A group weblog for Oakland A's fans

Saturday, May 29, 2004


Barry Zito spun an absolute gem of a game against the Indians today, tossing 8 scoreless frames and allowing only 3 hits. But the A's could not get him any run support, as they stranded 14 baserunners against Cliff Lee and a bunch of relievers mired in a historically awful bullpen season. Zito pitched his way out of huge jams in both the 7th and 8th innings, only to watch the A's hitters repeatedly fail to come through in the clutch. And then the bottom of the ninth comes along and Jim Mecir goes out to the mound.

Why Mecir? Why? I know that managers like to save their closers for save situations when on the road, so that's why Rhodes wasn't in... but come on, Mecir is the WORST pitcher in the A's bullpen. The worst. Why was he there? Why not Justin Duchscherer? Why not Chad Bradford? Rincon? Hammond? Anyway, to make a long story ... well, it's already long ... Mecir gave up a walkoff homer to the first and only batter he faced, Casey Blake. A's lose, 1-0.

Oh well. Let's hope the team bounces back and takes the next two at the Jake. Tomorrow night, Rich Harden goes against minor leaguer Joe Dawley, who will be called up to start in place of Chad Durbin (who is being sent down to Buffalo). Sunday features Tim Hudson against Jason Davis. I like our chances, but then of course I always think the pitching matchup favors the A's. :)

In other news, Pittsburgh super-utility man Rob Mackowiak had himself a pretty sweet day. At 11 am his first child was born, a healthy baby boy. During the 5 pm game he hit a walk-off grand slam off Joe Borowski in the bottom of the 9th to beat the Cubs. And in the nightcap, he hit a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the 9th off LaTroy Hawkins, and the Pirates went on to win in 10. Hats off to Mackowiak. I don't ordinarily report NL news, but I thought this was pretty cool. (Especially since Mackowiak spent exactly one day on the roster of my roto team... and yes, it was today.)

Friday, May 28, 2004

A strange series

Well, the two best pitching staffs in the AL faced off for three days at Fenway Park ... and managed to give up 75 hits and 46 runs. Bizarre. It was nice for the A's to salvage the finale after getting beaten up in the first two games, but I'm never that thrilled about dropping two out of three, and it's downright spooky that Hudson, Redman and Mulder all had extremely shaky starts (Mulder didn't get lit up, but the Mark Mulder I have come to know and love doesn't walk 7 guys in 5.1 innings). But at least the offense is showing signs of life, most notably a 15-run outburst at the expense of Bronson Arroyo and a couple of fungible middle relievers.

On to Cleveland for a weekend series, and despite dropping 2 of 3, the A's actually gained on Anaheim, who were swept by the Blue Jays (thank you, JP!). Speaking of Cleveland, the A's traded AAA reliever Lou Pote to the Indians on Tuesday for cash considerations. The Tribe promptly sent Scott Stewart to the minors and inserted Pote into one of the many gaping wounds in their bullpen. Pote had several good years with the Angels and was pitching pretty decently at Sacramento; it's unclear why he hasn't been in the majors for a while.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

The strange season of Eric Chavez

Expanding on a point that I alluded to in my previous post... Chavez is a great player, certainly the top guy the A's have among their position players. And he's been fine this year, as usual, but it seems to me that the nature of his excellence has changed quite a bit.

We'll start with his hitting. Chavez had the day off today, so through 42 games his OPS stands at .829, very close to his career average of .847. But his batting average is way down, and his walk and home run rates are way up, relative to his career norms. Chavez is hitting only .244 but has 31 walks and 11 homers, not only the most on the team but the 3rd- and 2nd-most in the AL, respectively. The A's organizational philosophy, of course, emphasizes power and plate discipline, but Chavez has never really been an above-average walker, and his power, while excellent overall, is usually more based on doubles than homers (this year he has only 2 doubles). I think Chavez's average will come around, so I'm very encouraged by the spike in his walk rate and I certainly won't complain that he's traded in some doubles for home runs.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing so far has been his success against lefties. Six of his 11 homers have come against southpaws, in addition to a .277 average and a healthy walk rate. That's outstanding production for a guy who has historically struggled against left-handed pitching; but where is the guy who has battered RHP's to the tune of a .954 OPS over the last three years?

Then there's defense. Chavez has already committed 6 errors this year and his range factor is down quite a bit, to 2.85 from 3.16 last year. My subjective observations are that he hasn't gotten to some balls that he did last year, and he's rushed a number of his throws too, contributing to costly opposition rallies. There's still nobody I'd rather have out there at the hot corner, but it may simply be unrealistic to expect the kind of defensive excellence that we've been spoiled by the last couple of years. According to the numbers from Baseball Prospectus, Chavez is coming off a couple of seasons that rank among the very best 3B seasons of all time. It wouldn't shock me if those dropped to "merely" league-best this year, as Chavvy would still be a hell of a ballplayer.

A's win again

It was a great day to be at the Coliseum, so I'll give my report. I went to the game with three friends and showed up just in time to watch the team retire Reggie Jackson's #9 jersey. Then we were treated to Barry Zito pitching against young Zack Greinke of the Royals. Greinke, only 20 years old and probably the best pitching prospect in all of baseball, was making his major league debut, but he looked extremely polished. His command was great--he didn't walk anybody or even (I think) go to a three-ball count until he started to tire in the 5th inning (he was on a strict pitch count and was lifted after throwing 84 pitches). His fastball sits at around 90 and topped out at 93. I don't think he threw any breaking pitches that I could tell, but his changeup is ridiculous. We're talking Bugs Bunny here. The pitch comes out of his hand just like the fastball but it's 25-30 mph slower--every time he threw it the radar gun said 63. The A's hitters were jumping out of their shoes to swing at it, but not a single one of them made good contact. And it made his fastball look a lot faster, especially since Greinke has a deceptively easy delivery. His final line was pretty ordinary-looking: two runs on five hits in five innings with one walk and one strikeout. But he seemed to keep the A's off-balance the entire time he was in. The two runs came on a home run by Durazo, who hit a pretty good pitch--a fastball down in the zone--a very long way to right-center. Several of the hits he gave up were bloops and his defense didn't really help him very much.

Zito in this game was pretty much the Zito we've seen all year long--flashes of excellence but maddening inconsistency. Zito struck out 7 batters and allowed 7 hits and two walks (one intentional), but gave up four runs including a solo homer by Mike Sweeney. The big hit was a two-run double by spare outfielder Brandon Berger in the 6th inning. Zito had the curve working for him all day, getting a number of batters both swinging and missing or just staring helplessly as the big looping deuce broke across the plate. But he was just inconsistent spotting his fastball and he gave up a lot of hits.

Neither starting pitcher, of course, factored into the decision, as the A's rallied to tie the game in the 9th inning when Eric Byrnes reached on an error and then with two outs and the count 1-2, Eric Chavez homered to left-center off new Royals closer Jeremy Affeldt. It was Chavvy's 11th homer of the season, which tied him for 2nd in the AL, and amazingly, his 6th off of lefty pitching versus only 5 against righties. Chavez actually deserves a post all to himself, since he's having kind of a strange season from my perspective. But maybe I'll just put that in a comment box.

After the A's tied it, I had a good feeling about the win and the team came through in the 11th when Jermaine Dye (who had just saved at least a run in the top of the frame with a great leaping catch against the wall in right) singled, Hatteberg singled, and Durazo was intentionally walked for Bobby Crosby. Crosby hit a comebacker that Royals 2B Desi Relaford just barely snagged behind the bag at 2nd, but he had no chance to throw out Crosby and the team came pouring out of the dugout to congratulate Crosby.

It was a fun game overall, even though the defense was a bit sloppy and both teams missed opportunities. But I had a great time and the team won, which is something they've been doing a lot. As I predicted, the easier schedule has been kind to us; Oakland has reeled off 9 wins in 11 games against Detroit and KC, including the last four (have I mentioned that Mark Mulder is a stud?). They only need to take two of the next four against KC tomorrow and then at Cleveland to reach the 11 of 15 mark I predicted for them prior to their roadtrip two weeks ago. The Angels haven't exactly gone into a tailspin, but they've come down to Earth somewhat and their lead is down to 3.5 games. Three and a half games is nothing; I think the division race may end up coming down to the wire.

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