Sunday, September 14, 2014

Something To Build On

The A's are on a roll.

True, it's not much of one, but the last time the A's won two games in a row was on August 22-23, so you take what you can get, and try to build on it. It's interesting what back-to-back wins can do: in Oakland's case, they're now a respectable 3-3 in their last six contests.

Now a mere thirteen games remain; nine are at home and ten are against last-place clubs (Texas and the Phillies). And so, despite a 12-17 August – didn't it seem much worse and more tortuous than that? – and a September that, until this series up at Safeco, gestured toward the consummation of a monumental second-half collapse, the A's are well-positioned to make the playoffs.

It is, of course, a tremendous comedown, from boasting the majors' best win-loss record for 58 straight days (June 18 to August 15) to trailing the Angels by ten games and having to scratch and claw to qualify for the one-and-done wild-card playoff. Most irksome of all, to this observer, was Oakland's habit of losing one-run decisions, eight of nine to be exact before the A's prevailed 3-2 yesterday in ten innings. (I had a strong feeling the A's would win that game. It was time, I reckoned, that the baseball gods would apprehend the patent injustice of having the A's on the short end of so freakin' many close games.)

Brandon Moss hit a ball into the right-field stands in the seventh inning of today's game. It was his first homer in forty games. Through July 24, Moss was on pace to hit 37 homers; since July 20, his two dingers work out to a rate of 6.3 over 162 games. And yet Moss's slugging percentage (.444) was second-best among the nine Athletics who started (and finished) today's game. Weird, no? It attests to what's been obvious: the lack of power up and down the A's lineup since, well, since Beane dealt Cespedes.

Posted by C.S. Soong

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Two Dingers Are Better Than One

What's new? Certainly not Felix Hernandez pitching Seattle to a victory over the Oakland A's. The 28-year-old Venezuelan is dinero at the Coliseum: the last time he took a losing decision in Oakland was and I find this both astonishing and deeply disturbing – September 19, 2008. Forget Lester and Samardzija; if the A's can somehow lure King Felix away from the Mariners, they could apparently cakewalk their way to a title. And, oh yeah, the A's lost today's game 2-1.

Much of the proceedings can be boiled down to a three-minute, three-pitch sequence in the seventh inning. With the up-till-then brilliant Jon Lester on the mound, the sequence went as follows: home run to right (by Kyle Seager); strike (to Corey Hart); home run to left (by Hart). A one-run deficit was thereby turned into a 2-1 lead, which held. Three minutes can ruin your entire day – or at least sully a key three-game September series.

The pitch to Hart didn't look bad; it was low and away. After the game, A's catcher Derek Norris said, “I think [Hart] just kind of guessed, because he hadn't really looked good all day long, and he just swung at a spot and made contact." Adam Dunn made good contact in the fourth, launching his second round-tripper in three days, his first three days with the Athletics.

Jed Lowrie, in his third game back from a stint on the DL with a fractured finger, went one for three with an error. I recently spoke with the A's shortstop and prepared this report:

Posted by C.S. Soong

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Notes on a Key Series, and a Report about John Jaso

The Garrett Richards-less Los Angeles Angels invade Oakland this weekend for a crucial three-game tilt against the A's. Now, Richards wasn't scheduled to start any of these contests, but one wonders how the Halos will respond to the loss of their indisputable ace. (Richards's ERA of 2.61 is almost a full run lower than that of the Angels' next best starter, Hector Santiago.)

Does Richards's loss – he'll reportedly be out of commission for six to nine months – put pressure on the Angel hitters to compensate? In other words, given what was (and is still being) said about how Donaldson and Moss need to step it up in Cespedes's absence, is the shoe now on the other foot? And forget the added pressure on the Angels' lineup: Could they, could anyone, swing the bat better than Trout and Co. have done recently?

The answer is, actually, yes. In August, Trout is hitting only .219 (which surprises me, because it seems like every time I check the Angels' box score, Trout has powered one out in the late innings of a tight game) and Josh Hamilton has barely breached Mendoza (.203). So, although it scares me to say it, there's definitely room for improvement.

As there is, of course, for the Athletics. In the nineteen games since Cespedes's departure, Brandon Moss's batting average and slugging percentage are .176 and .216. Donaldson has done much better; he's hit .277 with a solid .815 OPS, but he's launched just two homers, and half of his RBI total (of eight) came on a single night in Kansas City. Of course, they can't do it alone, and in this regard Oakland's terrific, versatile trio of catchers Jaso, Norris and Vogt can and do need to make big contributions down the stretch. John Jaso shared some of his thoughts about hitting with me, and this “Eye on the A's” report was the result:

Posted by C.S. Soong

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Eye on the A's" Report re Dan Otero

The A's bullpen recently set an Oakland record of 29 2/3 consecutive innings of scoreless relief. C.S. Soong spoke recently with relief pitcher Dan Otero, and produced this report:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Eye on the A's" Report re Eric O'Flaherty

C.S. Soong spoke recently with relief pitcher Eric O'Flaherty in the Oakland A's clubhouse, and prepared this report: 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Easy Pickings

The Oakland A's thumped the Houston Astros yesterday, giving starter Jeff Samardzija something he rarely got from his Cub teammates earlier this season: gobs of run support. And yes, Samardzija sparkled over eight innings in the 13-1 victory, but one shouldn't conclude too much from that: of the four Astro hitters slotted second through fifth in the lineup, none entered the contest with a batting average over .212. (I'm not sure I've ever seen those kinds of numbers slotted that high up in a big-league batting order before. My guess is that Sonny Gray would have gladly pitched on three days' rest for the opportunity to pad his statistics against the punchless 'Stros.)

Six games have now been started by either Samardzija or Jason Hammel, both acquired by Oakland on July 4, and in those contests the A's are 3-3. Sure, it is, as they say, a small sample size, but I imagine the A's, and their fans, were hoping for better. Plenty of season left to see how it all unfolds.

The decisive blow in yesterday's game was delivered by Brandon Moss, who cranked his third career grand slam in the sixth inning. Now, remember when the A's started Daric Barton instead of Moss against left-handed pitching? The assumption was that Moss, a left-handed stick, could hit righties but not lefties. But Barton is, of course, long gone, and Moss is now an everyday starter (as he should be, and as he should have been long before), and it's instructive to look at Moss's current-season splits against righties and lefties. You might expect Moss's numbers to be much better against right-handed pitching, but you'd be wrong. Moss's batting average and on-base percentage against righties are .262/.344. Against southpaws, his numbers are better: .284/.360. Pretty eye-opening. Thank goodness the days of platooning Brandon Moss are over.

Posted by C.S. Soong

Friday, July 11, 2014

Straight A's Thus Far

Six weeks ago A's manager Bob Melvin told me he doesn't like four-game series. They're difficult to win, he said, and the fourth game usually takes the place of an off day. But after sweeping a four-game set against Toronto and taking three of four from the Giants, Melvin and the rest of the high-flying A's have little to complain about. Oakland's record now stands at 58-34, which means that for 23 consecutive days, the A's have had the best record in the major leagues.

If you find that impressive, check out these facts and figures (most of them compiled by the A's public relations staff):

* Oakland has outscored the opposition by 147 runs; the next two closest teams are the Angels (80) and the Nationals (56).

* The A's have posted a winning record in thirteen consecutive months. That equals the longest such streak in Oakland history (Sept. 1970 to Sept. 1972). The last time the A's had a losing record in a month was May 2012.

* The A's have owned the best record in the American League every day since May 31.

* The A's have gone eleven consecutive road series with a .500 or better record. The last time they lost more games than they won in a road series was over a year ago, when they went 2-5 (against Texas and Seattle) from June 17 to 23, 2013.

* Over the last eight games, A's starters are a combined 6-1 with an ERA of 1.04.

* Oakland's outfielders have 25 assists, which equals the A's total from all of last year.

* Since the beginning of the 2012 season, the A's have compiled the best regular-season record in the majors (248-168). The next best record belongs to Atlanta (240-176).

Posted by C.S. Soong