By Jason Wojciechowski on June 10, 2012 at 11:30 PM
My lovely wife A. gave me the idea to do this: on Sunday night, especially because I have decided not to podcast on the weekends, I will write a sort of broad-scope "how the A's are doing"/"how I'm feeling about the A's" post. The goal here is less to analyze (though I'm sure I'll find it difficult to get away from that) and more to talk about how this is going for me as a fan. I'm sure lengths will vary in different weeks as I have more or less to talk about and more or less time and as I adjust to writing this. This week, for instance, it's already 11:40pm, tomorrow is a work-day, and I still have a sink full of dishes to do, so I don't plan on going long.
"Ups and downs," you might say about this week, with the ups being a domination of the Rangers (12-1 win, shutout, and 7-1 win sandwiched around a 6-3 loss) and the downs being an ugly series in Arizona (walk-off loss on a Ryan Roberts three-run homer, thorough 8-3 whipping, and close 4-3 loss that always felt like the A's were about to do something to win).
Now, if you read that parenthetical again, that's a heart-breaker, a whipping, and a "this could've gone either way" loss, which isn't what you'd normally describe as "ugly." The problem is that these three games are the reason why the media creates narratives about momentum -- the A's surely "had momentum" coming in to Phoenix after their surprising showing against the Rangers, but then "lost the momentum" when the Diamondbacks stormed back from 6-0 and 8-4 deficits to pull out a victory.
I don't believe in momentum in any meaningful sense. Sure, psychology matters, emotional state matters, and so forth. Good wins can create relaxation and comfort, which can translate to winning. Bad losses can cause pressing and a feeling of having to set right the ship, which can translate to losing. But to the extent that we, as fans, or even media members inside the clubhouses, or, frankly, even managers who have to lead these teams, want to ascribe certain psychological states to certain players and to further place the blame or credit for wins and losses on those psychological states, well, let's see it happen prospectively rather than just using the ol' hindsight. Besides, psychology, and in particular group psychology, is far more complex than the armchair pop psychologists would have it. "Pressing" can manifest physically very easily (a batter who starts swinging at more pitches out of the zone), but the tension between more comfort ("trying" less?) and more alertness ("trying" more?) can easily vary so much from person to person, and can be affected by the dynamics of the team, that for anyone without both data and training to diagnose anything at all is foolish.
What makes these narratives go is that we feel them. I felt a sense of momentum coming out of the Rangers series because my mind is susceptible to all sorts of fallacies and mental shortcuts and weaknesses just like most everyone else's. I thought the A's had put their bad streak behind them, had got some important players back from injury, and were ready to embark on an uninspiring-but-at-least-not-actively-depressing run of basically being a .500 team like they'd been for the first 45 games of the year. And instead they lost the way they did on Friday.
Forget the team -- the Ryan Roberts three-run homer took the wind out of my sails. Four wins in five games against a good team and a decent one were right there in reach, and then they were out of reach. In the hands of a left-field Arizona fan. Thanks for everything, Brian Fuentes.