Month: April 2006
Two Hits, One Hit…
by Ken Arneson
2006-04-08 22:11

The A’s almost threw a no-hitter Saturday night. One night after allowing just two hits, the A’s gave up only one, a deep drive by Richie Sexson to center that fell out of Mark Kotsay’s glove on a difficult, but catchable ball.

That pitch by Barry Zito was Zito’s second hanging changeup of the game. After that, Zito pretty much abandoned his changeup for the evening, as he had several other pitches that were working just fine. Unlike the season opener, Zito had very good control of his fastball, decent control of his curveball, and an outstanding slider.

Zito kept the slider in his back pocket, and pulled it out only when he really needed it. With Richie Sexson on third and nobody out, he used it to strike out both Adrian Beltre and Carl Everett, to keep the Mariners from scoring. Later, whenever he fell behind in the count, he would pull out the slider to return the count to his favor, where he would get people out with his fastball or his curve.

Of course, these were the Mariners and not the Yankees, and the M’s probably chased a lot more pitches out of the strike zone than the Yankees would have. But nonetheless, Zito was clearly much better in his second game than his first. It’s a both a victory, and a sign of good things to come.

Kiko Calero, Joe Kennedy, and Huston Street pitched no-hit ball for the final three innings to close out the 3-0 victory. Next up: to see if Rich Harden can keep the excellent pitching going on Sunday afternoon.

The Dan Marino Rule
by Ken Arneson
2006-04-08 15:47

What I call the “Dan Marino Rule” played out in last night’s A’s-Mariners game. This rule of thumb states that whenever a superhyped prospect gets matched up against a lesser-hyped player with a longer history of success, they lesser-hyped player will outperform the hyped player.

I call it that because it reminds me of Super Bowl XIX, where all we heard all week before the game was how great Dan Marino was. And yes, Dan Marino was a great player. But Joe Montana won.

So we got the stories about how the A’s were afraid of facing Felix Hernandez in his first start of the year, and not a word about Joe Blanton. But Joe Blanton won.

Blanton and Justin Duchscherer combined to face only one batter over the minimum. Blanton had every pitch working, with great location. He went eight strong innings, giving up only a walk and two hits.

Hernandez only yielded two hits, as well, but the A’s made him throw a lot more pitches in the process. Hernandez hit the 100 pitch mark after five innings, while Blanton threw 99 in eight.

Hernandez has nasty stuff, for sure, but perhaps making him throw a lot of pitches is the best approach against him. This article by David Appelman shows that Hernandez had the fourth-lowest percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone last year, and two of the players ahead of him (Al Leiter and Kirk Rueter) have retired. You may not beat Hernandez directly with such an approach, but you might be able to get him out of the game and beat a lesser pitcher. It worked last night.

An Uninteresting Loss
by Ken Arneson
2006-04-06 22:32

If the A’s lose Friday night to fall to 2-3, they will have lost to Randy Johnson, Gil Meche, and Felix Hernandez. Which of these things is not like the other?

Even though the A’s weren’t facing any future Hall-of-Famers, the A’s got outpitched by the Mariners on Thursday night, and lost 6-2, in a rather uninteresting game. The A’s made Gil Meche throw a lot of pitches, especially in the first few innings, but Meche had good stuff. Just because you work the count well, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to hit the ball well. And just because you get into the opposing bullpen early, doesn’t mean you’ll take advantage of it. The Mariners pen did a good job tonight.

Esteban Loaiza was unimpressive. He left all sorts of pitches floating over the middle of the plate, and the Mariners made the him pay.

So I’ll credit Seattle, but refrain from drawing conclusions. I’ve felt rather pessimistic about the quality of Seattle’s pitching beyond Hernandez. I still have my doubts as to how often the Mariners can pitch like they did tonight. And I also doubt Loaiza will pitch this poorly very often. But if I’m wrong, and tonight is a sign of things to come, it will be quite a different AL West race than anyone expected.

I Must Point This Out
by Ken Arneson
2006-04-06 9:22

I have written a lot of stuff on the web. When you post stuff, you can expect a certain amount of feedback. And of all the things I have written on the web, the one single thing I have received the most grief about is this:

Picking the Detroit Tigers to win the AL Central.

I have had people, including my own relatives, question both my sanity and my sobriety. I was also called “Booji-Boy with a fork”, which may or may not be a compliment, I’m not sure. Look it up, and you tell me.

In response to these responses, let me respond, while I can, with the current standings in the AL Central:

1. Detroit (2-0)
2. Cleveland (2-1)
3. Minnesota (1-1)
4. Chicago (1-2)
5. Kansas City (0-2)

Do I need to tell you that this is the exact order I predicted for the AL Central standings? Yes, I do. This is the exact order I predicted for the AL Central standings.

So there. :P Phhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhfffffffffffffffffffft!!!!!

Milton Bradley’s Coming Out Party
by Ken Arneson
2006-04-05 23:50

Milton Bradley scored the winning in run in Tuesday’s game, but Marco Scutaro got to wear the hero’s crown. In Wednesday’s 9-4 win over the Yankees, Bradley got to keep the crown himself.

Bradley drove in the A’s first two runs with a bases loaded single, cutting a 4-0 Yankee lead in half. The next inning, Bradley drove in the tying run with a bases loaded walk. And then in the eighth, with the score still tied, Bradley showed off both his power and his speed. He hit a ball off the center field wall, and motored all the way around for a leadoff triple. He scored the winning run one batter later, as Robinson Cano couldn’t handle Jay Payton’s grounder with the infield in.

A little bit of patience, a little bit of contact, a little bit of power, and a little bit of speed. It’s characteristic of Milton Bradley and, if it’s not too soon to start trying to characterize a team, it’s characteristic of the 2006 A’s as a whole. Nobody really stands out with eye-popping superstar talent, but everyone is above average. With all the talk of where the A’s new home will be, and what they would be called, perhaps the most appropriate name would be the “Lake Wobegon A’s“.

It struck me today watching several runners go from first to third that, wow, the A’s actually have some pretty good team speed. Of all the hitters on the 25-man roster, only Frank Thomas and Dan Johnson are slow. Pretty much everyone else on the A’s has above-average speed. As a longtime A’s fan, that feels so weird to say. In the past, for every Rickey Henderson, there were seemingly two Mark McGwires.

The A’s really only made one mistake all night, when Dan Haren hung a slider, and Gary Sheffield did what Gary Sheffield does with hanging sliders. The rest of the night, the A’s pitched great, and played perfect defense.

I suspect this might be the A’s M.O. this year. Playing against the A’s will be like playing a master baseline player in tennis: they’ll just keep putting the ball back in your court, time and time again, steadily, steadily, steadily, until you finally make a mistake, and you lose.

Each A’s game becomes a bet with the other team: I bet you can’t play as long as we can without making a costly pitching or defensive mistake. And whatever kind of mistake you make, we have enough power, or speed, or contact skills, or patience to take advantage of it.

On Wednesday, that’s exactly what happened. Derek Jeter booted a grounder that kick-started the A’s first rally. Bradley received the RBI free pass, scored on the error by Cano, and tripled when Johnny Damon couldn’t run down his centerfield blast in the eighth. And then to finish it off, a fastball down the middle to Frank Thomas. Bases-clearing double, game over.

Now That’s More Like It
by Ken Arneson
2006-04-04 22:49

So my wife finally gets off the phone after a 45-minute conversation. She walks into the living room, sees that it’s 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth. Conversation goes like this:

Wife: So how come Mariano Rivera isn’t in the game?

Me: They’re saving him for a save situation, I guess.

Wife: When? Tomorrow?

So Ken Macha and my wife outmanaged Joe Torre, and the A’s won their first game of year, 4-3.

With both Rich Harden and Mike Mussina pitching fairly well, this game seemed from early on like it was going to be a battle of bullpen attrition, and the first team to run out of good relievers was going to lose. When Rich Harden ran out of gas and pitches after 5 2/3 innings, I figured the Yankees had a huge advantage.

Not only had they just taken the lead, but Mike Mussina still had another couple of innings left in his tank. The A’s had to burn Justin Duchscherer just to get through the seventh, and although the A’s tied the game when Eric Chavez homered off Mussina, the Yankees still had a two-inning lead in the attrition battle.

The A’s had to bring in Joe Kennedy to pitch the eighth, and although he was facing two lefties in Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui, I thought the A’s were doomed, especially after he walked Giambi to lead off the inning. Luckily, Kennedy got away with a couple of bad pitches, as both Matsui and Jorge Posada crushed a couple of pitches just foul.

So when Kennedy got through his inning unscathed, the A’s had picked up an inning in the attrition battle. Then when Torre decided to use Kyle Farnsworth for only 2/3 inning, the Yankee advantage was gone. It was a battle of the American League’s two best relievers now, Huston Street vs. Mariano Rivera, mano-a-mano.

Except Joe Torre decided not to play. The A’s faced Scott Proctor instead. Milton Bradley led off with a walk. Jason Kendall sacrificed him to second, Nick Swisher was intentionally walked, and Marco Scutaro came to the plate.

Theoretically, Ken Macha could have pinch-hit Antonio Perez for Scutaro in this spot, but with Bobby Crosby hurt, and the A’s also short an outfielder because the A’s are currently carrying 12 pitchers due to the rain, Macha elected not to use his last remaining infielder, and let Scutaro hit. Macha’s decision paid off, and Macha looked like the happiest guy on the planet after it did. Probably because he was expecting an earful from Billy Beane if it hadn’t.

The Yankee outfield was playing in to try to help them throw out Bradley at the plate. But just like Luis Gonzalez’s flare in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, playing the defense in ended up costing the Yankees the game. Scutaro hit a fly ball that barely got over Hideki Matsui’s glove, and the A’s had won.

When you open the season against the Yankees, you worry you’ll begin the year 0-3. It’s quite a relief to get that first victory. It’s also a relief that the A’s didn’t just roll over and die for the Yankees like they did last night. They gave the Yankees a battle, like they belong in their league.

The A’s won with some home runs, a walk, a bunt and a clutch hit–a multidimensional attack that can satisfy both sabermetricians and traditionalists. The fact that they are capable of playing a crisp, tense, mistake-free playoff-caliber game in early April fills me with all kinds of hope. It finally feels like the season has begun.

Pitching Afraid
by Ken Arneson
2006-04-03 22:48

When Barry Zito has a bad game–and boy did he ever have a bad game tonight–it usually has the same flavor. In these bad games, it always seems like he’s afraid to throw a strike.

Now, I don’t know if he’s actually afraid to throw a strike, or if he’s just mechanically unable to. But as a fan, that’s what it feels like.

Perhaps it’s a little of both: that when he doesn’t feel like he has good control, he’s afraid to throw the ball too close to the middle of the strike zone. I might be tempted to say that perhaps the Yankees lineup intimidated him, but I’ve seen him go into this mode against Tampa Bay, so I don’t think it’s that.

Zito seemed to have a game plan of throwing inside fastballs to the right-handed hitters, but he couldn’t get very many of them called for strikes, for whatever reason. Perhaps they weren’t strikes, or perhaps the umpire’s zone was a little tight. Whatever. Zito seemed afraid to adjust, to bring the ball out a little more over the plate. Instead, he started nibbling with changeups and curves and sliders.

The curveball was not working. Without it, Zito also seemed afraid to throw the high-and-away fastball to righties that plays off the curveball.

I’m not sure why. The fastball seemed lively, and no Yankee actually hit it. “Challenge them!” I yelled at the TV, to no avail. Zito started walking guys with fastballs off the plate, and then he started giving up hits left and right on changeups and curveballs. He gave up seven runs, but I don’t think he gave up a single hit on his fastball. ARod’s grand slam was a hanging curve.

And that was that. With Randy Johnson on the mound, you can only afford to give up a couple of runs if you hope to win.

Johnson only gave up one run in seven innings, an impressive off-balance home run by Frank Thomas in his first official AB as an Athletic. A nice debut for the Big Hurt, against the Big Unit.

Even though the A’s didn’t score any more runs against Johnson, I was actually pretty pleased with the A’s approach against him. They seemed to be patiently looking for and finding good pitches to hit. On the whole, they swung at fastballs, and laid off the sliders and splitters. I gotta find some silver lining in tonight’s dark cloud, so there you have it.

Horrible Baserunning
by Ken Arneson
2006-04-03 17:49

Didn’t major league players just spend a month doing baserunning drills? There was an epidemic of poor baserunning today, and it makes me sick. Two of the mistakes probably cost their team the game.

1. Early in the Mets-Nationals game, Xavier Nady is on third and fails to tag up and score on a fly ball to Alfonso Soriano, who is completely new to his position, and has probably never even hit a cutoff man before, let alone thrown someone out at the plate.

2. Later, Nady almost gets caught napping off second base.

3. Same game, Soriano is thrown out at home on a double with nobody out and his team down by a run in the eighth inning. Granted, the replay showed the catcher dropped the ball, but Soriano shouldn’t even have been running. The Nats would have had second and third with nobody out, with three chances to drive in both runs. Instead, they got none, and the Nationals lost.

4. On a routine fly ball to center field, Alex Gonzalez of Boston somehow wanders too far off the base and gets doubled off.

5. After singling home the tying run, and sending Ichiro over to third base with one out, Jose Lopez gets thrown out trying to stretch his single into a double. Now instead of having a runners on first and third with one out, there are two outs. Of course, the next out made is a fly ball to center that would have scored Ichiro and given the Mariners the lead. Instead, it just ended the inning. M’s lose.


Here’s hoping for some smarter play from the A’s and Yankees tonight. There was a chance that I could have had a ticket to the game, but it fell through. I’ll be watching on TV, instead. Just as well. I have a cold, and I should probably stay warm, anyway.

Sunday Notes
by Ken Arneson
2006-04-02 8:35

The A’s finalized their 25-man roster yesterday. The only surprise is that Brad Halsey made the team, and Bobby Kielty was sent down to AAA. This is only because the forecast calls for rain on Monday and Tuesday, and if either of those games is rained out, the A’s and Yankees will have to play a doubleheader. The starter that gets pushed back would need a replacement starter in Seattle over the weekend, hence the decision to keep Halsey.

Kielty gets sent down for a couple of reasons: (1) he has options left, and (2) he had an oblique strain during spring training, and didn’t get many at-bats. Presumably, he’ll be called up at the first opportunity, and Halsey will return to AAA.

* * *

I was supposed to attend a triple-header yesterday: my daughter’s softball game at 9am, my nephew’s Little League game at 11am, and the A’s-Giants game at the Coliseum at 1pm. But the first two games were rained out, and I caught a cold and decided to forego the latter. So I watched it on TV, instead.

Esteban Loaiza had a very impressive start, finally. I was feeling nervous about the rotation a week ago, but since then, four of the five starters have had dominating performances in their final tuneups for the season. Only Barry Zito has yet to look sharp.

So I was happy about Loaiza, but I still felt disappointed about missing the tripleheader. My five-year-old daughter is playing in an under-7 softball league, and it’s just so cute to watch. They’ve only played one game so far, and have had two rainouts.

They also had one training camp, too, which was run by UC Berkeley softball slugger Haley Woods. This morning’s SF Chronicle has a nice profile of Woods. They call her “Governor Woods”, and the nickname is quite apt. You could tell just seconds into the training camp that Woods was a born leader. If you can get dozens of 5-8 year old kids to stay quiet and pay attention to you, you have some special qualities. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if she actually does end up as governor.

* * *

I was watching a bit of the Angels-Dodgers game on last night, and I was going nuts trying to figure out who Chad Billingsley reminded me of. His motion looked so familiar, but I couldn’t put a name to it. Random names started popping in my head: Tom Seaver, Justin Duchscherer, Troy Percival, Billy Swift. But they didn’t seem quite right. I finally decided that he looked like a more muscular version of Roy Oswalt. But I’m still not sure. Maybe I’ll try putting them side-by-side sometime and see if that’s it.

* * *

The regular season starts tonight! Hooray!

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