Trial by Fire and the Athletics are Getting Burned
Since the beginning of the Trail of Tears scheduling quirk that has left the A’s playing every single top team in the AL to end the season over the last week, it has been nothing short of miserable for the team and fans. Starting with the series in Detroit, the Athletics were only able to muster up 1 win in the 3 game set on get away day. The first game was a blow out versus Detroit and A.J. Griffin suffered his first really bad start for the squad but it didn’t get any better on the next day when they had to face Justin Verlander. To add insult to injury, the A’s end up losing their freshly back Ace, Brett Anderson, for the rest of the season because of a Grade 2 Right Oblique strain after falling awkwardly off the mound and only going 2 1/3 innings. The trouble started brewing at this point because the A’s had to dig back into their bullpen, who were fresh off a long night before, in the first series of a 10 game road trip. Thankfully they were able to get 1 win in Detroit and a much needed offensive display with Seth Smith leading the way.
Then on to New York for a 3 game set that went the exact opposite way in which it should have gone or at least that is what I’ve been telling myself to get over the fact that they should have swept the Yankees. In the first game there was a pitchers dual between Jarrod Parker and C.C. Sabathia which ended up with both pitchers leaving after 8 innings and handing it over to the bullpen. Brandon Moss homered off of the Yankees closer, Rafael Soriano, in the top of the ninth to tie the game and handed the A’s what seemed to be the momentum swing that the team needed. Then Sean Doolittle left a fastball up to Russell Martin and it was walk off city for the Yankees. Demoralizing loss, Yes, but you figured the A’s would bonce back and get game 2 which they did until the bullpen imploded.
In game 2, the A’s battled the Yankees to a 5 all tie into the 7th and then decided to turn off the scoring spigot until the 13th inning when they hit back to back to back homerun’s to go up 9-5 and apparently sealing a solid victory. But because Travis Blackley only went 2 innings in his start and became unraveled because of an incorrect Balk call, the bullpen got used early and often and eventually left the game in the hands of rookie Pedro Figueroa, not so hard throwing side arm specialist Pat Neshek, and the loss God Tyson Ross. After Figueroa allowed the first 3 batters to reach safely in the bottom of the 13th and Neshek came in and couldn’t shut the door on the Yankees, you just knew that the night wasn’t going to end well. A’s lose a humungous heartbreaker but still come back on get away day and are able to get another much needed victory now to just keep pace in the AL West and Wild Card race.
Fast forward to today and the now even more important 4 game series with the Texas Rangers and the A’s were still killing themselves slowly with a million tiny self inflicted wounds. Maybe it has to do with the team paying the 7th game in 7 days but reaching the playoffs is not for the weary or faint of heart. The one thing that the A’s absolutely cannot do is beat themselves in this last stretch of games. Play’s like Chris Carter’s error on a grounder to first base (which didn’t lead to run scoring) or Josh Donaldson’s throwing error in the bottom of the second that lead to a run scoring are things that can’t happen. Especially when you have a bullpen that is spread extremely thin right now with no rest in sight and a guy like Dan Straily out to the mound and dealing. The team needs him to work deep into the game and any errors just extend the pitch count and move the bullpen closer to action that they might not be able to handle. In other words, after throwing 17 2/3 innings in New York the bullpen is about as depleted as an ammo shop during a zombie apocalypse.
But even that wasn’t what was bad about Monday night’s 5-4 loss to the Texas Rangers. For me it was some of the pitching substitutions that Bob Melvin made during tonight’s game. Now I know that it was out of necessity because he didn’t want to completely exhaust the bullpen in game 1 of a 4 game series but let me explain. Even though Melvin probably preferred the righty on righty match-up, the statistics dictated that you leave lefty Jerry Blevins in to face Adrian Beltre. Beltre was only hitting .286, with a OBP .286, SLG .429, and OPS of .714 as opposed to Neshek, who Beltre is hitting .333 against with an OBP .333, SLG .667, and OPS of 1.000. You have to let Blevins face Beltre especially after Pat Neshek’s performance in New York. Personally, I think you stay with Blevins & let him face Beltre since next to Cook and Balfour he’s probably been the most consistent and big game pressure situation reliever out of the bullpen.
Instead, Melvin decides to go with the matchup and gets burned by it with Beltre hitting a 2 run home run to tie the game in the 7th. Now you’ve burned Blevins for Hamilton, Neshek is shot, and Cook can only go an inning. So who’s left in the bullpen that Melvin could possibly bring in Balfour and Ross. My first thought when seeing Ross in the bullpen, well Melvin is going to save him for extra innings and let Balfour get through the 9th. Instead Ross, who is 2-11 (2-10 before tonight’s usual implosion) gets the call and couldn’t look less confident on the mound. Now there will be people who say well Ross gets ground balls, he’s the only option, and blah, blah, blah; Save It! You use Balfour first to get you through the 9th and let Ross face the bottom of the order as opposed to the top of it. Instead, Ross implodes and gets singled to death with Beltre eventually hitting the game winning hit right back up the middle. Oh and for those who say Ross got ground balls in his outing to try and justify him being in, a 1 hop line drive through the infield is not a grounder. It’s a single. The next thing I suppose you’ll tell me is Daric Barton is good.
Tonight’s game has been the first time that I haven’t agreed with a Melvin move and let’s just hope for our sake it’s the last. Melvin has been steady all year and I don’t expect him to go changing now that the stakes are even higher. I just hope that he realizes that Ross needs to only be used in mop up duty from now on and Blevins needs to secure a larger role in facing both righties and lefties out of the pen when the game is on the line. Hopefully Melvin learns from tonight and the bullpen starts to regain its form because if it doesn’t this week in Arlington may just cause the Athletics playoff chances to go up in smoke.
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