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