By Jason Wojciechowski on August 4, 2004 at 4:52 PM
When Jorge Posada hit that (weak) three-run homer in the first inning of last night's A's-Yankees tilt, I declared the game over and turned off the TV. Clearly, I'm a psychic.
The A's, needless to say, came back with a crazy hit barrage against Jon Lieber and assorted memebers of the Yankee bullpen, eventually winning the game 13-4. You get the sense that if they'd played a few more innings, it only would have gotten worse for the New Yorkers.
While the AP recap says that "[t]he A's began teeing off on Jon Lieber (7-7) in the third" and while that's when Oakland got its first runs, the first two innings hadn't really boded well for the Yankee starter, either. Mark Kotsay knocked a base hit to start the game, but Mark McLemore grounded into a double play to erase him. Then, in the second, Jermaine Dye led off with a walk (apparently, this is an incredibly rare occurrence for Lieber) before Scott Hatteberg hit a smash down the right field line. Unfortunately, with Tony Clark holding the runner on, he was playing near the line, and he made a fine play from his knees, grabbing the ball, tagging first base, and making a very difficult throw to second to get Dye by about 15 feet. How many times have we seen the throw that Clark made (from his knees!) either hit the runner or go into left field because the first baseman was afraid of hitting the runner? Clark's throw did neither of these things and extinguished a potential A's rally, especially since Erubiel Durazo doubled to left center immediately after.
Eventually, though, things started dropping for the A's, and they got a couple of great defensive plays of their own (Jermaine Dye at the right-field wall, leaping to make a catch, and Bobby Crosby apparently made a few hot plays of his own), helping Mark Mulder, on a day when it was clear in the first inning that his stuff and location were pretty far off, settle in and get himself through seven innings. By the time he was done, it was 10-4, so the A's turned to Chris Hammond and Justin Lehr, who got through their innings with six and eight pitches, respectively. All six of Hammond's pitches were strikes, and the three outs were a strikeout and two ground balls. That's a nice inning.
Scott Hatteberg is my offensive star of the game, as he hit two homers, the second one a three-run shot off of lefty Felix Heredia in the eighth inning. Hatteberg's line for the year now stands at .293/.372/.463, good for a .300 EqA and eleventh in baseball in RARP at first base. That's basically a nice solid player at first base, one you can count on, and a vast improvement over last year's ugly performance. His semi-surprising improvement (he's performing right around his 90th percentile PECOTA) and Mark Kotsay's killer offensive year are probably the two biggest reasons for Oakland's increased offensive output.
That's not to say the A's have a good offense or anything, but they're tied for tenth in baseball in runs scored, an improvement of four spots over last year. In other words, as much as this is a pitching-and-defense team (second in the AL in runs allowed, though there are nine teams ahead of the A's in the NL), the offense is, when you consider that run-prevention, a playoff-capable offense.
Does that mean this is the year the A's get out of the first round? Don't count on it until it happens.