By Jason Wojciechowski on April 20, 2011 at 1:15 PM
Granted that the game was played in Oakland and granted that the Tigers had their B lineup (at best) going (no Victor Martinez, no Magglio Ordonez, not even Brandon Inge), Trevor Cahill is turning us all into believers: eight innings, no walks, nine strikeouts, a solo homer to Casper Wells the only run he allowed, and, by my eyes, maybe five solidly hit balls in 28 hitters faced.1
Or at least it was impressive from a "how did he barrel up that ball?" standpoint, not so much from the perspective of one's approach to an at-bat. This was a pitch, after all, that was clearly a ball on an 0-1 count. Cabrera can do better.
The offense, by contrast, wasn't stellar but was (by definition?) good enough to win. Putting together a two-out, three-run rally against Brad Penny, who'd been hitting the outside corner at the knees all night, in the fifth behind an HBP-walk-walk-single sequence was pretty nice.
There's not a lot to say as a team matter about a game like this: as long as Trevor Cahill keeps pitching this ridiculously, the A's will win. It's a pretty simple game!
Box & Notes
Three different guys had 2-4 days with both times on base coming on walks (or, in David DeJesus's case, a walk and a HBP). DeJesus's walk leading off the game might've been a portent for signs of wildness to come, as none of the four balls (in the five-pitch at-bat) were even close. Daric Barton had one walk of that variety and one where he took all six pitches. Andy LaRoche took a wild four-pitch walk from Brad Thomas and a later intentional walk from Daniel Schlereth.
That intentional walk, by the way, was one of the weirder ones I've seen. With
ChadCliff Pennington coming up, Schlereth was not going to gain the platoon advantage, and there were two outs in the inning, so no double play was in order. Pennington's split against lefties is fairly extreme (72 wRC+ vs. 96 against righties), but we're talking about 246 career plate appearances against southpaws, so it's hard to have much confidence in those numbers.2 Either way, we're talking, in a 5-1 game with two outs, about the difference between Andy LaRoche with one man on and Cliff Pennington with two. Why are you even messing around with intentional walks in that game-state?
Conor Jackson's at-bat in the fourth inning was pretty, working a 1-2 count to 3-2 by taking a curve in the dirt that lesser hitters might have chased and watching a fastball go just outside before lining a fastball on the outside corner to right for a single with Daric Barton moving on the pitch. Jackson's final numbers won't equal his 2006-2008 prime with the Diamondbacks, for park reasons if nothing else, but if he can have the same value at the plate as in those years, that would be a huge boost for Oakland's chances.
(For what it's worth, through 30 PAs, he has a 122 wRC+, compared to a career high of 114 in 2008.)
I hate, absolutely hate, seeing a guy swing on the first pitch, especially a first-pitch breaking ball, when a pitcher is struggling to find the plate. Every once in a while, it happens to work out, though, which is why batters keep doing it.3 Josh Willingham, following an HBP-walk-walk series by Brad Penny, lined an 0-0 curve to left for a two-run single to pretty much end the game in the fifth. It was a good pitch to hit, around the knees or a little higher and right in the middle of the plate, so I'm not going to complain too hard.
Hideki Matsui got about the cheapest RBI there is in the fourth inning, when he nubbed a swinging bunt down the first-base line with Daric Barton on third. This happens from time to time, of course, but what made this "worse" was that Brad Penny had the chance to let the ball go foul and pitching to Matsui with a 2-1 count. Matsui is probably glad to trade a strike for an RBI.
Mark Ellis had the best game of the night, roping two doubles, but he hit the second in the eighth inning of a four-run game. He did come around to score after the first double, giving the A's their fifth run. Given the relative paucity of other candidates (two walks is lovely from a results standpoint and typically indicates good process, but in this case, as discussed above, Brad Penny was handing out walks like candy in this game), though, Ellis gets Sunday's Offensive Player of the Game.4
I love having Landon "Tiny" Powell as a backup catcher on this team. First, he's huge, and that's always fun. Second, he's not some punchless wonder at the plate, as he showed by hitting balls to both the left-center and right-center warning tracks in this game, from each side of the plate. Only one got down for a hit, but both were hit hard. I'm hesitant to say "he doesn't play enough," because I'm not nearly close enough to the situation to monitor Kurt Suzuki's rest, the defensive benefits of Suzuki over Powell, and the possibility that Powell could get overexposed, but I'm never unhappy when I see him in the lineup.
By my count, this was Andy LaRoche's seventh consecutive start, which is pretty remarkable for a guy with an 81 wRC+. This isn't to say he shouldn't be playing, because Ellis, Pennington, and Barton need occasional rest, and Kevin Kouzmanoff hit 83 wRC+ last year (and 35 -- 35! -- this year), but it's funny that LaRoche is now some sort of Figgins-y supersub.
Eighty strikes for Trevor Cahill!
I covered Cahill's awesome game above, so my other main thought is this: at what point did he start working with Buehrle-ian quickness? He gets the ball, gets on the rubber, and fires. Buehrle doing this is disruptive enough, and he basically only throws two pitches, slow and slower. Cahill's doing this while bringing low-90s heat, a big curve, a two-seamer that runs in on the hands of righties and over the inside part of the plate for strikeouts to lefties, and a pretty good change-up to boot. Maybe I just forgot how quickly he's always worked, but it seemed to me that he was consciously moving the game along in this contest. Whoever inspired this gets kudos from me.
Tyson Ross, 75% strikes. This may never happen again.
Further, two of those hard-hit balls were by Miguel Cabrera on pitches well down out of the strike zone. I didn't realize before how Vlad Guerrero-like Cabrera is in his ability to go way down out of the zone and still make very solid contact. His line drive to right in the second that Conor Jackson made a leaping play on at the warning track was particularly impressive. ↩
This doesn't mean, of course, that there aren't scouting reports indicating that Pennington is weak against lefties for some mechanical or pitch-recognition reason. ↩
There are probably good game theory reasons to do it, too. If every batter takes the first pitch after the previous batter walked, pitchers would groove BP fastballs to get a free 0-1 count. ↩
I screwed this up the last two games, leaving Ellis out. This is not his first time with the award, but his third. Standings: (3) Barton, Ellis; (2) Crisp, Suzuki, Willingham; (1) DeJesus, Jackson, Matsui, Pennington. ↩