I'm in San Diego for spring break. Which means I'm going to miss watching tonight's home opener against the White Sox. Even worse, it means I'm going to miss watching a Rich Harden start. I hate missing a Rich Harden start. You never know how many you're going to get, so you need to enjoy them while you can.
The Mariners, Indians and Angels are probably wondering why the schedule makers hate them. And then there's the White Sox. They faced Johan Santana yesterday, and get Harden tonight. Chad Gaudin is probably going to get clobbered tomorrow night, just because to Jermaine Dye & Co., Gaudin will probably look like a slo-pitch softball pitcher in comparison.
I will take credit for the A's victory yesterday. I actually drove through Anaheim yesterday afternoon, and had considered stopping to go to the game, but decided against it. The A's are 0-974 when I watch them play the Angels in person (my streak dates back to my very first ballgame in 1974), and the A's really needed that win on Sunday. However, if you're going to take credit, you need to take blame, as well. So when the Angels beat the A's in Oakland next Tuesday, that will be my fault entirely.
Better than expected so far:
There hasn't been a single game yet where you could say the starting pitcher pitched poorly. Only Joe Blanton's start in Seattle was even questionable. We kind of expect that sort of thing from Rich Harden and Dan Haren, but Blanton, Gaudin and Joe Kennedy all pitched great.
He's hitting .393/.433/.607 right now. There was some question whether he could adjust to the AL after being in the NL his whole career, but the dude knows what he's doing at the plate. He'll get fooled and look awful in his first AB sometimes by a pitcher he hasn't seen, but he does seem to get fooled twice. It's been quite fun to watch.
The Rule 5 pick looks like he's been pitching in the majors for a dozen years. Three innings with nary a baserunner.
Jason Kendall's arm.
He nailed multiple Angels trying to steal this weekend, including the final out on Thursday, with perfect throws right on the bag. Seems like yesterday when every single throw he made down to second bounced on the infield grass.
Worse than expected so far:
Kiko Calero and Jay Witasick.
OK, I don't really know why I would expect anything from Jay Witasick except total suckitude, but for some reason, I was feeling a bit optimistic about him this spring. I thought he might be a good arm to have as the last man in the pen. How silly of me. There are at least three pitchers in Sacramento who should take his job.
As for Calero, two of the four losses so far are stamped on his resume. But we can subtract one of those for his performance yesterday against the top of the Angels order. I think we can count his little slump as just one of those things. He'll be fine.
Luck With RISP.
One of my big pet peeves with recent A's teams is their inability to put the ball in play with a runner on third and less than two outs. This year, they're actually doing a pretty good job of it, but they've had no luck whatsoever. Three times already they've been in that situation, took a great approach, got a pitch to make contact with and hit the ball hard, but right at a drawn-in infielder.
Crosby was really bad last year, and so far this year, he's been even worse. On the field, three errors in five games, two of which led to the winning run scoring in a close ballgame. At the plate, he's just hopelessly lost. The only ball he's hit hard all year was a big hanging curveball. The rest: strikeouts and weak grounders. He's hitting .200/.250/.200. Marco Scutaro hasn't been much better, with two errors in four games, and a .100/.182/.100 line at the plate.
Well, not so much at the plate, where he's been taking his walks, with a .333/.533/.381 rate. But on the field and on the bases, he looks like he's thinking about a million other things besides the job at hand. Several of those shortstop errors were throws that Swisher should have been able to scoop. Perhaps you can blame the fact that he needs to prepare for four different positions on the field (1B and all three OF positions) for his mental mistakes, but I'm not buying it. And that doesn't explain the baserunning gaffe, below.
The Anatomy of a Busted Play
Saturday night, the A's were down 2-1 to the Angels, had runners on first and second and no one out in the seventh inning, facing John Lackey. Then they proceeded to blow their opportunity by having five different people make awful mistakes on the very same play:
In the opener, the A's had a similar situation in a tie game in the sixth, facing Felix Hernandez. Geren had Mark Ellis bunt Travis Buck to third, with Jason Kendall on deck. A reader thought that this was a bad decision by Geren, but I disagreed. Hernandez was throwing filthy, unhittable, Hall-of-Fame caliber stuff that day, Dan Haren was on, and one run could very well win that game.
However, this situation was different. Lackey was pitching well, but was not only not unhittable, but starting to look like he was running out of gas. The game was not tied: the A's were trailing, needing to score at least twice to win. Ellis had already singled twice off Lackey, so he obviously was seeing the ball well against him. And the on-deck hitter was not Jason Kendall, who has a long history of rarely striking out, but rookie Travis Buck, who had struck out in his previous at-bat against Lackey, and in about half his plate appearances so far in his major league career.
Context is everything. It was the wrong decision.
Called on to bunt, Mark Ellis got a quite buntable fastball, and simply missed it. A pure failure to execute, and probably the most forgivable mistake of the five.
You know the old saying, when you assume...Chavez assumed Ellis would make contact, and when he didn't, Chavez was found wandering halfway between second and third base, and got caught in a rundown.
The Big Guy Upstairs.
During Chavez' rundown, one of the throws actually hit Chavez in the helmet. Normally when a ball hits you in the helmet, it deflects in some random direction: down, usually, or off to one side or another. This ball, instead, deflected straight to an Angels fielder, just like those hard-hit balls with the infield in. The A's can't even get lucky when they get lucky, making you think that the Big Guy Upstairs was adding to the A's misfortunes on this day. Almost at second base, Chavez had to turn around and start running back towards third base, where he was finally tagged out.
Swisher was on first base, and when Chavez was finally tagged out at third, Swisher was still on first base. Why didn't he run to second base during that whole mess, so that the A's would still have at least one runner in scoring position when the FUBARed play was over? I dunno. Maybe Swisher was just enjoying the entertainment or something. Tra-la-la, it's a nice day for picking daisies. Or perhaps he was suffering from a concussion when Lackey drilled him with a 0-2 pitch in the middle of the back, so his brain wasn't working right. Who knows where his mind was? Making matters worse, Travis Buck followed Ellis' at-bat with a single that would have scored Swisher with the tying run.
And then, when the Angels escaped the inning unscathed, Lackey walked off the field with one of the ugliest, most uncoordinated, unrhythmic celebration dances possible. Pure salt in the wound. I thought Jason Kendall's fight with Lackey last year was completely unjustified, but I wouldn't have begrudged him for punching Lackey out for whatever-that-thing-was. No human being should ever be subject to such a wretched sight.