Categories
Game Report

Up to .500

Told you not to panic! Whilst losing six games in a row at home to start the season is no one’s idea of a positive experience, if you doubted the character and sheer quality of the A’s on the back of a six-game run then you haven’t been paying attention to Bob Melvin’s boys over the past three seasons.

And let’s put BoMel’s name front and centre here. A half-dozen games doesn’t tell you a lot, but it did raise the question as to who was going to keep things on a level after yet another off-season in which key players in the clubhouse (Semien, KD and Hendriks) moved on.

The ‘trick’ is that BoMel is an excellent leader and he creates an atmosphere in the camp that makes everyone feel comfortable. It’s happened too many times for it to be a coincidence. Of course you miss guys like those mentioned, but the culture at the A’s means other players are always able to come to the fore, whether existing players stepping up into a leadership role or new recruits immediately being able to settle in and share their wisdom.

Elvis Andrus is a great example of someone who is hitting into bad luck at the moment, yet numerous players (not least Laureano) are quick to note that he’s still having a positive impact on the team. All players go through ups and downs over a season and being able to put your own struggles to one side and still be a good teammate is a hugely underrated attribute.

Coming into the home series against Detroit on the back of four wins on the spin, there was a clear opportunity to keep the good form going against a team still in the process of rebuilding. You could see that in Game One on Thursday when the Tigers made several plays in the field that showed there is plenty of development needed for them to get back challenging in the AL Central.

However, it’s the beauty of MLB that every game is different. The Tigers sent José Ureña to the mound to start Game Two last night and he pitched really well for them, keeping the game close through seven very solid innings. Thankfully we were able to match it and more.

Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas laid the foundations for back-to-back wins in Houston and they’ve done it again in this series, leading from the front with both pitching six strong innings. Watching the second game back this morning, Frankie was slightly off with his command in the first two innings but still was able to keep pounding the inside part of the plate against the Tigers batters hitting from the left-side. When Montas is pumping in 95-MPH fastballs at will, and working off that with his secondary pitches, he is able to be dominant and that’s what we saw last night.

Some credit should also go to Sean Murphy for his pitch-calling too. He always seems like such a steadying presence behind the plate and it’s easy to forget he is only 72 games into his Big League career. There’s a lot of development still to come from Murphy, both defensively and at the plate, and he has all the makings of being a true first-class catcher.

It may be an over-reaction, but I’d like to see him behind the plate for Jesús Luzardo’s next start as he’s struggled to find any rhythm on the mound in his three starts and all have come with Aramis Garcia catching. Garcia has a good defensive reputation, so it’s not a knock on his ability, more that a change might be worth trying. Needless to say, I have complete trust in BoMel making the right call.

Alongside the starting pitching, it was great to see us take the lead on Friday with some good two-out hitting. Mitch Moreland and Sean Murphy both did exactly what you want in that situation; they didn’t try to do too much and just put a good swing on the ball. Do that regularly in those pressure situations, rather than trying to force the big blast, and it will work out well more often than not.

Add on Petit, Diekman and Trivino all pitching relatively uneventful innings and it was as good a 3-0 win as you could wish for.

Now is the time to be greedy, though. We’ve got two day-games this weekend, so great for us to watch live here in the UK (first pitch Saturday and Sunday is 21:07) and a great opportunity to really show what we’re made of.

Categories
Game Report

Sweeping the Snakes

The mood around a team can change quickly in baseball. That’s what we’ve seen over the past few days with the A’s going from struggling to get a victory, to winning two series and four games in a row.

It feels odd to write about sweeping a two-game series, yet technically that’s what we did against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Beating Giants legend Madison Bumgarner in Game One was a great way to get things started, but it was the way we won the second game that was so impressive.

Usually for a team to be successful across an MLB season you need to be able to win games in all manner of different ways.

In the previous three games it was our starting pitching that led the way, with Manaea and Montas setting up the series win in Houston and then Bassitt battling through five innings on Monday despite never looking comfortable on the mound.

The latter wasn’t helped at all by having to hit for the first time in years due to it being an Interleague game in an NL ballpark. The way he grabbed at his side after trying to check his swing on the first pitch he saw was a big concern, although thankfully it doesn’t seem like any lasting damage was caused.

Yesterday’s game was a different matter, with Luzardo looking out of sorts from the off and allowing five runs in 2.2 innings. He was picked up by the bullpen, most notably Deolis Guerra who was incredibly impressive whilst striking out 5 hitters in three score-less innings, and a batting line-up that is now showing signs of really sparking into life.

Stephen Piscotty had been swinging the bat better in his last couple of appearances despite not getting much to show for it, so his first home run of the season was a very welcome sight. Aramis Garcia was able to get a couple of hits that should do his confidence the world of good, and the same goes for Mitch Moreland coming off the bench and getting a pinch-hit single.

But as is so often the way with the A’s, it was the Lords of the Longball who did the main damage. First came Jed Lowrie in the seventh inning for a three-run home run to draw us level and put an exclamation point on a start to his third stint with the team that has already exceeded all expectations. Then it was Seth Brown going down town to give us a 6-5 lead and further demonstrating that he’s got something to offer as a lefty bat who can play a bit of outfield and first base when needed.

With Chapman singling home an insurance run in the top of the ninth, ‘risping away’ thanks to Laureano advancing from first base with his eighth (8th!!!) stolen base of this young season, there were reasons to be cheerful all over the place.

Matt Olson sitting on the bench with a swollen thumb after being hit by a pitch on Monday wasn’t so cheerful, but at least nothing is broken and Brown stepped up in his absence. That’s what a good team does; dealing with the obstacles that come their way with different parts of the team, and different players, picking the others up.

It puts us into a very positive position heading into a seven game home-stand against Detroit and then Minnesota, starting on Thursday. There were plenty of A’s fans in attendance at Chase Field enjoying the two victories on the road, so hopefully plenty more A’s fans will finally get to sing and dance along to Celebration at the Coliseum after the difficult 1-6 home-stand to start the season.

Categories
Game Report

A Classic A’s Win

After a 6-2 loss in the series opener against Houston on Thursday night, the A’s 6-2 victory on Friday was completed in classic A’s style by some classic A’s players.

Often you find teams looking to new recruits to get a team going again, but we’re not the sort of club that tends to bring in the type of impact players that can be true game-changers.

Instead, when we needed some big performances to finally get a win against that mob, it was some old faithfuls who got the job done.

On the pitching side, Sean Manaea bounced back from his previous Astros outing with a very solid six innings before Petit, Trivino and Diekman held it down from the bullpen (the latter in more dramatic fashion then was necessary, thank you Jake).

As for the offence, we hit as many home runs in this single game (3) as we had been able to muster in the previous eight combined. Lowrie (sort of a ‘new recruit’, I guess), Olson and Canha did the damage, with the three-run Oly Bomb in the eighth inning turning the game on its head. The non-socially-distanced Minute Maid Park had the air sucked out of it when Oly put that ball into the second deck, which was probably for the best considering pretty much none of the clowns were wearing masks.

For 20 years or more now, the A’s have been seen as a team that shuns so-called ‘small ball’ tactics in favour of big innings based on big blasts. Like most stereotypes, this is a generalisation that doesn’t really tell the whole story. It’s not that the team doesn’t steal bases or do little things like sacrifice bunts, just that they balance the risk and reward differently to others and therefore are more selective in when they decide to roll the dice.

Last night’s game provided a good example. With a 4-1 lead in the top of the ninth inning and Elvis Andrus on first base with no outs, Aramis Garcia put down a perfect sacrifice bunt. It made sense there for two main reasons.

Firstly, Garcia was hitting in the nine spot and isn’t in good form at the plate right now, so there was a good chance he would make an out or even ground into a double-play. You might as well accept the out here and give the top of your order the chance with a runner in scoring position (so we could be “risping away” …).

Secondly, the criticism of small-ball tactics largely comes back to it often meaning you are sacrificing outs just to score one run. Doing that earlier in a game doesn’t make much sense because your opponent has plenty of time to get the run back. In this case, the Astros only had three outs left to play with making it more valuable to move from a 3-run lead to a 4-run lead.

It turned out that Mark Canha smacked a pitch into the left-field Crawford Boxes for a two-run home run. I think that counts as the baseball equivalent of having your cake and eating it.

There’s long been a debate as to whether the A’s approach is partly why the team has fallen short in the play-offs so often, that if the bats go quiet for a few games we don’t have a Plan B and can’t ‘manufacture’ a run or two.

Much smarter minds than mine can crunch the numbers on that. What I do know is that whilst a home-run approach can be frustrating when we lose, it’s a huge amount of fun when it works. It’s like the difference between winning a boxing match on points and winning it with a couple of left hooks.

Let’s hope we can land a few more blows on them today to finish up this tough 10-game opening stretch on a high. At the very least, another Oly bomb or two landing into the crowd might knock a bit of sense in to a couple of their fans.

First pitch is 9.05 pm UK time (1.05 pm Oakland) and the game is being broadcast live here on the BT Sport/ESPN channel.

Categories
Game Report

Being 1-6 never felt so good

When you’ve started the season with six consecutive losses you would take a win any which way you could get one.

The A’s 4-3 ten-inning victory over the Dodgers on Wednesday was much more than that, though. Against the reigning World Series champions, the A’s showed both their quality and also their battling spirit.

Heading into the bottom of the ninth inning trailing 3-2, I felt that it had already been a positive performance even if we were about to fall to an 0-7 start. When you face a team like the Dodgers, and with a pitcher of Trevor Bauer’s calibre on the mound, you know it’s going to be a tough afternoon and that you may just have to tip your cap and accept they outplayed you on the day.

What you need to do in such games is to battle, to work hard to keep the game close so that you stay in the contest and at least give yourselves a chance; in other words, precisely what we had struggled to do in the previous six games.

Yet the reality was that another loss, regardless of how it came, would further increase the pressure on the team and this rarely leads to a good outcome.

In baseball, more than most sports, you really can try too hard. You could see that in the team’s play, especially in the opening Astros series with all the baggage around it. Things weren’t quite going our way and players were desperately trying to make something happen. Hitters were trying to get three runs back with one swing rather than keeping the line moving, pitchers were trying to be too precise with their location and letting hitters get away from them.

It’s easy to tell someone to relax and just play their natural game; not so easy to do when you’re the one under pressure and getting a kicking. The fact that the A’s were able to fight through the difficulties and then go on to win this game says a lot about the character in the team.

It’s only one win, but it’s one big win in respect of the confidence of the team.

Live stream success!

As always, we were glad to play our part at A’s UK with a pre-game live stream that certainly lifted our spirits, even if our claims on directly boosting the morale of the team may well be disproved by basic common sense and logic!

We had a whole bunch of people joining in on the chat over the half-hour. The interaction with A’s fans across the world that can be generated by livestreams is one of the reasons why we are planning to do them regularly (once or twice a week, where possible) throughout the season. You can watch the livestream back on our YouTube channel:

Dom was proudly wearing one of his just-delivered Strength In Unity pins that are already a source of lust and envy. We are planning to record our next podcast episode on Sunday and I’m sure we’ll be doing an A’s UK give-away competition as part of that, so keep an eye on our Twitter feed and subscribe to the podcast via your favourite platform so that you can get involved.

Next up

There’s no let-up for the A’s as we head straight into Houston for a three-game revenge mission against the Astros.

Times are listed in British Summer Time

The first two are night-games, but Saturday’s game is on at a UK-friendly time and will also be broadcast on UK TV, so is a perfect opportunity for fans of all non-Houston teams to do the right thing and to cheer us on! Us A’s fans should take full advantage of Saturday evening too as we are in the strange position of not playing on Sunday.

Categories
Game Report

No relief for A’s, except for Puk

After the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, Tuesday marked the first day of 2021 in which I followed a painfully familiar working-day routine.

  1. Alarm clock on my phone wakes me up.
  2. Tap on the MLB At Bat app.
  3. Quietly repeat ‘please, please, please, please etc’ as I wait for the app to load up the score from the A’s game that took place whilst I was asleep.
  4. Say “aww, shit”.
  5. Chuck my phone back onto my bedside table and start the day in a huff.

That routine takes place whenever the A’s lose a night-game, but Step 3 was more desperate than usual given the way we were swept up by the Astros.

Monday night was a chance to banish the bad vibes and get our season underway with a joyful win over the LA Dodgers. It didn’t happen, with the A’s losing 10-3, and we’re now hoping that the sixth time is a charm to get our first win on the board.

Frustration continues

In my blog yesterday I put forward the idea of Daulton Jefferies being called up to be a potential long-relief option in the bullpen, not least due to the possibility of Frankie Montas leaving his start early after his recent finger issue.

It turned out that A.J. Puk was the promoted pitcher, in response to Chad Pinder being placed on the Injured List, but unfortunately the rest of the prediction came true.

Watching parts of the game back over lunch today, Frankie seemed to start out well enough in terms of his stuff, yet he found some trouble and the second and third innings got out of hand.

It’s so frustrating because the games so far look terrible when you cast an eye at the final score, yet there have been moments early on in all of them when a play here or there might have made a difference.

In this one, Matt Chapman had a chance – a very difficult one, but “Ain’t Nobody Like Matt Chapman”, as we like to sing – to get us out of the second inning with just one run allowed. The difference between Chappy producing some magic there, snagging a groundball and then beating Chris Taylor to third base, and the next batter, Corey Seager, clearing the bases with a double was big on the scoreboard and vast on the A’s morale.

As we all know, making those moments count is what baseball – and indeed most sports – at the highest level is all about. The Dodgers and Astros are quality teams and you have to take your chances when they come along as, if you don’t put them under pressure, they are likely to do so instead. As a fan it’s difficult to watch it and not get a feeling of “here we go again”, but it’s important that the players don’t look at it that way. The only people who can turn this around is them and we know they have the talent to do it.

At least Puk pitched well

No one demonstrated the talent on our team better than Puk last night. He must have been disappointed not to get the final rotation spot on the Opening Day roster; however he seemed determined to take his chance when it came and that’s exactly the reaction you want.

The impressive 3.1 innings pitched by Puk hopefully were a sign of better things to come, both for him and the team. As in Spring Training, the blazing 97-98 MPH fastball wasn’t on show and he sat around 93-94 MPH yesterday, so this may be a different version of A.J. than the one that caught everyone’s attention as a prospect.

If he’s able to stay healthy from now on then he can still be very effective from the left side with that sort of velocity, although it does perhaps put more emphasis on the development of his change-up as a weapon against right-handed hitters. His change-up yesterday was thrown at 90 MPH, which isn’t really enough separation from the 94 MPH fastball to fool hitters once they’ve seen it a few times, although he only used it twice so maybe I shouldn’t overanalyse that just yet.

Just having him out on the mound was a very welcome sight and, let’s be honest, that counts for a lot when most of the first five games hasn’t made for pleasant viewing.

Next up

Attempt number six at getting our first win of the season is another night-game start against the Dodgers. First pitch is 2.40 am UK time.

Fingers crossed that my reaction to checking the score when I wake up will be different to this morning’s rude awakening.

Categories
Game Report

Series in Review: Astros

Yesterday I was writing about Craig David and George Michael being on the A’s UK playlist. Today, well it’s got to be Yazz and D-Ream.

Yes, an 0-4 thumping at the hands of the Houston Astros means that “The Only Way Is Up” and “Things Can Only Get Better”.

Although bearing in mind we are now immediately going into a series against the reigning World Series champions, there may be a bit more punishment coming our way first.

Taking a beating in more ways than one

The potential issue we have is that it’s not just the scoreboard that got a pounding during this series.

Sean Murphy had to sit out the final two games after getting hit in the hand by a pitch, Ramón Laureano was also on the bench in those games after hurting his hand diving into first base and then Chad Pinder – one of the few A’s players who had a good series – hurt his knee early on in Sunday’s game.

MLB is back to using 26-man rosters this season and the A’s are fairly typical in starting out with a 13/13 split of position players and pitchers.

With three position players banged-up, that only leaves one bench player for Bob Melvin to turn to. If Murphy and Laureano are good to go today then that would give us some wiggle room for Pinder to rest up for a few days if his MRI scan offers some much-needed good news. Otherwise, someone would need to go on the Injured List anyway so that a healthy player could be added, rather than continue to play short-handed.

As for the pitching staff, it’s normal for starting pitchers to build up their workload over the first couple of starts of the season. The split of innings pitched between our four starting pitchers in the series (19.1) and the bullpen (16.2) isn’t a concern on its own; however a continued reliance on the bullpen picking up four innings per game will quickly become a problem as it makes it harder for the relievers to do their job well.

Consequently I wouldn’t be surprised if Reymin Guduan gets replaced today. Guduan was a surprise inclusion on the Opening Day roster and he’s had a baptism of fire by getting hit around in his two appearances. You can’t write him off based on those performances, and I hope he comes back and pitches well for us soon enough, yet in the circumstances adding another pitcher would make sense and Guduan would be the obvious choice to make way.

DJ on the way?

If that does happen, my pick to replace him would be Daulton Jefferies.

Clearly the A’s see him as a starter, so it’s not a like-for-like replacement (Guduan being a lefty too), yet right now having him around temporarily in a long-relief role would make a lot of sense. If a starting pitcher gets knocked out early over the next six days, before that odd-but-now-blessed Sunday off, Jefferies could come in and go 3-4 innings. That would be a life-saver for the bullpen.

Making that move today might make the most sense of any option. Frankie Montas is the scheduled starter against the Dodgers on Monday and he’s been dealing with a cuticle tear on his right middle finger over the past two weeks. If the problem flares up again early on, or if he’s just not sharp based on his preparation having been impacted, then Jefferies would be the ideal person to come into the game.

Tom!

Of course, the alternative would be to just use Ka’ai Tom!

The Rule 5 pick looks the type of player who could go one of two ways with the A’s: either he falls off the roster and gets forgotten about quickly or he becomes a fan favourite. Tom provided some light relief in more ways than one by finishing off the Astros series on the mound. Whilst the Stadium scoreboard may have been tagging his offerings as off-speed pitches, MLB.com’s Baseball Savant website was kinder to him:

Bob Melvin described the series as “embarrassing” and that’s precisely the way proud professionals should respond to being totally outplayed across four games. They need to use that embarrassment to light a fire and get on track this week.

Yet Tom’s pitching cameo was exactly what I needed to take something from the weekend. Even though it was an immensely frustrating series to watch as an A’s fan, as the past year has shown, life is far too short to waste away being angry about sport.

There are 158 regular season A’s games to come and I’m going to find reasons to enjoy them all come what may.

Player Of The Series

One of my new ideas for 2021 is to crowdsource A’s fans thoughts after the final game of a series to then determine the winner of our Player Of the Series award; however I decided that an 0-4 series wasn’t the best way to launch it to a favourable audience!

So I’ve chosen the winner myself this time around and gone for Chad Pinder. Here are his highlights from the series (minus the great catch he made yesterday as it seems a bit harsh to include it when he got injured on the play!).

AUK PotS (Series #1 HOU-H): Chad Pinder

https://www.mlb.com/video/00u7k0ygtlJLcz0Qr356/reels/auk-pots-series-1-hou-h-chad-pinder

Categories
Game Report

Astros get us again

The positive way to look at it is that perhaps us A’s fans in the UK will get to watch our first win of the season at a convenient time!

Friday’s game, a 9-5 loss, was another one that got away from us, with Luzardo generally pitching well but making some mistakes in the second time facing their batting order. The likes of Bregman and Gurriel are too good not to take advantage and that’s going to be part of Jesús’s development this season.

As with many other quality pitchers of the past, he’ll take some lumps early in his career as he develops his craft. There’s no doubting that he has the tools to be a top-flight starting pitcher though, so no need to worry about the Messiah any time soon.

It is a slight worry that some injuries are already starting to impact the team, however.

Sean Murphy’s workload early in the season was always going to need to be managed carefully, but it’s a blow that he has another knock that has forced him to sit out a game or two.

Meanwhile, Ramón Laureano’s status remains to be seen after he got taken out of the game last night. It’s such a difficult one because we all love the energy and competitive spirit that Ramón brings to the team, but diving into first base is always a risky proposition. It’s all the more so when you’re trying to beat someone to the bag, as the fielder’s (pitcher in this case) job is to step on the base and their momentum is going through your path. The likelihood of a collision, or being stepped on, is high and whenever the runner comes out of it badly you can’t help but feel it was a risk not worth taking.

As for the pitching staff, the surprise announcement that Trevor Rosenthal would begin the season on the Injured List was an immediate reminder that few things in baseball are more fickle than the fate of a bullpen. It only takes a couple of relievers to either go down with an injury, or struggle on the mound, and suddenly that puts a strain on the rest of the group.

I’ll be honest, it never ceases to amaze me how some A’s fans on Twitter react to a handful of performances and are quick to absolutely destroy a player on the back of a couple of appearances. The bullpen is already being written off by some and the same is going for some of the position players too. Elvis Andrus is already a waste of space according to some of these “fans” based on his first two games in the Green and Gold.

It’s ridiculous and, whilst I’ve learned to keep out of that stuff on social media (you can’t reason with people when they’re determined to be unreasonable), you do have to question the motivation behind it. You get the same with football fans; it’s almost as if their manhood (because it’s almost always a guy) is questioned as a result of the team they love losing a game so their reaction is to scapegoat players/the manager in some sort of dick-waving pique.

You do you, but I’d prefer it if a few of you grew up a bit! This is Big League baseball: it’s a long season over which the form of teams and players fluctuates. We don’t want to lose, and we certainly don’t want to lose to the Astros as our main division rival, but they’re a damn good team. I have no doubt that we are too, but every game has a winner and a loser (Manfred hasn’t changed that one, yet) so you have to take it on the chin, be positive about the next game and get behind the team.

The next game for us is a day-game on Saturday at the Coliseum, so a 9.07pm start in the UK. Coverage is on MLB.TV with a subscription (worth noting that tomorrow’s game at the same time is the MLB Free Game). I may even do a pre-game livestream to try to rally the troops! Keep an eye on Twitter for confirmation.

Categories
Game Report

Not the start we wanted, but a start

When my alarm went off at 2.30 am this morning I had no problem in getting out of bed. That’s not always the case, as I’ve written about previously, yet Opening Night has that effect on us baseball fans.

So it is that the A’s 8-1 loss to the Astros doesn’t sting all that much. It’s fair to say we don’t like losing to that mob, yet that in part comes from the fact that we know how good a team they are. There will be plenty more battles against them the rest of the way, three more over the next three days in fact, so we shouldn’t get too disheartened by one performance.

More than anything, complaining about the result when we got to watch our team for the first time in months seems a tad ungrateful.

We didn’t get the win, but we did get to see Chad Pinder’s Superman Act (Parts I and II), Correa getting tonked on the arm and all of it happening in front of 10,000+ at the Coliseum, many of whom were watching baseball in-person for the first time in 18 months.

So there’s nothing much to complaint about, really, although with the Robo Ump future staring us in the face it’s worth delving into one part of the game.

Brian Gorman’s strike zone

The A’s didn’t lose this game because of the home plate umpire Brian Gorman, but he did make the usually unflappable Matt Olson lose his cool and when you look at the evidence it is not hard to see why.

1st April 2021 – Oly’s first plate appearance – baseballsavant.mlb.com

Whilst commentators like to harp on about the first-pitch strike, often the most important pitch in an at-bat is pitch three and the difference between a 1-2 count and 2-1. In the bottom of the first inning, the count was 1-1 when Zack Greinke tossed over a loopy curveball. It’s the turquoise-coloured pitch 3 in the chart above and Gorman somehow called it a strike. Oly battled brilliantly from there, but ended up striking out on a fastball.

1st April 2021 – Oly’s second plate appearance – baseballsavant.mlb.com

In Oly’s second plate appearance he was able to get ahead 2-1, but then fouled-off pitch 4 and then lined-out on pitch 5. They are good pitches from Greinke’s point of view, yet you have to believe that Oly felt more-inclined to swing at them due to the outside-strike call in his first at-bat.

1st April 2021 – Oly’s fourth plate appearance – baseballsavant.mlb.com

And then we get to Oly’s at-bat to end the eighth inning against Blake Taylor. Again, the count was 1-1 when Taylor threw a fastball that was clearly outside (pitch 3 above). Gorman somehow saw it as a strike and put Oly in a hole. The umpire then repeated the trick with a called strike three on pitch 5. Oly had every reason to be mad.

When you look at all the at-bats, it’s fair to say Gorman called a few stinkers against the Astros hitters too; however the key theme for the A’s was the way he was calling pitches off the plate to left-handed hitters. It wasn’t just Oly that suffered along the way.

1st April 2021 – Lowrie’s AB in the fifth inning – baseballsavant.mlb.com

This is the chart from switch-hitter Jed Lowrie’s at-bat in the fifth inning against Greinke. Gorman called the first-pitch fastball a strike.

1st April 2021 – Moreland’s AB in the seventh inning – baseballsavant.mlb.com

And this is Moreland’s pitch chart in the seventh inning facing Enoli Paredes. Gorman correctly called pitch 1 a ball but then called pitch 2 a strike. In this case at least, Moreland went on to draw a walk.

A few A’s fans on Twitter were complaining at Oly after the at-bat in the eighth inning on the basis that Gorman had been calling those outside pitches as strikes all night so he had to take his bat off his shoulder.

I’ve always hated that line of thinking. The strike zone is not just an incidental part of the contest. When an umpire is consistently extending or narrowing the strike zone, as opposed to missing a call or two here and there, it skews the competition between pitcher and hitter.

We regularly hear that current MLB games are longer and have less action in them because the ball doesn’t get put in play as much as in year’s past and that this is something the Commissioner’s Office is focused on trying to improve.

Holding umpires genuinely accountable for the strike zones they are calling would be a good first step.

Categories
Game Report

A’s games to watch on Saturday and Sunday

“Friend of A’s UK” Cole Irvin pitched an absolute beauty against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday.

Facing what was essentially a full-strength Dodgers batting line-up (Betts, Seager, Turner, Bellinger, Muncy, Pollock, Barnes and Lux), Cole struck out 10 over six score-less innings, giving up just a single to Lux when the ball cannoned off the first-base bag.

He also made a ridiculous catch on a come-backer that had ‘decapitation’ written all over it!

I’ve decided to make it the centre-piece in our Song For Cole, now available on our YouTube channel:

There is a rotation spot up-for-grabs on the Opening Day roster now that Mike Fiers is going to start the season on the Injured List. Irvin’s final audition could not have gone any better and even if he doesn’t get the nod in this case, with Daulton Jefferies impressing in Spring too, then his Cactus League performances have ensured he’ll be at the top of the list when the A’s do need another arm during the regular season.

Another key name on that list is A.J. Puk. Had he been healthy all Spring then Puk may have made the roster regardless. Unfortunately, injuries have bedevilled Puk in recent years, denying him the opportunity to really get into a groove and to show what he can do, and they’ve slowed him during March too.

Puk will get an opportunity to impress on Saturday when the A’s face the Texas Rangers. The game is a 20:05 GMT start and is being broadcast on NBCSC by the A’s crew. MLB has announced that MLB.TV will be free from today through Tuesday, so if you don’t yet have an MLB.TV subscription you can still watch the game live online via MLB.com.

The A’s game tomorrow against the San Francisco Giants is also being televised, albeit by the Giants’ TV crew, so we can enjoy a Bay Bridge Series warm-up this weekend. Sunday’s game begins an hour later (well, is an hour later for us after we are robbed of one hour overnight in the move to British Summer Time).

Categories
Game Report

I Believe In Jesús

I was invited on to the LA Angels UK’s podcast Halfway Around the Halo last night as part of recording a preview of the AL West with UK representatives from all the teams in the division.

As part of this we put together a combined AL West batting line-up, starting rotation and a closer. It was a cordial affair by and large and you’ll be pleased to know I ensured a good group of A’s were included (although host Nick pulled rank and added Anthony Rendon to third base!).

When it came to the rotation, whilst Chris Bassitt was a pleasant surprise last season, and Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas have starred at times, there was one pitcher above all else I was going to put forward, one that the rest of the group all readily agreed with.

Jesús Luzardo.

You’ll struggle to find many other young pitchers with the combination of ability and incredible composure that Luzardo brings. He’s battled through some injuries during his time in the Minor Leagues so there’s a reason why he is not hyped up to the level that some other pitching prospects have been in recent years; however I firmly believe that over the next few seasons he will establish himself as one of the genuine ace-type starting pitchers in the Majors.

It didn’t hurt that Luzardo made his 2021 Cactus League debut just before we recorded the podcast and he was spectacularly impressive. His pitching line against the Texas Rangers was: 4.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 K, 2 BB.

This included striking out the side in his fourth and final inning, blazing a 97 MPH fastball and debuting his new secret weapon: a 65 MPH curveball that he refers to as “The Turkey Sub”.

After the game, he explained to the (remotely) assembled press corps that the term was coined by Brian Howard when the two were teammates in Double-A.

“It’s just a turkey sub, nothing to write home about, just gets the job done”.

Luzardo on his 65 MPH loopy curveball

Getting the job done may sum up that pitch, yet it doesn’t come close to explaining how Luzardo goes about his craft. He has the ability to dominate and dazzle, to confuse and confound hitters and to bring a poise and presence to the mound that belies his relative inexperience at the Big League level.

If Jesús has a good year then the A’s are going to have a good year.

And I believe Jesús is going to have a great year.