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.

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 –

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 –

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 –

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 –

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 –

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.