left, and there were runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs. Marco Scutaro, who had failed to bunt two runners over in the 9th, was up. He singled to left, Ellis scored, and the A's had won again.

The A's have the magic dust on them right now. When you're hot, these miraculous comebacks seem to happen with regularity. It's astounding, and amazingly fun.

Head Scratchers
2005-07-26 11:55
by Ken Arneson

A couple of things have me scratching my head this morning:

* * *

Over at Baseball Prospectus today, Dayn Perry looks at platoon park factors (subscription required).

Buried in the article is the fact that for 2002-04, the Coliseum has a Home Run factor of 97 for left-handed batters, but a factor of 114 for right-handed batters. So the Coliseum suppresses LHB homers somewhat, but helps RHB quite a bit.

I'm trying to figure out why this would be. The Coliseum is symmetrical. There aren't really any strong prevailing winds. If there were, you'd think the wind would blow out towards right field (helping LHB, not hurting them), since that's the direction the wind comes through the Golden Gate.

If you've got any explanation for this, I'm all ears.

* * *

The other head-scratcher was the trade idea that Peter Gammons floated on ESPN's Baseball Tonight: Jairo Garcia, Juan Cruz, Dallas Braden and Kurt Suzuki for Adam Dunn. (Note: Gammons never said this deal was in the works; it was just his idea.)

I suppose that this deal might be fair, but something about it makes me hesitate. First of all, if I'm Cincinnati, I need at least one sure-fire prospect if I'm giving up Dunn. None of those A's prospects qualify.

Cruz and Garcia both have electric stuff, but neither has ever harnessed it on a consistent basis. Braden is the kind of slop-thrower who tends to dominate at lower levels but struggle as he moves up the ladder. Suzuki is, to me, certainly a future major league catcher, but I doubt he'll be a big star.

On the A's side, the issues are:

  • Whither Daric Barton, Dan Johnson, Nick Swisher, Bobby Kielty, Andre Ethier? None of these guys are as good as Dunn (although Barton could be, eventually), but that's a lot of similar players crowding the LF/1B/DH end of the defensive spectrum. And they all bat left-handed (although Swisher and Kielty are switch hitters).
  • Giving up four prospects weakens the organizational depth. The A's aren't loaded with pitching prospects to begin with, and they'd be giving up three of them. You'd be strengthening the position where the A's have the most organizational depth, and weakening the position where they have the least depth.
  • Can they afford Dunn? Next year, probably. He's gonna add $9-10 million/year to the payroll. As it happens, that's about what they're paying Durazo and Dotel this year. Dunn takes Durazo's role, and Street pitches for the minimum, so you fill those two roles for about the same combined salary.

    But the year after that, they might end up with a choice: pay Adam Dunn, or pay Barry Zito? Given that the A's have a lot of Adam Dunn-types already, I'd choose Zito.

  • The A's are hot. Why mess with success?
Adding Adam Dunn would cause some roster problems, and force Billy Beane to do some more shuffling, but that's OK. Beane loves that kind of stuff. Power hitters like Dunn are very hard to come by. So I'd probably pull the trigger on this deal if I were the A's. On the other hand, I probably wouldn't do this deal if I were the Reds. So I doubt it will happen.

SoCal Ballpark Slideshows
2005-07-25 13:17
by Ken Arneson

I have some slideshows from my visits to Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium (Requires JavaScript):

The Battle of Wolff 359
2005-07-24 18:17
by Ken Arneson

The A's are now tied for the AL Wild-Card lead.

This fact has triggered a battle inside my brain. You see, I was raised in a Swedish family, and we're trained from birth not to show any sort of emotion that would make you appear better than anyone else. It's OK to be better, but to act better--in Swedish culture, there is no greater sin.

Now you combine being a Swede with being an A's fan, and that's probably a perfect recipe for some kind of emotional disorder. The A's, nearly every year, swing from extreme lows (the first couple months) to extreme highs (the big mid-season comeback), and then (come the playoffs) back to extreme lows again.

I am struggling. Get me some lithium or something. I need help.

There's an American inside me, being held hostage by those Swedish sentries of my upbringing. And now, RIGHT NOW, this American A's fan...he wants out. He's like John McEnroe's soul trapped inside Björn Borg's body. It's about to explode.

The Swedish sentries...they talk to the American...try to calm him down...

Be calm. Be reasonable.

Remember, in May, how poorly the A's were hitting? They weren't just terrible, they were unbelievably terrible. Darn near every player was hitting at their lowest possible projections: the team couldn't possibly be that bad.

Now, look at the A's outstanding pitching. The team ERA in June was 2.83. The A's young pitchers are good, but they're not a 2.83 ERA good. For a single player, that's hard enough to achieve, but for a whole team: that's unbelievable. The young pitchers will certainly go through a few more rough patches again before the season is out.

Their current overall record is probably a pretty good indication of their true talent level: they're about an 88-win team. That might be good enough to win the wild card, but with so many teams bunched together in the standings, it's unlikely. Someone will go on a hot streak, win around 94 games, and take the wild card.

And then the McEnroe inside me breaks his chains, kills the Borg, and shouts as loudly as possible:

Yeah, Baby! We've taken 7 of 9! We're on a roll! We're playoff-bound! Get out of our way! There ain't nobody nowhere who can stop us now!

KABOOM! I am not a BLOCKQUOTE! I am a free man!

I believe! I believe in the dream! And if you don' suck!

Oh, and...did I mention we've taken 7 of 9! Oh, the irony! Hee-yah! Meanwhile, autopsies have revealed that the Borg sentries were mortified to death. They could not survive their blush with danger. Funeral arrangements are pending. Mwahahahahaha!

Double Dinger Night
2005-07-23 00:01
by Ken Arneson

I have the first of my L.A. ballpark tour photos up: a slideshow of Jason Schmidt's delivery. I'll post more photos later this weekend.

Meanwhile, I cannot possibly imagine what it must be like to be a Texas Rangers fan. The ending of Friday night's game was just insane. But the A's and Rangers always play games like that in Arlington: if I had to endure 11-10 ballgames consistently, I'd either go bananas, or I'd have to transmogrify into a Monte Moore Monster, learning to love the high scores, and ringing my dingers:

The bells are ringing and
everyone's walking with arms extended in a trance
Forgetting their washing
neglecting their children
they're dropping all businesses at hand


What a disaster that would be. Yes, a win is a win, and the A's are now just 1.5 games out of the wild card lead, and I should be quite satisfied with that, but...

Please, we need more 3-2 games: for our children's sake.

Jason Schmidt's Delivery
2005-07-22 23:20
by Ken Arneson

At my Dodger Stadium visit last week, I took a few pictures from above of Jason Schmidt warming up in the bullpen.

Use the "Next Image" link to step through Schmidt's delivery. (Requires JavaScript).

Next Image

Three things strike me about these images:

  1. you can really see what a large stride he takes
  2. he does a 90 degree rotation of his chest between the fourth and fifth pictures
  3. His shoulders get perfectly square to the plate in the fifth picture
Bullet Points
2005-07-21 23:05
by Ken Arneson

cat mybrain.txt | od -tc

  • I am so bleepin' happy that the A's beat Kenny Rogers tonight. The fact that Rogers' appeal has delayed his suspension nearly a month annoys the crap out of me. The fact that it was delayed precisely so that Rogers could face the A's twice before his hearing annoys me infinitely more. The outcome tonight was pure justice.
  • Joe Blanton is useful: he eats innings with an acceptable ERA, and he's cheap. But unless he learns to throw a Greg Maddux-style cutter or something, I doubt he'll ever be much more than that. I'm happy to keep him around, but I wouldn't put him on my untouchable list, either.
  • Is Kiko Calero hurt again? He hasn't pitched since Saturday. Meanwhile, Joe Kennedy and his 7.00 ERA has pitched twice, once in a tie game, and once with the lead. Jay Witasick has pitched three times. If Calero is healthy, he shouldn't be losing innings to those guys.
  • Yes, I'll take Jay Payton over Eric Byrnes, thank you very much.
  • I was on an airplane during the last game against the Angels, so I missed most of Barry Zito's innings. But I got home in time to see his final inning where he struck out Adam Kennedy on two wicked curveballs, and a check swing on a high fastball out of the zone. That sequence was vintage Zito.
  • Eric Chavez looks like he's trying to pull everything again. His tailbone ended up halfway to first base on a couple of outside pitches tonight.
  • Who the heck do you root for when the Yankees play the Angels?
  • Remember that optical illusion where there are two lines on a railroad track, where one looks about twice as big as the other, but they're actually the exact same size? The A's and the Dodgers are both 6.5 games out of their respective divisions.

Alive To See It
2005-07-19 22:07
by Ken Arneson

This morning, I watched the replay of last night's Real Madrid-Los Angeles Galaxy friendly. Real Madrid is a team filled with impressive players, but Zinedine Zidane was a star among stars. Zidane is one of those athletes like Wayne Gretzky and Joe Montana who seem to see the game at a much slower speed than everyone else. While most players run around with a frantic intensity, and Zidane is as cool as can be, never in a hurry, always making the right decision.

I wonder if Rich Harden watched the same replay I did. Harden got in a jam in the second inning, and had Steve Finley on third with one out. Macier Izturis hit a grounder back at Harden, who dropped the ball, but then made a perfect Zidanesque kick pass right to Jason Kendall at the plate. Finley was tagged out in a rundown.

That was the Angels best chance to score until the two outs in the ninth, when Harden ran out of gas. From the fourth through the eighth, Harden was completely dominant. Fastball, changeup, splitter, slider--every pitch was working. He's taking his amazing physical talent and putting it all together into a perfect package.

There is a rarefied level of athletes who make you feel privileged to have seen them play. Gretzky, Montana, Jordan, Magic, Bird--they were there. Zidane is there. Tiger Woods. Barry Bonds. Rickey Henderson.

Rich Harden is moving into that territory. A superstar is being born right before our eyes. I feel fortunate and grateful to be alive to witness it. This is why we watch.

Document 213543: Mission Failure Report
2005-07-19 15:04
by Ken Arneson

The enemy Angels control the division theater, but a sweep of three battles on enemy turf could turn the tide in the Athletics' direction. Victories must come swiftly and early in battle; the enemy is too strong to defeat if they are leading late.

Secretly penetrate the opposition home base and support the Athletics' troops from behind enemy lines.

Unsuccessful. A sweep is now impossible; the Athletics may still win two of three, but the enemy will retain strong control of the theater.

Failure summary:
Enemy countermeasures foiled the mission plan.

Detailed explanation:

Stage 1: Infiltrate enemy territory.

Went according to plan. I contacted an enemy sympathizer (codename: Jacques), and by charm and wit convinced him to transport me and six other Athletics sympathizers to the battle site.


Stage 2: Gather intelligence.

Went according to plan. I had previously arranged to meet with another enemy sympathizer (codename: Rich) outside the battle site. My plan was to get these two enemy sympathizers talking with each other in a comfortable setting over dinner about the strengths of their side.

The Angels sympathizers are very confident. They feel their management is wise; their troops are strong and well trained; they have more young troops prepared to take over as the old troops move on; and they have the economic strength to correct any temporary weaknesses quickly.

The number of sympathizers seem to be growing every day, now spreading into Los Angeles County, which only ten years ago was the sole province of the Dodgers. This penetration into Dodger territory will only serve to further increase the Angels economic strength.

The only apparent way to counteract this economic trend is to get the Dodgers to succeed. The Dodgers, twice Oakland's worst enemy, are now the Athletics' most important ally. Unless the Dodgers can push back, regain control of LA County and push back into Orange County, the Angels will continue to get stronger.

So this is a two-front war. The Athletics fight the Angels on the AL Western Front, while the Dodgers fight them in the Southern California front. Sending Vice Admiral DePodesta from the Athletics office to run the Southern California Front gives us a united philosophical front against the Angel enemy. This could prove to be quite beneficial if the Athletic Philosophy proves to be superior in the long run to the Angel Philosophy.

But we have no evidence yet that this is the case. Currently, we are in retreat on both fronts. The Dodgers continue to suffer many injuries and losses in battle, and show no signs of turning things around. Meanwhile, the A's are restructuring their troops, hoping for a push in 2005, but really focusing on their long-term ability to resist the Angels on the AL Western Front. The restructuring appears to be working, but it has yet to have had any affect on the Angels. The Angels sympathizers are watching, however, and they do appear to be more concerned with the Athletics than with any other enemy they have.


Stage 3: Lending Support:

This is where the mission failed.

We managed to secure a position in the front row of the left field pavillion, just to the center field side of the Athletics bullpen. This position left us unable to see the outfield warning track in left and center fields, but this was not a problem, for not a single ball reached the warning track all evening from either team.

The Angels threw Ervin Santana, a young, talented, but wildly inconsistent pitcher. This should have played into the Athletics' strengths: taking pitches, making the pitcher throw strikes and work hard, taking walks and waiting for a mistake.

Santana didn't cooperate, however, as he threw lots of strikes, and didn't let the A's get deep in the count. Santana was helped by the home plate umpire, who was wildly inconsistent all evening. Nobody in my vicinity, whether they sympathized with the Angels or the Athletics, could figure out where the strike zone was.

This worked against the A's, as they went muttering to the dugout many times having been called out on strikes. And when they weren't called out, they swung at bad pitches, because they weren't confident that they wouldn't be called out either. As a result, the A's high-pitch-count weapon failed to deploy.

On the other side of the ball, Kirk Saarloos had trouble in the early innings keeping the ball down. Chone Figgins took a pitch up and away to left field for a single, and Angelball began. Figgins promptly stole second (Jason Kendall bounced his throw, as usual), Erstad moved him over with a groundball to the right side, and Vladimir Guerrero drove him home with a sacrifice fly. Angels baseball is Classic Baseball, and the first inning was as Classic as it gets.

In the next few innings, the Saarloos left more pitches up in the zone, and the Angels hit them hard, but the A's defense made several good plays to keep the Angels off the scoreboard. Saarloos wasn't getting many ground balls, so it felt like a just matter of time before the Angels would take advantage.

At one point, Nick Swisher led off with a double, giving the A's an opportunity to play Classic Baseball. But Marco Scutaro failed where Erstad succeeded: he struck out rather than move the runner along, and Swisher was stranded. The A's do not play Classic Baseball well; if they could somehow learn, however, they would have another weapon against the enemy.

But failing that, the A's finally got a chance to execute some Athletics-style Offense. The A's patience worked two walks off of Santana, and Scott Hatteberg followed the walks with a timely double down the right field line to score two. The A's took a 2-1 lead.

At this point, I was thinking to myself that the A's and the Angels are the perfect rivalry. On the pitching and defensive side, they are very similar, but their offensive philosophies are total opposites. Neither philosophy is clearly superior; the teams are quite evenly matched; there are very few blowouts; each game seems to be a knock-down/drag-out fight to the finish that gets decided by one or two key plays.

It was at this point, in the bottom of the sixth, that the Angels pulled out their secret weapon: the Rally Monkey. Two members of my supporting team were under 9 years old, and when they saw the Rally Monkey appear on the scoreboard, they became seduced by the Power of the Red Side of the Force.

So the bottom of the sixth began just as the bottom of the first: Figgins got on base, stole second thanks to yet another Weak-Throw-By-Jason-Kendall™, and Darrin Erstad again hit a ground ball to the right side. Perfect Angels-style baseball again. At this point, the Rally Monkey did its magic; after playing crisp defense all night (with the exception of Kendall's throws), the A's defense suddenly failed them, as Dan Johnson booted Erstad's grounder. A small rally became a Big Threat.

At this point, the youngest member of my team suddenly betrayed me. Excited by the Rally Monkey, she came and sat on my lap, grabbed each of my wrists, and proceeded to force my hands to clap together. "I will not clap when the Angels are rallying!" I cried, but the little devil just laughed, continued her assault on me. I resisted her attempts to make me cheer for the Wrong Side, but at this point my concentration was shot, and I was powerless to slow the Angels' Weapon of Doom.

Vladimir Guerrero then hit a double-play grounder, which could have minimized the damage, but Erstad again played Perfect Classic Baseball, sliding hard and preventing Scutaro from making the throw to first. Vlad then went first-to-third on a single to center, and the throw got past Chavez at third enabling Garret Anderson to get to second--yet another example of Angel baseball putting pressure on the opposition defense, forcing them into a mistake. Finley was walked intentionally, and when Molina popped up, it appeared the A's might get out of the inning with a tie score.

But the Rally Monkey is a weapon for which the A's have no equivalent. Strange things happen when the Monkey casts its spell; and in this case, Jeff DaVanon hit a chopper off the plate, and Saarloos couldn't handle it, and the Angels took the lead. This was Doom itself, for you don't want to be down a run going into the 7th inning having to face Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez. The Angels then completed the nightmare inning for the A's when Orlando Cabrera singled to center. Kotsay's throw to nail the runner from second skipped past Jason Kendall (who seemed cursed all evening), and two runs scored. 5-2 Angels.

That was all the Angels needed. I feel responsible: I did not properly prepare my troops for the Angels' Superweapon: the Rally Monkey. They fell victim to its awesome power; the A's defense immediately fell apart; and that was the one mistake that turned this otherwise evenly matched battle the wrong way.


Conclusion: Beware and prepare for the Rally Monkey. Do not let anyone get seduced by it. Keep a level head, trust your philosophy, and you can defeat even the most powerful of enemies. This was one battle lost, but there will be more, and it is possible to win.

UPDATE: Photos here.

Epic Battle Monday Night!
2005-07-17 22:05
by Ken Arneson

After the A's took three of four from Texas, the A's are now 2.5 games out of the wild card lead, and 7.5 out in the division.

If the A's can somehow manage to sweep the Angels in the next three days, the AL West could become very interesting, indeed. The way Harden and Zito have been pitching lately, that's not so unrealistic. But first, they'll have to win on Monday night, as Kirk Saarloos takes on Ervin Santana.

And since the A's are the reigning MLB Heavyweight Champs (see sidebar), Monday's bout will not only be for AL West supremacy, it will also be the MLB Heavyweight Championship.

I'll be in Anaheim Monday night to personally witness this epic battle. I'll report back Tuesday morning with my impressions.

Deja Vu
2005-07-16 08:32
by Ken Arneson

If my absence from the Bay Area keeps the A's no-hitting the opposition for the first 7 1/3 innings of each game, I'm willing to remain here in Southern California indefinitely.

Watching the Angels on TV last night, I think the best chance the A's have of winning the division is if Scot Shields or Francisco Rodriguez gets hurt. Those are the two filthiest bullpen arms in baseball. The Angels play six-inning ballgames, and everyone else has to play nine. That's a huge advantage.

The wild card would be easier. A's are now only 3 games back in the wild card standings, but there are five teams ahead of them. The A's have to hope that the other two divisions keep beating each other up.

The A's are the current MLB Heavyweight Champs (see sidebar). If they win today, they'll pass the Rangers in both the real standings and in the Heavyweight standings. But they'll have to beat Kenny Rogers at the Coliseum, where he almost never loses. Blanton may need to throw seven no-hit innings to get it done.

Almost Perfect
2005-07-15 10:36
by Ken Arneson

I was at Dodger Stadium last night, so I missed watching Rich Harden's near-perfect game. But rest assured I had one eye on the scoreboard the whole evening. Dodger Stadium out-of-town scoreboards show don't show hits, but they do which team is up. The Rangers' half-innings passed so quickly that I actually did wonder whether Harden might be throwing a no-hitter.

I'm a bit sorry I missed Harden's performance, but I'm sure I'll have another opportunity. With his stuff and his young age, he's probably more likely than anyone alive to throw a no-hitter in the future.

This was my first visit to Dodger Stadium. The thing that struck me is the contrast between the stadium and the city it represents. So much of L.A. is ugly, ugly, ugly: mile after mile of perfectly straight streets with nothing but man-made landmarks to guide you: freeways and apartment buildings and a gazillion mini shopping malls, each with a beauty salon, a donut shop, and a billboard for the latest motion picture. Our drive to the Dodger Stadium was something completely different: we avoided the freeway for the most part, and went through Griffith Park, a lovely area with trees and hills and small winding roads. At the end of one of these winding roads, we arrived at Dodger Stadium.

It became immediately clear what makes Dodger Stadium special for L.A. fans: it's beautiful. The trees, the hills, the flowers planted around ballpark, and the green grass of the field itself: it's a quiet oasis in a desert of noisy asphalt. What a relief this place must be for L.A. fans from the constant bustle of the valleys nearby.

And in that sense, the architecture of Dodger Stadium suits its surroundings. The design is remarkably simple; there are no artificial asymmetries calling attention to itself--it doesn't need them. It's surrounded by the asymmetry of nature itself.

My two companions who had grown up in L.A. both lamented how much advertising had creeped into the ballpark, but as a first-time visitor, I wouldn't have noticed it as anything unusual. The Coliseum and SBC Park both have far more ads. But after they mentioned it, the ads on the outfield wall did indeed seem to detract from the beauty of the park. They could have been placed more tastefully.

We sat in the third deck, between home plate and first base. We were up pretty high (and I can't imagine what it must be like in the deck above us), but the sight lines were good.

On the down side, the ballpark shows its age in several ways. The different seating sections are segregated, making it difficult to explore the ballpark. And the seats themselves were horribly uncomfortable.

They tell me that they're going to put in new seats next year, and honestly, it couldn't be too soon. I couldn't sit straight up in my seat. My seat had a downward slope, and not only that, but it was extremely slippery. It was like sitting on a slide. My butt kept slipping forward, which made me slouch backward and bend my neck almost to my chin to keep my eyes on home plate. I had to choose between this upper back pain and lower back pain: sitting on the edge of my seat without back support. I chose the lower back pain. Fifteen hours later, I can still feel it.

It didn't help that the leg room was minimal, too. I'm 5'10", and I felt like my legs were squeezed; I can't imagine the discomfort if I were 6'4".

On the recommendation of Jon Weisman, I tried both a Dodger Dog and a Super All-Beef Dodger Dog. The beef dog was nothing special. The Dodger Dog tasted very similar to the hot dogs they serve in Norway, but without the hard, crunchy skin. Blah. If you're going to eat a hot dog that tastes like that, you might as well have the skin. It was like eating an Eskimo Pie without the crunchy chocolate coating. The experience is missing something.

The game itself was fairly entertaining. It was a good pitching matchup, Jason Schmidt versus Brad Penny. Schmidt was obviously still not himself, throwing 90-93mph on his fastball instead of his usual 95-98. But he's a smart pitcher, and he knows how to get people out anyway.

I suppose the one thing I'll remember most about the game was Brad Penny getting thrown out of the game. He was safe at first on a bad throw, but got tagged out by Ray Durham after taking a step towards second base. I can't recall ever seeing that called in a major league game before. Penny threw a pretty good tantrum after he got thrown out. I only wish that Tommy Lasorda had been the manager to follow Penny's tirade. Jim Tracy doesn't do tantrums nearly as well. Managerial tantrums are becoming a lost art. Go kick dirt, dudes!

If I remember anything else about the game, it'll be that the Dodger fans put the kiss of death on their own team. Ken's Axiom #23: if you start the wave when the visiting team is batting, the visiting team will inevitably start a rally. All that noise makes any minor threat seem like a big one, it makes the situation seem more pressure packed than it is, and it gives the wrong team the psychological advantage. The Dodger fans got a really big wave going in the top of the 7th (a very impressive wave, actually), and sure enough, the Giants immediately started a rally. Omar Vizquel said thank you very much, and launched a home run that plunked right off the netting of the foul pole, and that was the difference in the game.

I'll post some pictures after I get home. I got some good ones of Jason Schmidt's delivery from above.

Update: Slideshows are now available.

Second shoe drops: Byrnes to Rockies
2005-07-13 21:07
by Ken Arneson

OK, now we know. Here's the deal: Eric Byrnes and Omar Quintanilla go to Colorado for Joe Kennedy and Jay Witasick.

Can't say I'm ecstatic about this trade, but it's a nice gamble that might pay off.

The deals make more sense if you break them down like this:

Payton for Byrnes.
Witasick for Bradford.
Kennedy for Quintanilla.

Byrnes was gone next year, and he wasn't playing much this year. Jay Payton is quite similar to Byrnes offensively, yet better defensively, but is a big headache if he's not starting. So perhaps we'll call that one even.

Witasick was having a good year in Colorado, but he's alternated between good and bad years in the past, so who knows if his good performance in 2005 will continue. On the other hand, Bradford is coming off the DL, so you don't really know what kind of performance you'll get from him, either. We'll call that one even, too.

The quality of the trades basically boils down to Omar Quintanilla for Joe Kennedy. We won't know how that works out for several years, but right now, I'd say it's a good gamble to take.

Quintanilla was a hot prospect last year, but hasn't shown much this year (.297/.347/.395 at AA Midland). It seems unlikely now that he'll ever be much more than a utility infielder in the majors. The drafting of Cliff Pennington in the first round this year probably made Quintanilla even more expendable.

Kennedy has had a horrible year in 2005, but he has certainly shown in the past that he is quite talented, (3.66 ERA in Colorado in 2004) and he's only 26 years old. Taking a gamble that he will regain his form by leaving the Living-Hell-For-Pitchers is a nice roll of the dice.

2005-07-13 19:41
by Ken Arneson

The first shoe dropped (Bradford for Payton) earlier today. Now the ESPN ticker reports that Preston Wilson has been sent to the Washington Nationals from Colorado for Zach Day plus a PTBNL or cash.

That leaves the Rockies with a hole in CF. Sounds like half a shoe to me. Perhaps those Eric Byrnes-for-Joe Kennedy rumors might be a reality pretty soon...

First Shoe Drops
2005-07-13 16:02
by Ken Arneson

The Bradford-for-Payton trade is now official.

Some other move is sure to follow, but there's no word yet. Internet speculation includes Joe Kennedy and Craig Wilson. If I were to make up a rumor, I'd send somebody to the Dodgers. We'll just have to wait and see...

Bob Welch For Cy Young!
2005-07-13 08:21
by Ken Arneson

Rich Lederer is trying to take Bob Welch's 1990 Cy Young award away from him and give it to Roger Clemens.

Over my dead body.

Welch's 27 wins was the most ever in the AL in the DH era. That alone should be enough for the Cy Young, in my book.

TangoTiger chimed in with saying that Welch should get some team award for most wins, because wins are a team stat. My reply:

Don't give me that "team award" nonsense. There is only one award for pitchers, and that's the Cy Young. So that's the award I'm giving Welch.

Both Boston and the A's were good teams in 1990. With a little luck, Clemens (or Stewart) might have won 27 instead of Welch. But he didn't have that luck, did he? At some point, you gotta reward what people *actually* do (win *actual* games), instead of what they might have done with better luck in some Monte Carlo simulation.

Clemens matched up against Dave Stewart *five times* in 1990 (twice in the playoffs), and lost all five, including the final game where he showed up wearing that stupid eyeblack and got himself thrown out of the game.

I saw all five of those games. If you want to impress me enough to give you a Cy Young with 21 wins when I have pitchers with 27 and 22 wins, you have to beat me every once in a while, and not go all psycho on me when it counts the most. My 1990 ballot goes: Welch, Stewart, Clemens, in that order.

No doubt Clemens had some great peripheral stats in 1990, and no doubt Clemens was the better pitcher over his career. I wouldn't even argue with you if you said he was the best pitcher ever. But 1990 was the year the A's kicked Clemens' ass from coast to coast, and there's no way I'm letting him get a 1990 Cy Young, if I have anything to say about it.

Kotsay Signs
2005-07-09 12:00
by Ken Arneson

Mark Kotsay agreed to a two-year extension today. He is signed through 2008, with a no-trade clause through 2006. He'll make about $7 million a year. To which I say: Ahh!

Having Kotsay out in center is so comforting. If a ball is hit in the air towards center, I don't even worry. If the ball is catchable, Kotsay will catch it. He's like the feeling you get after a long hard day of work, and then you finally put your head on that soft, cold pillow, and put the warm covers on. Complete relaxation and comfort. He's a security blanket.

So we know now that Kotsay won't be traded; if Jay Payton is indeed traded to Oakland, he'll likely be traded elsewhere right away. Dodgers? Cubs? Rockies? Yankees? Still waiting for this whole puzzle to fall into place...

2005-07-08 10:24
by Ken Arneson

I'm not going to get all worked up about the rumored Jay Payton-for-Chad Bradford trade until I hear the other shoe drop. This is not the first time these two have been involved in a trade rumor with each other; there was a similar rumor at the Winter Meetings when Payton was still with San Diego. That deal fell through, but we can guess that Beane indeed likes Payton. This is one trade rumor that does seem to have teeth, but it still doesn't seem that this is all that Beane has in mind.

Since Payton is a likely free agent at year's end (there's a team option), and since it's unlikely Bradford would have been around next year, either, on the surface this would be strictly a trade for 2005. Does this trade, on its own, improve the A's playoff chances?

Justin Duchscherer and Kiko Calero have a tight grasp on the A's RH set-up jobs, so Bradford would probably have been competing with Keiichi Yabu for playing time during mop-up duties, which would not have added much to the A's playoffs chances.

Jay Payton is essentially Eric Byrnes with better defense. But Byrnes isn't playing much, except against lefties, so just upgrading Byrnes doesn't help much. Would Payton replace Kielty or Swisher in the lineup? Unlikely; Payton's gone after this year; you'd still want to play the guys who are still going to be around next year.

The only thing that makes sense is if Payton pushes Kielty or Swisher to DH, and Hatteberg gets sent to the bench. That improves the A's offensive power and defensive range (at the likely expense of some OBP), yet doesn't kick any part of the A's future out of the lineup. Relegated to bench duty: Byrnes, Hatteberg, and Durazo (if/when he gets back from the DL), all of whom would be gone next year anyway, (as would Payton).

It would be an incremental improvement, but what's the point of that? The Angels are running away with the AL West, and there's a gazillion teams ahead of them for the wild card, including the Yankees and the Twins. Beane should be focusing on improving the team for the future, and if it also helps the present, too, that's a bonus.

Getting Payton gives Beane choices. He could flip Payton elsewhere, or keep him and trade Byrnes or Kotsay without appearing to give up on 2005. If they trade Kotsay, that might give them the money to exercise Payton's option, and he could play CF in 2006 while the A's wait for Javier Herrera to mature. Or whatever.

Payton-for-Bradford? Meh. Not bad, but not exciting. Payton-for-Bradford and then Byrnes/Hatteberg/Durazo/Kotsay for prospects--OK, wake me up when that happens.

2005-07-07 13:34
by Ken Arneson

Some short sentences. My flu bug has got me shrinking, so I'm a little weak. If I keep shrinking at my current July rate, you'll have to look for by blog entries in Minusland by September. Where's my Vita-Wonk?

There's no reason to remake Bad News Bears, but there is a reason to make another film based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, my favorite book as a kid. Simple reason: they didn't get it right the first time. The trailers don't give me much confidence they got it right this time, either, though: still too much focus on Wonka, which makes everything weird and creepy (typical of Tim Burton). But if you want to make the story magical, which is what I loved about it, you have to look at everything through the innocent eyes of Charlie Bucket. I'm sure I'll see the movie, and thanks to the trailers, I'm fully expecting to be disappointed.

I've probably watched more TV the last five days than the last five months put together. The A's weren't on TV the last two days, either, so that didn't help. That Twilight Zone marathon the other day was good stuff. It was more surreal than that Surreal Life marathon. I don't know why I kept watching that, but I was bored, I guess. I watched some of the new Battlestar Galactica series yesterday; it's better than the old one, I think. Saw a few episodes of Star Trek:DS9 that I had missed.

The A's faced the GoodTedLilly yesterday, and got shut out. It happens. They beat the BadTedLilly a month ago, so these things even out.

Here's hoping the Blue Jays face the Unhittable Rich Harden, and the A's can even out their record at .500 again.

Interview Rituals
2005-07-03 20:41
by Ken Arneson

There is much discussion around these parts, especially over at Will's place, about how sports teams are reluctant to give press access to Internet writers. Part of that, I'm sure, is the problem of pure volume: lots of people would like access, but there's only so much room.

I found an interesting entry by Mark Liberman on Language Log about Sports Interviews as Rituals, that sheds some more light on this issue:

...when I listen to recordings of journalistic interviews, I rarely get the impression that anyone is trying to learn anything new. The journalists already know what the stories are. Their questions are not designed to discover any new facts or ideas, but rather to get quotes that will fit in to designated places in the frameworks of logic and rhetoric that they have already erected.

As they say, read the whole thing. There are many interesting points. One of the most fascinating to me is that there is a implicit agreement between the interviewer and interviewee regarding the content of the interview and the context in which their quotes will be used. When that unspoken agreement is violated, people get angry.

Part of the problem with getting press access for bloggers is the fact that there are no established ground rules. Bloggers can write about whatever they want. They have a completely different set of incentives from newspaper writers. It's like letting a complete stranger into your house; if you have no idea if they'll behave the way you expect, you're not likely to let them in.

Eventually, established bloggers will get regular press access. But only after the product has been rendered predictable 99.9% of the time. Teams will let bloggers into the locker room the moment they understand exactly what will be coming out of it.

Is that remaining 0.1% worth the effort?

The Luckiest Inning
2005-07-03 17:31
by Ken Arneson

The A's got back to within one game of .500 by beating the White Sox 7-2 Sunday afternoon, victimizing Mark Buehrle with the luckiest inning the A's will get all year. Trailing 2-0, they did practically nothing right, but still scored four runs.

  • Eric Chavez led off the sixth with an infield single.
  • Bobby Kielty followed with a hard hit grounder that Pablo Ozuna had a chance to field for a double play, but the ball hit the second base umpire, and the A's had two runners on instead of two runners out.
  • Eric Byrnes was overanxious and tried to clobber a changeup, got way out in front and hit a weak grounder back to Buehrle. Buehrle had a shot at another double play, but he couldn't get a good grip, and threw the ball into center field. Chavez scored, Kielty went to third, and Byrnes ended up at second.
  • Nick Swisher hit a ground ball to the one infielder who could hold the runners and prevent a run, grounding out to third.
  • Keith Ginter hit a grounder back at Buehrle. It bounced off him between the mound and shortstop for another infield single. Kielty scored, Byrnes to third.
  • Mark Ellis tried to get clever and bunt in Byrnes from third, but he bunted the ball in the air to Konerko for out 2.
  • Jason Kendall grounded a single through a big hole between the first and second baseman, driving in Byrnes.
  • Mark Kotsay doubled just past Paul Konerko down the first base line, scoring Ginter.
  • Bobby Crosby struck out to end the inning.

Innings like this are lucky, but I'm not going to apologize for it. First of all, the White Sox make me sick (I had tickets for the game today, but didn't go), so I don't feel sorry for them at all.

Second, this was luck as the residue of design. The A's don't strike out much; they put the ball in play; lucky hits and double plays are natural outcomes for that kind of team. I've seen the A's hit into a lot of double plays, including three DP's this game. The A's were due for some lucky hits. So this inning felt good, like payback.

That Would Make A Lot Of Stew
2005-07-02 22:31
by Ken Arneson

Some fishermen in Thailand caught and ate a record-sized catfish.

The catfish may be the largest freshwater fish ever caught.

The White Sox Make Me Sick
2005-07-02 20:54
by Ken Arneson

I've finally gotten around to reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, a great book. How did Europeans conquer North America? With germs, more than with firepower.

Right now, I'm lying at home, suffering from some germs of my own. I feel like crap, and not just because the A's had their winning streak broken by Jon Garland and the White Sox.

I've had a fever twice this year, once during spring training in Tucson, and again this weekend. Both times I got sick, the White Sox were in town, playing the A's. Coincidence? I think not.

The White Sox were 53-25 going into tonight's game, but according to Baseball Prospectus' Adjusted Standings, they should have been 10 games worse, about 43-35. How are they defying the numbers?

Germs, I say! The White Sox are a carrier, like fleas, mosquitos and rats. And like European conquerors, they spread disease wherever they go, rendering their opponents in a weakened state, so that they can win despite their mediocre talent.

Damn parasites. Begone! I hate you.

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