This time last week I was pondering if heading out onto the road would help the A’s after a dismal home-stand?
The answer to that was ‘no’, although it was a question posed in desperation rather than any expectation. We did at least get one win, snapping our latest long losing streak at 10 games, and in fairness it was an exciting win too.
Saturday’s success against Cleveland was a good example of finding the bright spots wherever you can in a season such as this. I celebrated Seth Brown’s go-ahead Grand Slam with gleeful abandon, paying no thought to the context of a season heading nowhere other than an entry on the ‘years to forget’ list.
As Stephen Vogt, Christian Bethancourt and Sean Murphy all got in on the home-run act, it felt like a light relief from the daily drudgery. You have to enjoy games like that, like a squirrel burying some nuts to help sustain it through a long harsh winter.
Of course, the wisdom of this approach was immediately proved on Sunday when an early 1-0 lead swiftly dissolved into a regulation 6-3 loss. Back-to-back jacks in the eighth inning by Bethancourt – a strong early contender for the ‘surprise of the season’ award – and Brown gave us something to shout about, but even a Chad Pinder double in the ninth inning didn’t really knock Cleveland’s closer Emmanuel Clase out of his stride.
A guide to where we are
It’s hard to be annoyed, let alone upset, about a 1-3 series defeat like that. Watching the Guardians for four games showed the undoubted star quality they possess in the likes of Jose Ramirez but, perhaps most significantly, also the steady, ‘do the basics right’ assuredness that most good teams have and that we so clearly lack.
Things tend to snowball on a team like ours; an error leads to someone else trying to do too much on a fielding play and then before you know it three runs have crossed the plate and you’re in a hole again. A few bad days at the plate can swell to a bad couple of weeks, two or three losses can extend to eight or nine, so the confidence drops and a sense of ‘here we go again’ creeps in that is hard to shake.
The harsh truth is that a good proportion of our experienced players don’t have the quality to play their way out of the situation, either because they are not quite at that level or no longer are now that they are at the tail-end of their careers. The younger players on our roster don’t have the experience to climb out of a hole before it gets too deep and when the veterans can’t drag them along you end up with a stretch of games like we’re currently going through.
We’ve not played as badly over the last 16 games as our 2-14 record suggests, it’s just that we lack the vital ingredients that might otherwise turn such a stretch into a 6-10 record that at least keeps the confidence from dipping too low. That’s the difference between a team that finishes 74-88 and one that flirts with racking up triple figure losses.
Among the struggles, it was nice to read that Guardian’s manager Terry Francona made a point to chat to Mark Kotsay during the series. Like everyone else, he knows the hand that Kotsay has been dealt in his debut season, but more importantly he knows what it takes to keep the ship sailing through the stormy waters.
Francona got his Big League managerial break in 1997 with a Philadelphia Phillies team that had plenty of issues, barring ace pitcher Curt Schilling and Rookie of the Year Scott Rolen. Francona’s Phillies went 285-363 (.440) during his four years in charge before he was sacked, but the lessons he learned during those tough times served him well in his next managerial job. After spending 2003 with the A’s as Ken Macha’s bench coach, he took the helm at the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and took them to their first World Series in 86 years at the first time of asking.
Francona managed Kotsay with the Red Sox in 2008 and 2009 so he knows the fire and determination that everyone talks about when Kotsay’s name gets mentioned. It’s not something Kotsay can put to one side just because it’s a rebuilding year and neither would you want him to. Francona was able to share some of his wisdom in keeping things competitive without getting too high or too low.
Those lessons may come in handy for Kotsay straight away as the team heads to Fenway Park for a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox. Alex Cora’s team swept a three-game series at the Coliseum only a week ago as part of run of winning nine of their last eleven games.
Let’s set our expectations at avoiding another sweep before heading back home to host the Kansas City Royals over the weekend.