Friday, October 17, 2014

Better Still Wasn't Good Enough

The Oakland Raiders played their best game of the season Sunday facing longtime division rival San Diego Chargers, but in the end the results were painfully familiar as the Chargers prevailed with a 31 - 28 victory to spoil the debut of Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano.

Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr threw for a season best 282 yards with 4 touchdowns and zero sacks, including a 77 yard scoring pass to Andre Holmes during the game’s first minute. Holmes would prove to be a valuable target for Carr throughout the game, finishing with 121 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. Darren McFadden gave a major contribution, leading the Raiders ground game with 80 rushing yards. 

A balanced Raiders offensive attack gave Oakland its first second-half lead, 21-14, since last Thanksgiving Day’s game versus the Dallas Cowboys. However the unrelenting Chargers kept pace behind quarterback Phillip Rivers, who threw for 313 yards with 3 touchdowns, and rookie running back Branden Oliver who turned in his second consecutive game of 100 plus yards on the ground. The Chargers eventually took the lead for good on a 1 yard touchdown run by Oliver with 1:56 left in the game. 

The Raiders effort to come back was ended when San Diego’s rookie cornerback Jason Verrett intercepted his first pass of the season on Derek Carr’s deep attempt to wide receiver Brice Butler with 1:13 left in the game and Oakland needing only 1 yard for a first down. 

Although the game ended with yet another loss for the Raiders and dropped them to 0-5, the team’s effort on the field was notably more improved than in their first four games. Yet, as Coach Sparano mentioned in his post game press conference there are no moral victories. 

The quest for the first win of the season for the Oakland Raiders continues this Sunday when they face the NFC west leading Arizona Cardinals.

Greg Bridges 10/12/14
photos by G1Rhythm for Reflections In Rhythm

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

For 8 weeks now there have been conversations going around in the NFL about domestic abuse cases. Football players getting arrested, some have been kicked out of  the National Football League.  The NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, got on national T V and said he is cleaning out his house and the league will not tolerate domestic abuse and some of it is rightfully so.  

Ray Rice KO his woman in the elevator of a hotel and try to drag her cold limp body out of the doors and it was all caught on tape, but in the case of Adrian Peterson, he has been suspended from all Vikings activities since his indictment on the accusation that he took a switch off a tree and spanked his four year old son with it.
When do we draw the line  from child abuse and discipline. This whole Peterson issue has extended  above the sports arena and everyone and their mother is talking about it.  Adrian Peterson told police he grabbed a tree branch, removed the leaves and whipped his son so many times he lost count -- and what it means not just for Adrian Peterson, but for us. Because some of our parents punished us with switches, belts or even using their hands, we were spanked and we spanked. How far is too far when we stop using our hands and start using objects such as a gun or an iron cord. Dose it mean,  if our child steals from a store we give them time out and  have a stern talk with them. Will that build character and give them a chance to take responsibility for their own actions, or would they remember that spanking every time they sit down for the next two weeks.
It's has been know in the African American communities that this  is the condition that we are use to  when it comes to disciplining our children. However there are African American leaders speaking out, saying it was wrong back then and its wrong now, that this  oes across all racial lines, ethnicity, religious backgrounds, and it has been passed on to us from slavery to handle difficult situations by whipping people, and we need to put an end to it.
Is  Ariana Peterson  wrong for hitting his 4 year old child with a stick, I may have to agree with it just a little.  The child is four years old and I know children's understanding of things in today's world is far greater than when we were growing up, but the child is four years old, it can be intimidating for a big human-being like Adrian standing over a 4 year old with a stick in his hands ready to chastise him. It probably looked like a tree to the kid and if Peterson is wrong than maybe the NFL is wrong as well  for trying to parent another human-being child. 
 Where is it written in NFL hand book that your employer has the right to get in your family  issues and raise your children the way they see fit. Adrian Peterson has his hands full from the death from his two year old son at the hands of his  ex-girlfriend's boyfriend and now this. Wow, this man can not catch a break. The question should be what is  the mother of the children doing about all of this. I think the best way to handle this situation is for Adrian Peterson to get some real help in dealing with his issues of the lost son two years ago and the disciplined action of his 4 year old child and  to make amends to get his life back on track.

 Good Luck Peterson

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Exhale. And Now, Oaktober?

They had to do it and they did. Despite all the recent frustration and ineptitude and heartache, and despite going an embarrassing 16-30 since August 10, Oakland's 4-0 win over the Texas Rangers clinched a postseason berth on the regular season's last day.

After 162 games, fifty-one series, eleven road trips, and eleven home stands over twenty-six grueling weeks, the A's today grabbed the American League's second and last wild-card spot. They face the Royals in Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday evening; the winner goes on to face the Angels in a best-of-five division series that begins on Thursday.

Sonny Gray bookended the season in impressive fashion. Back on opening day
doesn't March 31 seem like it belongs to another era? Gray threw six scoreless innings. On Sunday, he allowed just six hits en route to a complete-game shutout. That means at least two things: the A's can feel good about (finally) doing everything right in a decisive, lopsided win; and manager Bob Melvin can draw upon a rested bullpen in Kansas City.

And then there's the fear factor, or rather the absence of one, perhaps, beginning today. The A's no longer have to fear a humiliating collapse. All signs pointed toward a gigantic, unprecedented late-season swoon, but Melvin and his men gutted it out and persevered. The process was excruciating and often dispiriting, but that particular ordeal is over, and the A's are, and can proudly think of themselves as, a playoff team. Now the page turns and a new kind of season begins
albeit one that hinges on Tuesday's all-important showdown.

Further thoughts:

* Complain all you like about the one-game wild-card playoff, but the fact remains: if the pre-2012 wild-card system were still operative, Oakland's season would have ended today. (Back then, only one wild-card team from each league advanced to the postseason.)

* The A's won't have to square off against the Detroit Tigers, who have eliminated the A's from the postseason each of the past two seasons, until (potentially) the ALCS. That's got to be a welcome change. Time to let some other club – i.e., the Orioles
try to figure out that pitching staff.

* The flight from the Arlington area of Texas to Kansas City is only ninety minutes, and the two cities are in the same (Central) time zone. So the A's don't have to deal with a long flight or jet lag. Every little thing counts.

* Why does it always seem like AL clubs get less rest than their NL counterparts in the postseason? The NL wild-card game won't be held until Wednesday. Oakland's Josh Donaldson, for one, certainly could have used that extra day's rest.

* Jon Lester, the Athletics' glittering if controversial mid-season acquisition, starts on Tuesday. He'll have more of an impact on that game than Cespedes, if he were still around, would have. While I don't think a dominating performance by Lester will move fans who hated the trade to suddenly embrace it, it will no doubt quiet the naysayers.

* James Shields, the Royal's scheduled starter, is a right-hander. The A's have not fared well against left-handed pitching. Against Shields the A's can and will play their bevy of left-handed sluggers: Adam Dunn, Brandon Moss, Stephen Vogt, and the red-hot Josh Reddick.

Posted by C.S. Soong

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A's Struggles; Fuld's Approach

With today's loss to the Angels, Oakland has lost 14 of 22 games in September. Since August 10, the A's have gone 14-28; they've won a grand total of two series since August 28. So where's the turnaround we've all been expecting for the last month? Time is running short -- and fortunately, it's quite a bit shorter for the Seattle Mariners, who've lost five straight and have a lot of ground (three games) to make up in a mere four days.

Sam Fuld is an intriguing character; he's one of two Stanford alums (the other being Jed Lowry) and one of two Jewish players (Nate Freiman is the other) on the A's roster. And, oh yeah, he's a type 1 diabetic. While Fuld is hitting only .178 this month, he's driven in ten runs, and he's made a number of fine plays in the field. After Fuld spoke with me recently in the A's clubhouse, I put together this report (press the play button):

Posted by C.S. Soong

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Eye on Jason Hammel

Just returned from the Coliseum, where the Oakland A's were thumped, and swept, by the cellar-dwelling Texas Rangers. I tweeted extensively about the game (a 7-2 loss) here:

Feel free to peruse that page; I won't rehash(tag) my game-time observations here. Needless to say, the negatives far outweighed the positives. But there were, in fact, a couple positives: Sam Fuld smacked a double and a triple and drove in two runs; and Jason Hammel, who will miss his next start because he's reportedly leaving the team today to attend the birth of his second child, pitched three scoreless innings of relief.

Hammel, who Oakland acquired with Jeff Samardzija back on July 4, is an interesting story. In his first four games with the A's, Hammel's ERA was a surprising, and unsightly, 9.53. And then, as July turned into August, Hammel turned into the pitcher the A's thought they were getting. Over his next seven starts, his ERA was 2.81, and although he went 2-2 in those seven games, he pitched well enough to win five of them. My latest "Eye on the A's" report features Jason Hammel; just click the play button below:

Posted by C.S. Soong

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

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

Norris, Kazmir propel A's to fourth series sweep.

With the O.Co Coliseum awash in pink and white, the Oakland Athletics gave their fans plenty to cheer about in their 9-1 victory over the Washington Nationals yesterday, completing their fourth sweep of the year, most in the major leagues. Scott Kazmir turned in a dominant performance on the mound, pitching seven shutout innings and earning his fifth win in six decisions this year. Kazmir exited Sunday’s game with an ERA of 2.28, elevating him to fourth ranked in the AL.

Derek Norris was the offensive star of the day, crushing two nearly identical three-run home runs to left field in the first and second innings, in the first multi-home run game of his career. Norris, who maintains the highest batting average on the team at .385, was acquired by Oakland in the 2011 off-season trade with the Nats for Gio Gonzalez, who also started yesterday’s game. Norris spoke earlier in the week about his motivation to perform well against his former club.

"On my end, you want to show them what they're missing. Not in a drastic, blatant manner, but showing them this is what you could have had."

Photo: Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images

The Athletics also continued their Mother’s Day home game tradition of a pink-and-white soaked Breast Cancer Awareness event. The club raised $70,635 to benefit the American Cancer Society. The pre-game ceremony included 350 breast cancer survivors releasing white doves and pink balloons into the air amidst a mishmash of seventies you-go-girl themed disco tracks.

Oakland heads into their final series of this home stand against the Chicago White Sox tonight with a record of 23-15, the best team ERA in the American League (2.91), and a three game lead over the Angels in the AL West.

Posted by Emilia Ortega

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Are the A's One Team, or Two?

The Oakland Athletics are 19-12 after squeaking by the Boston Red Sox today at Fenway. That's really impressive, especially given that two pitchers in what the A's expected to be their starting rotation, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, are out for the year following Tommy John surgery. Scott Kazmir, acquired by Oakland in the off-season to replace Bartolo Colon, has exceeded expectations: the 30-year-old left-hander is 4-0 with an ERA of 2.11. And Jesse Chavez, who became a starter only when Parker went down, has been even better; he's given up more than one earned run in only one of his six starts.

And I haven't even mentioned the A's young phenom Sonny Gray (4-1, 1.91).

But what about the other two-fifths of the A's rotation? There the situation is different, so much so that the A's are arguably two clubs -- one when Gray, Kazmir, or Chavez takes the hill, and a very different one when Tommy Milone or Dan Straily draws the start.

In games in which one of what might called the current Big Three takes the mound, the A's are an eye-popping 17-2. They're world-beaters. But in contests started by Straily or Milone, the team has gone a dismal 2-9. That's not so surprising; each pitcher has struggled with his command, and each has an ERA over 5. And while it's true that Milone hasn't gotten a lot of run support, the fact remains that the A's are winless in Milone's five starts.

So what we've got are three hurlers who are lights out and two who are scuffling. The drop-off in performance is dramatic. Will that situation change? Will Milone or Straily find his groove? Will the Athletics eventually demote one or both of them, and should GM Billy Beane pull off a trade for a proven starting pitcher? Questions to ponder as the season continues.

Posted by C.S. Soong

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rare Occurrence: A's Swept at Home

Getting swept is never fun, especially when it's at home at the hands of a divisional rival. The Oakland Athletics fell 3-0 to Texas on Wednesday, as Rangers pitcher Martin Perez extended his scoreless-innings streak to 26. Perez struck out only three, but getting fourteen A's batters to ground out was the key to his economical 109-pitch, complete-game effort.

If there's good news, it's that Sonny Gray's solid outing – he gave up three runs over seven innings -- marks the 20th time in 21 games that an A's starter has allowed three earned runs or fewer. And Drew Pomeranz, acquired in the deal that sent the oft-injured Brett Anderson to the Colorado Rockies, pitched a scoreless eighth to lower his ERA to 1.93. (By the way, a change of scenery hasn't helped Anderson, at least thus far: he had surgery last Thursday on his fractured left index finger and is expected to be out four to six weeks.)

Other tidbits:

* The A's hadn't been swept in a home series since September 3-5, 2012 (against the Angels).

* The team needs one more win (out of their next seven) to clinch their 11th consecutive winning month, dating back to June 2012.

* The A's, who committed one error on Wednesday, are now 10-4 when making one or more errors, compared with 3-4 when going errorless.

Posted by C.S. Soong

Friday, April 18, 2014

Game 1: Sharks Vs. Kings (and Thursday Night Re-cap)

Thursday night showcased some exciting Western Conference playoff hockey. Both the Blues/Blackhawks and Wild/Avalanche games went into overtime, with St. Louis and Colorado each finding a way to win. St. Louis ended the season on a losing streak and has been decimated by injuries but persevered in the first game against defending champion Chicago. The Blues seemed noticeably sluggish compared with the speedier Hawks. It’s hard not to pick Chicago but St. Louis could surprise. Goaltending might be the difference-maker in that series, especially if Ryan Miller regains his playoff form. Toews also seemed shaken in Game 1 and, if he’s injured, that could tilt the series in St. Louis’ favor. Jumping from worst to 2nd in the conference, the Avalanche are the Cinderella story of the NHL this season. With a promising, young forward corps, they are definitely a team on the rise. But are they gritty enough to be a sleeper? It’s likely they could defeat the Wild, who I don’t think are built for a long run. Minnesota’s goaltending is also questionable and squandered a 4-2 lead last night.

Of interest to Bay Area sports fans will be the first-round match-up between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Sharks PR has adopted “Beat LA” as mantra for the best of seven series, with the fans at the SAP Center chanting it throughout Game 1. The Kings are division rivals and frequent playoff foes, with the Kings last defeating San Jose in a second-round Game 7 last year. Rookie phenom Tomas Hertl -- whose hazy command of English has been playfully commented on by fans and media -- quickly made a difference, scoring in his third game back from knee surgery. Hertl has admitted he has a personal stake in the series, as an illegal hit by Kings captain Dustin Brown caused him to miss most of what could have been a Calder-worthy rookie season. In only 35 games, he tallied 15 goals and 10 assists. The Sharks will benefit from the return of sniper Hertl and the physical Rafi Torres (who also scored in his return). It remains to be seen if talented but injury-prone Marty Havlat will play in the series.

The Sharks immediately started the game with a lot of physicality and speed. While the Kings are known for a bruising defense, the Sharks were able to make great outlet passes and had a lot of odd-man rushes in the first period. They quickly jumped to a 3-0 lead, adding two more goals in the second. San Jose played a complete game for forty minutes, though slipped in the third, allowing three goals. Overall, it was a great effort, with contributions from many players. Letting the momentum swing to LA’s favor in the third wasn’t ideal and you have to expect the Kings to come out strong next game. San Jose needs to keep up with the hitting. Quick seemed rattled early on and was eventually chased from the crease. The Sharks need to continue to go hard to the net. I’ve seen many players fear Quick’s athleticism and hesitate, trying to get the perfect shot out. Quick often intimidates shooters, coming way out of the net to challenge players (especially on odd-man rushes). The Sharks didn’t falter mentally nor did they let the Kings dictate the flow (even if the Kings did control possession from time to time) and need to ride that confidence into Game 2.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Profile: Former NCAA Hockey Player Richard Lord

Richard Lord, courtesy of The Globe and Mail
Hey all.  It's been months since I posted.  Apologies all around.  I do plan on posting regularly on the Sharks' playoff run (which is fast approaching).

Through an piece in the Canadian Globe and Mail, I recently learned of the playing career of the late Richard Lord.  While he was known in his hometown of Montreal as a successful engineer and notable figure within the Quebec Liberal Party, Lord also had the distinction of being one of the first Black collegiate hockey players.  He first enrolled in Michigan State in 1949, majoring in chemical engineering.

The son of Caribbean immigrants, Lord was known for his tremendous work ethic and his way with people.  As a youth, he excelled at hockey.  He also noticed that kids from Saint-Henri didn't have access to the game quite like kids from wealthier neighborhoods.  In response, as a teenager, he formed the Tornadoes Boys Club, which formed hockey as well as baseball teams.  Edward Kalil, one of the young men who participated in Tornadoes, mentioned Lord's desire to mentor and share knowledge with others.

Michigan State, today a collegiate hockey powerhouse (producing many NHL players), had been disbanded in 1930 because of the Great Depression.  The suspension continued throughout World War II.  The club was reinstated in 1949 and recruited Lord through a scholarship. 

Lord's time with the club, as well as his treatment at Michigan State, were not without controversy. 

While Lord claims he got along with his white roommate (a fellow Canadian), interracial housing was seen as taboo at the time.  They parted ways after only a month rooming together.  Housing would also prove difficult during road trips to face visiting teams, particularly in Denver.   Despite such obstacles, Lord was second on the Spartans in scoring in his first year on the varsity squad, winning over teammates who felt a Black player shouldn't be on the team.  Lord also mentioned the fact that he received the highest number of penalties during his time at Michigan State.  He was quoted as saying: "I got quite a few penalties because everyone was going after me. I didn't retaliate; I just gave the guy a good bodycheck, and the whistle would go."

As a student, the Montreal native also faced discrimination from a professor.  He told the incident to an acquaintance, who happened to be the wife of a Engineering faculty member.  Lord was advised to drop the class and it seems the professor was dismissed by the next academic year.

After graduating, Lord eventually found work City of Montreal's public works department and flourished in a successful career in government.

Of his time at Michigan State, Lord said: "Paulson led the way, and I guess I was a proper candidate, unknown to them. They didn't know I was an organizer of all things. I came down and I didn't let people calling me names provoke me or go out of my mind."

Written by Toni


The Globe and Mail


Sunday, April 6, 2014

A's Take Series Finale

On Sunday the Oakland Athletics came back from an early three-run deficit to defeat the visiting Seattle Mariners 6-3. A's starter Sonny Gray looked shaky in the early going; his pitch count after just two innings stood at 47. But after Brandon Moss belted a three-run homer in the third inning, Gray and a trio of relievers allowed only three Mariner hits the rest of the way. Josh Donaldson singled in what turned out to be the winning run in the fifth inning, and Yoenis Cespedes capped the scoring with a home run to right-center in the eighth. Two of the three runs given up by Gray in his six innings of work were unearned. Other notes:

* Sam Fuld, who started in right field in place of the slow-out-of-the-blocks Josh Reddick, continues to impress. He threw out (almost Reddick-like) Abraham Almonte trying to go from first to third on Brad Miller's single to right. Fuld also made a nice diving grab to deprive Logan Morrison of a hit. In the post-game press conference, A's manager Bob Melvin, citing Fuld's versatility in the field -- he's already played all three outfield positions in this, the first week of the season -- called the Stanford product “a unique talent.”

* Moss's homer turned a 3-0 deficit into a 3-3 tie. That's the beauty of baseball: one swing of the bat can completely change the character of a game. And Sonny Gray looked like a different pitcher after Moss's blast; he set down nine of the next ten batters. Was it the psychological lift provided by the first run support the young hurler's gotten this season, or did he make mechanical adjustments?

* Melvin lost a replay challenge in the fourth inning. Sam Fuld rounded first and was tagged as he slid back to the bag. (He was called out.) Teams are now allowed to show challenged plays on the in-stadium Jumbotron; this particular replay convinced many at the Coliseum that Fuld was safe. Lusty booing greeted the decision to uphold the ump's ruling. Which is to say, the new replay rule did little, in this case, to clear things up in the minds of fans . . . .

Posted by C.S. Soong