By Jason Wojciechowski on April 8, 2011 at 1:35 AM
There was a novel thing: a victory! If the A's keep winning the finale of every series, and no other games, they'll be in terrible shape. On the other hand, if they can guarantee they win the finale of every series and then win some other games here and there, they'll be in great shape. Neither of these things will happen, so I guess let's talk about what actually did occur in this pitcher's duel of a victory.
This final score is one we should probably expect to see a lot this year -- the defense and pitching are as good as ever (ignore my comments from the previous recaps about the shaky defense and the bad bullpen -- they had bad games, but the talent is the talent) and the offense, Willingham, Matsui, and DeJesus or not, isn't going to be a Sox-Yankees-like masterwork. J.D. Drew was Boston's seventh hitter today, and when Jed Lowrie joins the lineup somewhere in the middle of this year (Marco Scutaro isn't long for this Earth), he'll hit eighth or ninth. By contrast, tonight's number five hitter for the A's was Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Fortunately, Trevor Cahill was a monster. The big baby-faced assassin threw nasty curves, good changes, and used his tailing and sinking fastball to great effect, getting ground balls and strikeouts galore. I wondered about starting him over Brett Anderson as the "number one" starter -- to the extent these things matter, Anderson's probably the better pitcher. But Cahill's showing that who's better may be one of those relative things that doesn't actually matter, like hamburgers and burritos. Who could rank these things?
Instead of worrying about such trivialities, let's enjoy a day with no defensive atrocities, no bullpen meltdowns, and only moderate Kouzmanoff Fail. In other words, a win.
The boxes and notes!
|--Ellis (PH, 2B)||1||1||0.456||-.022|
Crisp's positive WPA comes, presumably, his steals of second and base in the eighth inning of a tied ballgame, rather than the "RBI" strikeout he racked up that tied the game in the first place. Crisp swung over and through a lot of pitches in this game -- his three strikeouts were no fluke.
Barton was the subject of a nice deke by shortstop John McDonald, one which might well be so common as to be boring, but which I had seen used in this circumstance before. Barton ripped a shot past the first baseman and into foul territory in right. Juan Rivera came up with his cannon blazing, but he misaimed -- the ball went about a million feet over anyone's head. In an effort to confuse Barton and/or get him to stay safely at second if the throw rolled anyway somewhere, McDonald acted as if a throw was there or coming. Barton did in fact slide. (The ball also didn't get away from the Jays, so maybe the whole play turned out to be, from this hindsight perspective, unnecessary.)
Either way, a ringing double and a walk, in this kind of run-scoring environment, is enough for Offensive Player of the Game.1
Conor Jackson had a nice game, overcoming a double-play in the first inning to hit a couple of balls fairly hard, the first for an out and the second for the go-ahead single that brought Coco Crisp in from third.
Even better for a guy not known for his defense, he made a tremendous catch on a sinking liner in the sixth that, had he let it drop (or, even worse, get past him), would likely have allowed a run to score, and the inning to continue. Obviously, since the A's only won by one, that run was crucial.
It's possible, by the way, that a real right-fielder (say, David DeJesus) would have made the play a lot easier, not having to make an awkward-looking dive to keep the ball off the ground, but that's a tough thing to evaluate, especially on TV.
Josh Willingham, the offensive star of the team so far, didn't have a good game with the bat, swinging and missing seven times by my count. If he wasn't bailed out by a two-strike hit-by-pitch on a changeup that got away from Jason Frasor, his day might look even worse. He did do a nice job turning into the Frasor pitch, for what it's worth -- sometimes the instinct, even on a slow pitch drifting inward fairly low, is to duck out of the way. Willingham avoided that and got himself a trip to first for his troubles.
Kevin Kouzmanoff batted fifth. That is all.
Kurt Suzuki earned Worst Swing Of The Night honors for his whiff on a fastball that missed badly from Ricky Romero in the 7th inning. The pitch came down and in, nowhere near the strike zone, and Suzuki took a giant hack at it. Even if he'd made contact, he'd probably have just hit a ground ball, so it's not the kind of pitch I'd advise him selling out on in the future.
Andy LaRoche made his third straight start at his third different position because Mark Ellis apparently had some sort of ear issue. Ellis, though, pinch-hit for LaRoche in the ninth (and got himself a single). I'm not entirely sure that's the best decision in the world -- I prefer Ellis playing defense over anyone, of course, but LaRoche has looked rather adequate with the bat, and Ellis is nothing more than a singles hitter. Why not just bring Ellis to the field in the bottom of the ninth?
Trevor Cahill is never going to be the kind of strike-throwing pitcher that Dallas Braden was in Game 5 (64/88), but note Cahill's seven strikeouts in 27 batters vs. Braden's three in 30. Cahill isn't always sure where his curve is going to go, and the movement on his fastball and change sometimes bring the ball over the fat part of the plate, which by my notes happened six or seven times in this game. He only got hurt on it once, though (Arencibia's smashed double to the warning track in left), and the ball was only hit hard twice (said double and an Encarnacion fliner in the 7th that luckily went right at Coco Crisp in center) on those kinds of pitches. The extreme movement on the pitches makes it at least as hard for the batters to square the ball up as it does for Cahill to make sure the ball doesn't end up right down the middle.
Brian Fuentes, who the Blue Jays announcers2 said has been dealing with blister issues, was solid. He worked the inner half on Rajai, Nix, and Lind, and even Lind's line-drive single was taken the other way, not hit with stuff is always uninspiring to me, but he's been an effective pitcher, so sometimes you have to put the aesthetics aside.