By Jason Wojciechowski on June 11, 2011 at 6:30 PM
The (losing) streak is dead, long live the (winning) streak! By the time I'm finished with this post about Friday night's game, Saturday's game will likely be over, but having not watched it yet, I am ignorant of the state of the A's winning streak. For now, it stands at one game, which is a longer streak than they've had in a week and a half. We take our victories where we can, A's fans.
On a more meta tip, I'm a little worried about what's going to happen when I read the A's bloggerati on this game. Will the magic of Bob Geren no longer being at the top have inspired the team to never give up? I've not hidden how I feel about that kind of nonsense, so I hope that wasn't what you were coming here hoping to read.
An actual, non-snarky managerial note is warranted, though: in the fifth, with the White Sox up 3-2, runners on second and third, and Michael Wuertz freshly in the ballgame, Bob Melvin elected to play his infield back. It was an interesting play for a manager of an offensively challenged team, but it did, as it happens, work out -- Alex Rios hit a grounder up the middle that, in my view, would have sneaked past a drawn-in Cliff Pennington for a single, scoring two runs. With Pennington back, he had an easy play at first and just the one run scored. (Adam Dunn then came through with a single to plate the other runner, but that's a different issue.) Obviously, you can't use the vagaries of actual balls in play to evaluate manager moves, but it might be worth watching, as we finish this year with Bob Melvin, whether he's more loathe to bring his infield in than Bob Geren (or other managers) might be.
I'll also note that the situation, with a struggling starter, an open base, and Adam Dunn coming up after Rios, was the kind where Bob Geren might have ordered Rios intentionally walked and brought in Craig Breslow to pitch to Dunn. I'm not exactly Joe Posnanski in my feelings about the intentional walk (I don't think it's a moral failing or unsporting, and I'm 100% against a rule change -- most of the time, it's a bad managerial play, and bad managers should be punished for thinking it's the right move. Lowering the incentives to issue the walk just protects managers from themselves), but Geren did order more of them than I had a taste for. It's possible that, this situation having occurred in the fifth inning, Geren wouldn't have ordered the walk either, but, like the infield placement question, the intentional walk situation will be one to watch as the season goes on.
On to the
Box & Notes
The nicest thing I can say about Coco Crisp's offensive day is that he batted six times. Of course, that's more about the team's hitting behind him than about his own performance, as he managed to make five of the 27 outs a squad is allotted.
That's a lie, actually, because I can go one nicer: in the seventh, having singled and then reached third on Cliff Pennington's double, he read Conor Jackson's looper very well, realizing that it was going to drop in front of Gordon Beckham, so that he was able to score on the play.
I'm pretty sure there's no evidence that your spot in the batting order affects your hitting (beyond the additional walks that National League eighth place hitters get), but Cliff Pennington has reached base on five of nine PAs out of the two hole, including two doubles in this game. Each of Pennington's three hits led to a run: he scored himself after his first-inning two-bagger, his jam-shot infield single in the third scored Jemile Weeks from third, and his seventh-inning double moved Crisp to third, allowing him to score on the play mentioned in the previous bullet.
Ryan Sweeney's role as the number three hitter in this game was hitting ground balls that moved Cliff Pennington to third. He did this twice and he did it marvelously. Golf claps all around.
Conor Jackson was 0-2, but he got an RBI! We know how important that is.
Josh Willingham hit a boatload of ground balls, but one of them, at least, was a hard shot through the 5-6 hole into left field to score the A's first run. Better, though, was his key two-out walk in the ninth against Sergio Santos. The A's were down to their last strike with the 0-2 count on Willingham, but he laid off the next four pitches, including a filthy slider on 1-2 that we've seen him chase all year. He picked quite a time to not go whiffing, starting the rally that eventually won the game.
To be entirely fair, the other three pitches that Willingham took in the at-bat weren't all that close, especially the 2-2 slider that Santos lost over Willingham's head. Still and all, we've seen Willingham whiff on both good pitches and bad this season, so I'm sure we'll take the walk whether it came via bad pitching or great hitting.
Hideki Matsui, freed from the shackles of Bob Geren's cruel management (...), hit a key single in the ninth after Willingham's walk (and subsequent move to second on defensive indifference), putting some slice on it, which probably helped ensure that Alex Rios wasn't able to come on and make a sliding catch coming straight in.
Matsui's walk in the fourth inning, by the way, came on a 3-2 slider that looked for all the world like a strike to me. Here's the strike zone plot from Brooks Baseball:
It's a strike, no?
Daric Barton flashed his speed (ahem) in this game, beating the relay from second on a check-swing grounder to third to avoid a double play and later stealing second without a throw.
He also did Daric Barton Things in the ninth, taking some mighty close pitches en route to a five-pitch walk, putting the tying run (David DeJesus, pinch-running for Hideki Matsui) on second.
Kurt Suzuki's hit-by-pitch loaded the bases in the ninth, of course, but the only thing you can say about that for Suzuki is that he managed to not make an out before that, giving Santos the opportunity to plunk him. More awesome was in the fourth inning, when he smashed a liner that looked for all the world like a double into the left field corner before Brent Morel jumped and snared it for an out. Suzuki, with the bat still in his hands, did a little spread-legs leap, coming down with a mighty smash on the poor grass.
Bob Geren wants to know where Scott Sizemore was when he was still managing. He walked once and hit the ball hard the other four times, once for a lineout to Rios in center, and once resulting in a chopper up the middle that Gordon Beckham misplayed (he should've made the flip to second to get the slow-running Matsui, who was nowhere near the bag when he fielded the ball, but instead tried to make an across-the-body throw to first that wasn't even close), but the other two times resulting in completely legitimate hits, including, of course, the massive game-winning (basically) double to center that one-hopped the wall and cleared the bases.
Through this all, I didn't see Sizemore smile a single time, only cracking the barest of grins during the handshake line. You went 4-5, dude! You won the game! Give us some love.
Jemile Weeks is officially awesome. Sure, his triple only happened because Alex Rios completely misplayed the ball, coming in on it when he should have been going back from the start, but Weeks did hit the ball quite hard (this wasn't Juan Pierre dropping the ball or anything) and then ran like the damn wind. Dude is fast. That speed also earned him an infield single in the fourth, when Brent Morel's dive to his left snared the ball, but when Morel hesitated just a tad, thinking about going to second to try to get Scott Sizemore, that gave Weeks the extra few inches he needed to beat Morel's throw to first.
Amusing moment in the eighth -- Brian Bruney1 was knocked out by Scott Sizemore's walk, leading Ozzie Guillen to call on the lefty Matt Thornton. Weeks, forgetting that this was the major leagues and that he was thus wearing a single-ear-flap helmet, got almost to the plate before realizing that he had to go back to the dugout to switch out his headgear. Oops. (Of course, he popped up the first pitch, so he took longer getting himself set to hit than he did hitting. Oh well.)
Ray Fosse did call out Weeks for turning his head too much while he was running, saying that there was, for instance, no need to be looking back to center field while running to third on his triple or looking over at third base during the infield single. I'm not convinced this actually slows Weeks down enough to matter, but I wonder if there are any running experts out there who might weigh in on this. Ray can be grumpy sometimes.
On defense, by the way, while Weeks is unlikely to be Mark Ellis (who is?), his athleticism is going to be fun to watch. He made an awesome play in the second to get Carlos Quentin, who hit a ball up the middle that Graham Godfrey deflected, slowing it down so that Weeks had to barehand it on the grass and throw in one motion. Granted that Quentin doesn't run in any meaningful sense of that word, the play seemed to highlight the positive attributes that Weeks could bring in the field.
I can't say that Graham Godfrey, making his major league debut, was all that impressive. On the other hand, I can't say that I expected him to be impressive. He's 26 and has never been a top prospect. His fastball has some life, but it looked pretty straight (and Paul Konerko, who connected for a bomb in the first inning, probably agrees). His arm drops down sometimes, which seems to result in him getting under his fastball a little bit, which is likely not a recipe for success for him. I don't think Godfrey threw anything but a fastball and a slider, and you've got to be way better than Godfrey to survive as a two-pitch starter. He could have a career in the bullpen, especially if the switch to relief pushes his fastball up to the high 90s, but I don't think we should expect much out of the newest A's fifth starter otherwise.
By the way, six of Godfrey's seven swinging strikes came against Gordon Beckham (who he struck out on three whiffs in the first) and Adam Dunn. I don't know if that matters (i.e. I have no idea if most pitchers bunch up their whiffs), but it might be worth noting.
Oh, before I even saw him pitch, I wrote this about Godfrey:
Before I see him pitch, Godfrey kinda reminds me of Vin Mazzaro. That's not great.
Michael Wuertz allowed two inherited runners to score, unfortunately for Godfrey's stat line, but he didn't pitch terribly badly, giving up only a single to Adam Dunn that just evaded the shift (which was a really extreme shift -- Weeks was basically playing shallow right, deeper than I've ever seen a second baseman play, even against other tremendously slow sluggers like David Ortiz).
Joey Devine actually gave up two hits, but he got Paul Konerko to hit into a 5-4-3 double play to erase Carlos Quentin's single, rendering A.J. Pierzynski's subsequent double harmless.
By the way, look at the three White Sox names in that paragraph. That team is slow through the middle of the order. This actually came into play in the third inning (with Godfrey on the mound, so this doesn't belong in this bullet, but whatever) -- with Konerko on first, Pierzynski hit a jam-shot one-hopper to Pennington, who started a 6-4-3 double play despite a high relay throw from Weeks to Barton. First, Konerko didn't even manage to get close enough to second to lay a takeout slide on Weeks, and second, Pierzynski's pace down the line was so glacial that Barton was able to put a tag on him after the throw from Weeks forced him to leap for the catch.
Grant Balfour curses at himself more than any pitcher I've seen. Maybe Ted Lilly matches him. Balfour earned his "FUCK!"s in this game, though, as he got lucky that both Adam Dunn and Gordon Beckham were unable to do anything with hittable fastballs right down the middle, both players hitting mere popups to infielders. Baseball isn't basketball, so we rarely get to hear players curse, at themselves or others, but the cameras happened to be isolating Balfour right after Beckham's out, resulting in a nice clear shot of his expletive.
Andrew Bailey got to 2-1 on each of the three hitters he faced, and two of the batters actually hit the ball pretty hard, but Juan Pierre just managed a chopper right at Daric Barton and Alexei Ramirez, whose fly/liner looked good off the bat, just saw the ball die in the outfield, staying up for what ended up being a pretty shallow fly to left-center for Josh Willingham. The consensus in the broadcast booth was that the fog knocked it down. I don't have any better ideas.
Yeah, that Brian Bruney. No, I didn't know he was in the majors either. ↩