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

Friday, July 4, 2014

Don't Trust the Ump?

Should a baseball player always trust a call made by an umpire? Well, you would think that, at the very least, he shouldn't be penalized for doing so. But that's exactly what happened in Thursday night's game between Oakland and Toronto.

In the second inning, with a Blue Jay on every base, Anthony Gose hit a grounder to A's first baseman Nate Freiman. Freiman made an effort to tag Munenori Kawasaki, who was on his way to second, and then threw to catcher Stephen Vogt, who stepped on home plate without tagging Edwin Encarnacion racing home from third base.

First-base umpire Vic Carapazza ruled Kawasaki safe – he didn't see Freiman apply the tag – and Vogt, apparently seeing Carapazza's safe sign, believed that all he had to do was touch the plate to record the out at home.

Vogt logically trusted Carapazza's call. But Toronto manager John Gibbons challenged the call, and won. Which meant that while Kawasaki was called out, Encarnacion was declared safe at home plate; once Kawasaki was tagged, the force play was no longer in effect and Vogt needed to tag Encarnacion to record the out.

What all of this means is that Vogt should not, in this instance, have trusted the ump's call. He was, in a sense, penalized for doing so, and so were the A's. Is this unfair? Certainly A's manager Bob Melvin thought so, and the A's played the rest of the game under protest. (Which turned out to be moot, since the A's prevailed 4-1).

If there's a lesson to be learned, it's apparently this: Play as if the ump might be mistaken. Assume as little as reasonably possible. In this instance, tag the runner at home plate even if it seems unnecessary.

Now, all of that is much easier said than done. Players have reflexes rooted in a common-sense understanding of how baseball is played. But a new era has begun. In this brave new world of replays and challenges, a little distrust may in fact go a long way.

Posted by C.S. Soong

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Home Attendance Matters

After Sunday's 11-1 win in Baltimore, the Oakland Athletics' road record stands at 22-12, best in the majors and significantly better than the club's home record of 17-12. Now, 17-12 is nothing to sneeze at -- only two teams have fewer home losses than the A's -- but given what's been said, by A's manager Bob Melvin and by some of his players, about how much the club values and feeds off of large home crowds, I decided to go back and see how the A's have fared when they've drawn robust numbers at home.

The official carrying capacity of the Coliseum is listed at 35,067. I decided to define a “large home crowd” as one that fills at least two-thirds of the stadium. (That's in a sense an arbitrary figure, but I think not an unreasonable one.) Two-thirds of 35,067 is 23,378. So how have the A's performed in home games with an official attendance figure of 23,378 or more?

The numbers are eye-opening. Ten of the 29 A's home games to date have drawn more than 23,378, and Oakland's record in those ten games is a glittering 8-2. That is to say, they've got an .800 winning percentage in front of large home crowds (which far exceeds their overall .619 winning percentage to date). Equally striking is the A's home record when attendance drops below 23,378; in those contests, the A's are a lackluster 9-10. To repeat: the A's are 8-2 when they draw large home crowds and 9-10 when they don't.

There are, of course, many ways to slice and dice a club's performance. But the crowd-size factor cited here indicates that less-than-robust home attendance just might be the weak link in the A's season to date. And it makes one wonder: How good, how much better, could the A's be if they consistently packed the Coliseum?

Posted by C.S. Soong

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Oakland Raiders Welcome Rookies and Un-drafted Free Agents

                        Oakland Raiders Welcome Rookies and Un-drafted Free Agents

Although no games have been played yet the 2014 - 2015 football season is definitely under way. Now that the draft is done fans are anxiously awaiting to see if their team made the pick that will put them over the top and/or bring them back to respectability.

Today marked the beginning of mimi-camp for the Oakland Raiders rookies and un-drafted free agents. After several years of disappointing draft picks it looks like this year the Raiders have drafted wisely and found players who can make immediate and positive contributions, like linebacker Khalil Mack, the Raiders’ 1st round pick, selected at number 5 overall. They’ve also prepared for the future with the 2nd round selection of quarterback Derek Carr, who many believe could develop into one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL. Head Coach Dennis Allen spoke about Carr saying, “Derek Carr was a guy we thought very highly of going into the draft. We thought he’s a first round talent as a quarterback. You never really know exactly how things are going to work out, but it worked out in our favor.” 

Another draft pick of note is offensive lineman Gabe Jackson, a 3rd round pick who could step in and provide immediate help. After the first day of mini camp Coach Allen noted “Gabe Jackson, I thought, did a nice job inside.”

Another name garnering a bit of attention at the rookie mini camp is George Atkinson III, the un-drafted running back from Notre Dame who is also the son of Raider legend George Atkinson. When asked about the running back, Coach Allen remarked “He’s a talented athlete, he’s got a lot of speed, and he has the ability to help us on special teams also. I think any time you have a chance to get a legacy, somebody who has Raider bloodlines... those guys understand what it means to be a Raider. We were pleased that we were able to bring him in here.”

The first day of practice didn’t reveal much, but Coach Allen was pleased overall, stating “...first day of practice I was impressed with the way the guys came out here to work. We’ve still got a couple of more days to work and we’re looking forward to it. I’m excited about the acquisitions that we made in the off season.”  “We’ll go back, we’ll look at the tape. We’ll evaluate it. We’re not making any quick decisions here; this is an evaluation process. We feel good about the guys we’ve acquired We feel like they’re gonna be able to come in and help us this year” 

---- Greg Bridges

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A's Dominate Tigers with Long Balls and Tommy Milone

After a streaky road trip, the Athletics returned to Oakland on Sunday, having dropped four games straight, the most consecutive losses for the team this season. Set amongst the backdrop of AstroTurf woes and a tough travel schedule, the A’s came home to face the Detroit Tigers, the very same team that knocked them out of the ALDS in 2012 and 2013.

A sell-out crowd was there to meet the green and gold as they took the field on Memorial Day, after a memorable rendition of the National Anthem performed on violin by Dr. Peter Wilson. Tommy Milone dealt 6 2/3 sparkling shut out innings, earning his third win of the year. Milone was backed up in style by the A’s offense which went yard twice in the second (Moss, Blanks) twice in the fourth (Donaldson, Cespedes) and capped off the day’s scoring with a grand slam in the eighth (Norris). When all was said and done, the A’s routed the Tigers by a final score of 10-0.

The Athletics have three more games in the set against Detroit. While they won’t see formidable ace Justin Verlander in this series, there are still great pitching matchups to look forward to – Gray vs. Scherzer, Kazmir vs. Sanchez. Following the Tigers series the A’s will be hosting division rivals, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who currently trail Oakland by two and a half games in the AL West.

Posted by Emilia Ortega

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Well, The Prospects Looked Good . . .

Baseball fans are often heard to say that this or that matchup “looks good on paper” -- which means, commonly, that one team's superior record (or starting lineup or game-day pitcher) suggests that it will likely defeat an opponent. That's what I feel (sadly) every time the A's face the Mariners' Felix Hernandez: on paper, Seattle has a great chance of prevailing.

But, as another sports cliche goes, “that's why they play the game.” Because what happens in reality, what transpires on the field, often doesn't go according to expectations, let alone well-informed predictions. And of course that's part of what makes baseball, or really any sport, so interesting.

Take the Oakland Athletics. Last Wednesday A's fans had every right to be giddy. The Athletics had just won their eleventh game in twelve contests, and the immediate future looked bright: the club's three best starters were scheduled to pitch the next three games. Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Jesse Chavez had a combined win-loss record of 14-3, and the A's had gone a freakish 23-4 in games they pitched.

So on paper things looked good – nay, great – for the A's. And then:

Wham. On Thursday Gray goes eight strong but the Tampa Bay Rays walk off with a win in the 11th.

Bam. The A's score just two runs on Friday in support of Kazmir, while the Blue Jays plate three.

Ouch. Jesse Chavez leaves Saturday's game after just five and a third innings and the A's go on to lose 5-2 to Toronto.

So much for “on paper.” The A's have come crashing down to earth. (They lost their fourth straight game today.) Reality trumps and transcends all number-crunching prognostications. Thinking ahead, while it may be tempting, is a dangerous sport.

Posted by C.S. Soong