As A’s Soap Opera Resumes, There’s Hope For Some Happy Episodes Ahead
Former MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti used to say that baseball was designed to break your heart. As we watched Josh Hamilton crush that Andrew Bailey fastball and send it soaring into the second deck at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Saturday night and a much-needed A’s victory suddenly became perhaps the season’s most devastating loss, I couldn’t help but think Mr. Giamatti might be on to something. That demoralizing 7-6, ninth-inning setback was Oakland’s 20th one-run loss of 2011. In other words, 20 of the A’s 53 losses this year have been decided by one foot tap of home plate. Alarmingly, that’s almost 40 percent of the team’s entire loss total!
We all came into this season with higher expectations, based on the return of a brilliant young pitching staff and the offseason acquisitions of three proven Major League hitters and two accomplished relievers. So to watch this once promising club spin in a downward spiral the past few weeks has been tough on all of us. Perhaps the All-Star Break arrived at an opportune time. Players and coaches probably need a mental break from the game. GM Billy Beane and his top lieutenant David Forst can use this week to contemplate changes or ways to jump-start a struggling team. New skipper Bob Melvin, whose managerial moves and demeanor this past month seem to be beyond reproach, has flown home to New York for the break, no doubt digesting what he’s experienced since donning the A’s uniform and trying to devise a winning formula for the second half.
While fielding lineups with three or four players hitting .225 or below might be the first clue to why Oakland played at a .424 clip before the Break, the offense has not been the only culprit this season. Defense, thought to be a strength entering the campaign, has betrayed the A’s since Opening Day. Their 71 errors rank second most in the American League and third most in the majors. What has been of particular concern is the glove work on Oakland’s infield, as 67 of their 71 miscues this season have been committed around the diamond (the breakdown is: 18 by third basemen, 14 by shortstops, 13 by pitchers, nine by first basemen, seven by catchers and six by second basemen). So, this makes Beane’s and Forst’s challenge even more daunting, as they must weigh how much they can add offense at the expense of defense. Clearly, they are losing ball games as much because of an inefficient defense as with scoring the second fewest runs in the American League at the Break. That said, kudos should go out to Coco Crisp, who is batting a productive.267, with a team-leading 18 doubles, five triples and 26 stolen bases, not to mention eye-popping catches in center field, for his first half performance. The same can be said for two relative newcomers in second baseman Jemile Weeks, who’s hitting .287 with three triples, eight doubles, eight RBI and seven steals in only 31 games since his Jume call-up, and converted third baseman Scott Sizemore, who has also batted .287 with five doubles, four homers and 14 RBI in just 28 games since being acquired in a trade with Detroit.
One thing that has always struck me about baseball is, like no other sport, it is a soap opera that unfolds every day. Much can change in a matter of weeks, and every season is filled with ups and downs that can tear at your heartstrings. What’s in store for the Oakland A’s after the All-Star Break has yet to be written. Will the team rebound and begin to fulfill its preseason promise? Will player moves at the trading deadline dictate Melvin’s goals and lineup in the second half? Will there be more Jemile Weeks stories provided by further call-ups from Sacramento? How will pitching aces Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill finish their seasons? As we follow the A’s fortunes, beginning with a four-game series against the Angels this weekend, these answers will began to form. Stay tune for an interesting journey.