By Jason Wojciechowski on April 14, 2015 at 9:19 PM

A's 4, Astros 0
WP: Kendall Graveman (5 1/3 IP, 9 H+BB+HBP, 0 R, 3 K)
HR: Who needs 'em
Record: 5-4
Standings: First in AL West, 1 game ahead of Texas; would face winner of Tampa Bay vs. Detroit in ALDS

  • Sam Fuld's leadoff double was fantastic, a little flip of the bat and a wild amount of luck got a bloopy bouncer on the left field line. Plus, it gave him a chance to stand next to Jose Altuve, which is like the opposite of those Freiman-Altuve photos we all love so much.

  • How many full-time, power-hitting third basemen would easily turn a 1-6-3 double play into a fielder's choice the way Brett Lawrie did in the second inning? It came to nothing, except in its butterfly effects, but it's impressive to watch him go dashing around the field the way he does anyway. And anyway, it almost came to something because of Josh Reddick's horrifically ugly swinging bunt to beat the shift.

  • Guess who fell asleep in the eighth inning of this one?

    How'd you guess? Did you steal the answer key again?

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By Jason Wojciechowski on April 13, 2015 at 9:42 PM

A's 8, Astros 1
WP: Scott Kazmir (6 IP, 6 H+BB, 1 R, 8 K)
Homers: Brett Lawrie (1), Billy Butler (1), Marcus Semien (1)
Record: 4-4
Standings: First place in the AL West, would face winner of Detroit vs. (winner of Tampa Bay vs. Toronto) in the ALDS

Another day, another blowout. I don't understand this team at all. They're going to finish .500 with the best run differential in history. Their current differential of +24 trails only the 7-0 Royals and the 6-1 Tigers, though it's worth noting, in talking about extremes, that the sadly pitiful Twins are -29. What a division, that AL Central.

  • We'll wait for the StatCast data, but I'm convinced that Billy Butler's batted ball velocity is going to be higher than anybody else's on the team. Certainly higher than Stephen Vogt's, who it seems hits a pop blooper every single time he comes to the plate. Even when he homers, it feels like a long blooper. Butler, though. He's just a flat-out dang hitter, man.

  • Scott Kazmir looked about how he always looked: good, but with a side of "why's he finishing so weird, is he hurt, I hope he's not hurt, did he just grab ... no that's just his gum, okay, whew."

  • Scott Feldman, by contrast, made me wonder how on earth he's a big-league pitcher. I couldn't have hit him, because I'm not even an independent league–quality hitter, but the location, movement, and velocity Feldman brought made me half convinced I was wrong.

  • Marcus Semien's homer was, as I said on Twitter, completely hilarious. The ball tailed in on him and he took a sort of defensive cricket hack, just trying to make sure his wicket was safe. (I don't know how to play cricket.) The result? An easy homer flying out to the short porch in left field. It's entirely possible that Semien got the ball so square that it would have gone out of any yard, weird hack or no, but it's also possible that was a lazy fly out in 28 other parks and a Wallball single in Fenway.

    I'm not sure about Semien yet overall. I can't get a read on him. I can't get a read on how I feel about him. My own thoughts and opinions are a mystery to me.

  • Brett Lawrie's homer was very impressive. He crushed the ball, but the slow motion replay actually looked like he put a B+ swing on. I'm no swing analyst, but there was something in his posture at the point of contact that made me think it wasn't the best hack he's ever taken.

  • Ben Zobrist was magical, smashing hits through/over the shift twice. "Screw your shift" is always a fun game to play. He also almost got thrown out at third base on a fly ball to George Springer because he didn't realize the ball was arriving as quickly as it did -- he saw Luis Valbuena get pulled off the bag by the throw and started to coast a little earlier than he should have, speeding up and taking a last giant step at the end to just get in ahead of the tag. Weird play, but he seemed amused by it, as well he should.

  • Carl Steward wrote a piece arguing that the A's bullpen is presently a weakness, and it's hard to disagree. I like Dan Otero fine, but he's hardly the model setup man; he's a lot easier to like if he's the "look how good this bullpen is! Dan Otero has pitched crazy well but he's still only in middle relief!" guy rather than your second-best reliever. I'm comfortable with Eric O'Flaherty and Tyler Clippard (early roughness notwithstanding) but the rest of the 'pen has some upside and some downside -- it's not the most obviously solid group around. Ryan Cook turning into a pumpkin is really not a good look for anyone involved.

  • My not-cousin Asher Wojciechowski pitched in the game for Houston, coming in out of the bullpen and then being optioned after the game, even though he was set to start tomorrow. Former Baby Athletic Brad Peacock will pitch instead. Me, I'm just glad we got Wojciechowski's appearance out of the way.

  • A fun thing about Jesse Chavez out of the bullpen is that he throws 94.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on April 11, 2015 at 12:08 PM

Mark Canha is tied for eighth in baseball in fWAR. And if you don't think I'm making fun of people who think this is meaningful, well, welcome to the blog.

Here's to Drew Pomeranz making it really hard for the A's to send him to Nashville when Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin come back.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on April 9, 2015 at 6:49 PM

Rangers 10, A's 1
LP: Kendall Graveman (3 1/3 IP, 10 H+BB+HBP, 8 R, 1 K, 2 HR)
Homers: Haha
Record: 2-2
Standings: Tied for second in AL West, 1/2 behind Angels

The less said about this one the better in my opinion.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on April 8, 2015 at 10:59 PM

Have yourself a damn day, Mark Canha!

Rangers 0, A's 10
WP: Scott Kazmir (7 IP, 3 H+BB, 10 K)
Homers: Who needs 'em
Record: 2-1
Standings: Tied for first in the AL West

I don't do the beat writer prewriting thing, typically, but I got home late tonight, so I started the game late, so as of this writing, I'm watching the top of the seventh, with the A's up 9-0. Given all those things, my thoughts are abbreviated:

  • Scott Kazmir's size and injury history leave me always feeling on edge, and the trainer visit in the middle of this game didn't help those feelings, but gosh, when he wasn't hurting, he was on his pitching game tonight, including throwing his fastball past people at times. It's easy to forget, given this weakened version of Kazmir, that the whole reason we know his name at all is that his arm used to be [fire emoji] [lightning emoji] [fire emoji] [100 emoji]. He's still got some of that going for him, and the double-digit strikeouts tonight showed that.

  • It's a little sad that Nate Freiman went and got himself Pipped by Canha, but a three-run double for your first big-league hit? Four RBIs in your first game? That's pretty neat stuff. He also made a nice scoop on a long Brett Lawrie throw after the third baseman dove to keep a ball from scooting down the left field line.

  • Lawrie, by the way, hit the ball with authority to right field on a hanging breaker and also scurried his ass down the line for an infield single later on. I'm back on the bandwagon.

  • Tyler Ladendorf also got his first big-league hit, which is nice because he's only going to be up as long as Josh Reddick is out. Make that time count!

  • Cody Ross looked fine. Nothing special. He hit the ball pretty hard for his one hit. He'll be fine, I've decided. Not Jonny Gomes fine or anything, but who is?

  • I got my first look at R.J. Alvarez. He's got closer hair, that's for sure. The low release point / drop-down mechanics make me worried that he'll be too susceptible to lefties to actually be a closer down the line, but the arm action isn't particularly long, and his drop-down isn't Eckersleyan or anything, and in any event Eckersley was a pretty damn good closer, so maybe he's not going to give lefties too much of a good luck to be all that worried about.

    He didn't seem to have any idea where his slider was going, but that's why he's a reliever, right? There's something jerky and explosive about watching him pitch even though his fastball "only" comes in at 94 or 95, not that much faster than Kazmir, who has that easy rocking-chair lefty heat.

  • What on earth even happened to the Rangers in this game? They made about 17 errors, couldn't hit a damn thing Kazmir threw, hung pitches to the A's, and just generally all around looked like they, collectively, got called up from Triple-A to fill in for the real Rangers, all of whom are dealing with the flu. At least we got to see Delino DeShields, son of Delino DeShields.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on April 7, 2015 at 9:56 PM

Rangers 3, A's 1
LP: Jesse Hahn (6 IP, 3 R, 9 H+HBP, 3 K)
Homers: Nope
Record: 1-1
Standings: Tied for last in the AL West, 0.5 behind Houston

Well that was annoying. Jesse Hahn pitched fine, but not great, mostly throwing strikes, though missing fairly badly when he did miss, and the Rangers got their runs without, for the most part, a bunch of big blasts. A bloop here, a Craig Gentry screwup in right field there and suddenly Texas has enough runs for A's-killer Colby Lewis (seriously, what the hell) to do all he needs.

  • Brett Lawrie was absolutely miserable. I assume it's happened once or twice in the past, but I'm pretty sure I've never seen four strikeouts on twelve pitches before, especially not to an actual hitter. Lewis and Keone Kela and Neftali Feliz threw him breaking pitch after breaking pitch and Lawrie just looked flat-out helpless. Everyone has bad days and if Lawrie had this particular bad day on July 17th, we'd groan and make noise but it wouldn't be that big a deal. I'm trying to convince myself as much as I'm trying to convince you here.

  • The bullpen (Eric O'Flaherty, Jesse Chavez, Fernando Abad) looked nice, allowing two runners over the final three innings while striking out three (two by O'Flaherty). Chavez put Adrian Beltre on his ass in very Beltre fashion, whiffing hugely on a fastball up and in.

  • In the seventh, with the A's down two runs, Billy Butler led off with a sharp single up the middle, just out of the reach of Elvis Andrus. It was a very pretty hit. And, it seemed, it was a very obvious spot to pinch run with Billy Burns. The fleet outfielder has few other uses, and the Zobrist-Fuld-Gentry group doesn't need defensively replacing such that you should be saving Burns for that purpose, and the infield is similarly good enough that you're not going to put Burns in left to move Zobrist back into the infield in the late innings, and even if Zobrist isn't as good as Burns in the outfield (he's probably not), he's not someone I'd be willing to take out because of his bat and his flexibility. And you're not saving Burns for pinch-hitting because if he could hit better than anybody in the A's starting lineup, well, he'd already be in the A's starting lineup. So what's Burns's point? To pinch-run! And who more than anyone else on this team, and maybe more than anyone else in baseball, needs a pinch-runner? Billy Butler! And when more than any other time do you need that runner? Late in a close game with stolen and extra base possibilities!

    So, yes, no, Burns did not pinch-run, which certainly wound up costing the A's a run because if he were on second instead of Butler when Stephen Vogt lined a single into right field later in the inning, he'd have scored and no two ways about it. Of course, the A's needed two, not one, but who knows from there? Who are we to look a gift run in the mouth? And when Burns's spot came up in the ninth, it's not ideal, but you've got Mark Canha on the bench, and that's not as bad as some teams would have it.

    This is a very bloggy obsession for me to have, I admit, but I'm sticking with it. I only wish I could prove to you that I was yelling about Burns not pinch-running even before the Vogt hit. Because I was. You'll just have to take my word for it.

  • All that whining aside, we might be looking at a very different game had Marcus Semien not grounded into a bases-loaded double play on what would have been ball four in that seventh inning:

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  • I liked Jesse Hahn's stuff.

  • If Sam Fuld's going to keep hitting triples, I'm going to feel real dumb about complaining that he's too high in the batting order.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on April 7, 2015 at 7:44 PM

So Cody Ross is about to join the A's, which is not something I expected even though there had been reporting of Oakland's interest in him. Certainly there's an element of "why not" here -- with Coco Crisp out, the A's don't have to get rid of one of the players they were counting on for the sake of testing out whether Ross has anything left in the tank. Sure, it costs Billy Burns or Tyler Ladendorf a roster spot, but these are fringe players as it is, notwithstanding Slusser's kind words in the linked story to the effect that the A's like to have their prospects play every day. Burns and Ladendorf, especially the latter, aren't prospects. It's rude and cold-blooded, but it's facts.

The other question is the 40-man spot, but that's easy enough to deal with: Jarrod Parker is still on the 15-day disabled list, but he's not going to come back before the early June date that a 60-day move would give him, so the A's don't need to lose anyone to add Ross.

So what is this Cody Ross character? He's 34, for starters, which is younger than I'd figured and, I expect, younger than you'd figured, too. The A's will be his eighth major-league team and, depending on how well he does and how long he lasts, just his second substantial stretch in the American League, after 130 games with Boston in 2012 (and six games with Detroit in 2003). Over the last four years, he's hit .259/.324/.421 in San Francisco, Boston, and Arizona, which adds up to a 105 OPS+ that isn't very impressive for a corner outfielder who isn't bringing Gentryian defense along for the ride.

PECOTA has him down for a .257/.315/.415 line this year, but that's projected into Arizona, so take some air out for Oakland. Park-adjusted, PECOTA's looking at a .262 TAv. ZiPS and Steamer are actually even less optimistic, calling for a 94 and 91 wRC+, respectively. Ross has Rickey Syndrome, though, throwing left and batting right, so how about splits?

Year OBP v. L SLG v. L
2014 .329 .310
2013 .430 .582
2012 .373 .636
2011 .336 .362

Well! Maybe that absurd 2012-13 line against lefties holds a clue to the A's interest. The lineup against lefties once Reddick came back was going to have a variety of suboptimal possibilities all revolving around the fact that either Billy Burns or Sam Fuld was going to have to play outfield. Burns is a switch-hitter, but you'd kind of rather he not be wielding lumber at all, and Fuld would lose the platoon advantage. With Ross in the fold, Bob Melvin doesn't have to make that choice.

The more interesting question will be against righties, where Reddick's return will let Craig Gentry return to his natural position against starboarders: the bench. That will leave Ben Zobrist either in left field with Eric Sogard at second or Zobrist at second and Ross in left. You know how sometimes you have a problem figuring out which of two good options to pick and it's all "that's a good problem to have!" Well, Ross or Sogard against righties isn't that. I don't know how to compare Zobrist and Sogard defensively at second, but I'm taking Zobrist over Ross all day in left, which might decide things.

So I'm feeling okay about this for the league minimum. Down the road Coco Crisp will come back and the A's will have to decide between, probably, Ross and Fuld, but a lot has been known to happen in eight weeks of baseball, especially on the injury front, so it's entirely easy to imagine scenarios in which Ross is in Oakland all year and winds up hitting the walk-off homer in Game Seven of the World Series. Congrats on your new ring, Cody Ross!

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