Four games

By Jason Wojciechowski on September 6, 2003 at 3:51 PM

It's been that many since I last updated. The A's went 2-2 in the stretch, losing twice to Baltimore, but Tampa Bay also took two of three from Seattle, so the A's didn't lose any ground in the West. Before we go on to those four games, I'll note that the most updated playoff odds at Baseball Prospectus give the A's a 79% shot at the playoffs, with 70.8% of that coming from their chances of winning the division, which they lead by two games over the Mariners.

On the second came a pitcher's duel. Barry Zito and Pat Hentgen each threw eight scoreless innings, each allowing six baserunners. Zito struck out one more (seven) than Hentgen (six), and threw seven more pitches (120-113), but their lines for the night are very similar. The big difference is that Zito got eleven ground balls while Hentgen had twelve fly-ball outs. I like it when Zito is getting ground balls, because he can get a little fly-ball prone, and when guys are hitting the ball in the air, they're more likely to drop in for extra bases than the hard-hit ground balls, which will either go at someone or get through for a single.

Oakland's bullpen then did its usual work: Chad Bradford threw two perfect innings, getting five ground balls and one strikeout, which is exactly what his line should look like 06 he's on his game; Jim Mecir allowed two hits, but got two outs, all in just nine pitches; Ricardo Rincon threw one pitch to end the eleventh with a couple of runners on; and Keith Foulke, while he was a little less efficient than usual (18 pitches), struck out the side in the 12th for his 38th save of the year.

Obviously, to play eleven scoreless innings against the Orioles, your offense has to be miserable and, in fact, the A's managed just five hits. On the other hand, they drew seven walks, all of them unintentional, so they averaged a base runner an inning, which makes it look less horrible. Of course, if you're a pitcher and you have a WHIP of 1.00 (one base runner per inning), you're a pretty happy guy.

The outfield in particular had a terrible night. For whatever reason, Terrence Long hit lead-off again, and struck out three times, never reaching base. Then he bumped an umpire after his last strikeout, got thrown out of the game, and the latest news is that he's been suspended for four games. Unfortunately, he's appealing, so the A's offense may not get the Long-less boost it needs for another week. Jose Guillen, who's hit essentially his career numbers (740 OPS) since coming over to the A's, struck out twice, though he also walked once, so it wasn't a completely lost day. Finally, Chris Singleton, though he hit a sacrifice fly in the 12th to give the A's an insurance run, also struck out three times. He did hit a single earlier in the game, so his day was also not a total waste. Jermaine Dye came in for Long after he was thrown out and managed an 0-2. Completely unexpected, I know. The outfield's aggregate numbers for the day: 1-15 with a walk and eight strikeouts.

Scott Hatteberg had a classic Hatteberg day, walking three times. He's still having the worst year of his career with regard to walk rate and one of his worst in pitches per plate appearance, but if he can throw in a couple more three walk days between now and the end of the season, the A's will be in decent shape.

Oh, by the way, Bobby Crosby got his first major league plate appearance, hitting a pop-up.

The A's got whomped the next day, 9-0, as the offense sputtered again (seven hits and three walks, but nothing for extra bases), and the note of the day is that the team was just plain sloppy. They committed five errors (two for Guillen, one by Miguel Tejada, one by Hatteberg, and one by Ellis) and Tim Hudson threw a wild pitch and hit a batter en route to giving up five runs in just three innings. Somehow, all those errors added up to no unearned runs being allowed.

Steve Sparks made his first Oakland appearance, giving up three runs on three hits and three innings, Mike Wood gave up a run on two hits in one inning, and finally, Mike Neu stopped the bleeding with a perfect bottom of the eighth. Meanwhile, on the other side, Rodrigo Lopez threw all nine innings for the Orioles, throwing 125 pitches. The A's ran his pitch count a little bit, as 125 is pretty high for a guy who's not giving up any runs, but they just couldn't plate anyone, and Mike Hargrove kept trotting Lopez back out there.

Bobby Crosby got his second plate appearance, striking out for Tejada. Tejada hit well in the game, going 2-2 with a walk, but it was over by that point, so why not let the future get some time? Jermaine Dye had his least shocking game yet, going 0-4. Again. Even Terrence Long managed to only make three outs, since Eric Byrnes replaced him late (and got a hit in his one at-bat).

The A's put that all behind them though, going into the fourth, as they put 16 runners on base and hit some doubles and homers en route to ... only scoring five runs and losing the game. Dye again went hitless, though at least he walked twice; those walks didn't prevent him from leaving five men on base, though, three of them in scoring position with two outs. Dye's performance this year is what drives people to believe in clutch hitting, because it seems like every time he plays, he's been the epitome of anti-clutch. Of course, that he was an RBI machine in previous years undermines the point. At least Ken Macha is realizing Dye's limitations (he can't hit this year) and put him down in the lineup (seventh on this day).

The starting lineup was one of the more interesting ones this year: Crosby was the lead-off DH, Billy McMillon hit second and played left, Scott Hatteberg hit fifth, and Eric Byrnes batted ninth and played center. In three cases out of four, things worked out: McMillon hit a solo homer in the third; Hatteberg had a double and a walk; and Byrnes had a single and a double. Unfortunately, Crosby went 0-4 with two strikeouts, running his major league line to 0-6 with three K's. How long before people start crying for Miguel Tejada to be signed, no matter the cost? Let me try to cut that off at the pass: Crosby had a team-leading .544 slugging percentage in Sacramento this year, two points ahead of Graham Koonce, who led the PCL in homers; he had a .395 OBP, just eight points behind Koonce; he walked 63 times in (about) 543 plate appearances, just two of them intentional; he stole 24 bases and was only caught four times, an 86% success rate; he hit 22 homers, 32 doubles, and six triples. About the only real negative that's immediately apparent from his state line is that he struck out 110 times. Strikeouts are forgivable from a guy with a .544 slugging percentage at shortstop, however, as Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada have amply shown.

In other words, the kid's going to be good. Will he be Alex Rodriguez? Of course not. Who is? Will he be Miguel Tejada? Not right away, but I'd be surprised if he wasn't at least as good as Tejada was in each of their comparable years (that is, compare Crosby's first year to Tejada's first, Crosby's second to Tejada's second, and so on).

John Halama and Damian Moss both pitched badly. The problem is that Halama, while we might argue that he didn't really pitch worse than Moss (he gave up less baserunners and no home runs), did give up more runs. The other problem is that Chad Harville also allowed a run, while Baltimore's bullpen gave up nothing.

Steve Sparks had a successful inning and a third, though.

Coming off two losses to a bad team and the certain knowledge that Seattle would stop sucking someday, last night's Tampa Bay game looked like an almost must-win. Fortunately, Ted Lilly came through again, as he's been wont to do over the past few weeks, giving up one run (a solo homer) in six innings and getting seven strikeouts.

I find it odd that he was pulled after the sixth, since he had thrown just 86 pitches, especially since, despite it being just a two-run game, Macha went to Jim Mecir for the seventh inning. Chad Bradford and Keith Foulke closed things out as usual, but were I watching the game, I might have been shouting at the screen for Ted Lilly to come back to the mound for the seventh.

How sad is it that the A's outfield last night were the 7, 8, and 9 hitters? And how sad is it that they completely deserved the spots, going 0-10 with a walk between them? Thank goodness the top of the order did it's job, as Eric Chavez continued to swing an extremely hot bat (927 OPS in August, 7-17 with a homer and a walk in September), going 2-4 with a walk, Miguel Tejada carried on his walking renaissance, getting his fifth and sixth walks in four September games, and Erubiel Durazo came alive a little bit with a pair of singles.

Rich Harden goes tonight against Rob Bell, which has to be seen as another must-win, since Jamie Moyer is facing Eric DuBose (yes, that one) in Baltimore tonight.

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