Heavyweight Update

The Angels are the current MLB Heavyweight Champions (see the Catfish Stew sidebar for details) and today, they play the Pittsburgh Pirates in a pivotal game: if the Angels win, the Heavyweight title will stay in the AL for the rest of the season; if the Pirates win, the crown stays in the NL.

The way things are going, the heavyweight crown might remain not just in the AL for the rest of the season, but in Anaheim. Are the Angels ever going to lose again? It doesn’t matter how far behind they are, or how late, they end up winning the game. Obviously, this is their year.

The Angels are on pace to win 104 games; the A’s are on pace to win 87. While it’s pretty easy to imagine that the A’s could pick up the pace after adding Rich Harden to the rotation, and Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street to the bullpen again, it’s pretty hard to envision the Angels slowing down enough for the A’s to catch them. The Angels would have to play under .500 for the rest of the year to fall below 92 wins. Clearly, the Angels are better than a .500 team, so even if they don’t win 104, they’ll almost certainly win 95-100, and make the playoffs. If the A’s are going to make the playoffs, the wild card will have to come out of the AL West.

Plus, you have to wonder how much Harden, Duchscherer, and Street will actually improve the team. The A’s already have the fewest runs allowed of any AL team; only the Padres, in their cavernous ballpark and non-DH league, have been stingier. It’s the offense that needs improvement, and it’s hard to understand how booting Milton Bradley off the team is going to help matters. On the other hand, the offensive production from the outfield hasn’t been the problem–the problem has been the three major sinkholes in the lineup: Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, and Jason Kendall.

I am certain Chavez will improve his first-half numbers in the second half. He says his arms are finally healthy after 1 1/2 years of pain, and he looks like he says. In the last two weeks, the ball has been jumping off his bat in a way we haven’t seen in, well, 1 1/2 years. So consider that sinkhole filled, at least.

But Crosby and Kendall are still problems. Kendall’s hole can be filled by giving more playing time to Mike Piazza and Kurt Suzuki, and the A’s have taken steps in that direction, so that’s good.

Crosby, on the other hand…he’s the unsolvable problem. Sure, every once in a while, he’ll crush some pitch with such force that your eyes pop out, but his high-effort swing contains more holes than the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corporation. He’s everything that Moneyball talked about the A’s avoiding: the player who looks real good in every way except one: the ability to hit a baseball. And they’re pretty much stuck with him, because they don’t have anybody else in or near the majors who can handle shortstop defensively on a long-term basis. Marco Scutaro is OK in an emergency, but he just doesn’t have nearly the range that Crosby does. So the A’s will remain with the status quo: hoping that somehow, someday, Crosby figures something out and starts hitting. Good luck.

 

Milton’s Last Stand

Before I headed out to the Oakland Coliseum for yesterday’s A’s – Reds game, Bob Timmermann noted in an email that the game wasn’t going to be televised anywhere, and momentous things tend to happen in games without TV. For instance, Shawn Green hit four home runs in a non-televised game a few years ago.

I said I wouldn’t mind witnessing a momentous event, provided the event wasn’t that my wife going into sudden labor during the game. Bob said it would be bad if we felt compelled to name the child after whoever was at bat at the time, especially since we’re expecting a girl.

"Yes, we decided to name you Ken, Jr., but you weren’t named after me, you were named after Ken Griffey, Jr. It’s a long story."

* * *

I went home thinking that no momentous event had happened at all, just a bunch of little not-quites. Instead, it turned out to Milton Bradley’s last appearance in an A’s uniform. Hmm…how to react? With disappointment? With vengeance?

It’s clearly quite an odd transaction, because when Bradley is healthy and playing, he was still one of their top three outfielders. Swisher (.909) and Buck (.873) each have a better OPS this year than Bradley (.819), but Swisher can play first base, and Bradley is better than Dan Johnson (.786). And Mark Kotsay (.738). And Shannon Stewart (.695). And Bobby Kielty (.477).

It’s the Stewart comparison that really gets me, because they’re both under contract just for this season. The only way that Shannon Stewart is more valuable than Milton Bradley is that he has stayed healthy this year. Stewart is nowhere near the hitter Bradley is, is limited only to left field on defense, and has the worst outfield throwing arm Oakland has seen since Ben Grieve. If it were me, I’d cut Stewart long before I cut Bradley. Same goes for Kielty, who ain’t no great shakes in the field, either, and is somewhat literally half the switch-hitter Milton Bradley is.

All of which leads me to conclude that either one of two things are true: either Bradley did something to wear out his welcome, or Beane already has a trade lined up that couldn’t quite get completed by Friday, when the A’s needed the roster spot.

So I’m pretty bummed out that Bradley is gone. I liked the dude. I liked the way he got psyched up when he earned a base on balls. I liked his goofy goggles.  I liked the way he attacked a fastball. I like his home run dance with Swisher.  I liked the way he played the outfield. I’ll miss him.

* * *

Here are some shots I took yesterday of what turned out to be Milton’s Last Stand:

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So Long, Milton Bradley?

Milton Bradley has been designated for assignment.  Reasons unknown, press conference to follow soon.

The timing is related to Eric Chavez getting hurt again.  If he can’t play this weekend in New York, the A’s are short an infielder.  They needed to call up somebody (Kevin Melillo, in this case), and needed to send somebody off the roster as well.   The fact that Bradley is the guy to go, however, is rather shocking.

Them Crazy

Enough of this 3 o’clock roadblock – roadblock – roadblock. Hey, Mr. LaRussa, ain’t got no birth certificate on me yet. I’m waiting, but I ain’t got all day, all night, every day, every month, every year. So, them crazy…we gonna chase them crazy…we gonna chase them crazy redbirds out of the yown. See now? See this? Two hours, ten minutes. That’s how things are done round here. We always get to bed early, and nobody stays up late. Hey, Mr. LaRussa, I look down on you with scorn. Then I eat all of your corn.

But I must be hallucinating, watching Angels celebrating. The A’s have gone 12-5 this month, and have lost half a game in the standings. Tonight, Angels 9-4 down and win 10-9? Every year there’s some team, that somehow gets exactly what they need exactly when they need it. This must be a strange deception, by celestial intervention. The Angels have the magic. The Angels are going to the playoffs. Anythems thinking they can keep thems out of the playoffs, them crazy. For Oakland, it’s Wild Card or bust.

From end to end, the noise begins…in the human battle stations, the big ones coming in between July 23 and August 13. In those 22 days, the A’s play the Angels 7 times, the Tigers 7 times, and the Mariners 4 times. Rip through those three weeks, and you make the playoffs. Play .500 or less, forget it. Meanwhile, work, work, work, work, work ’til holes are filled. A Mets-Indians-Yankees road trip. Schedulemakers, them crazy. Sinatra didn’t sing “I want to be a part of it–New York, Cleveland, New York!” Yankees have some wild card dreams of their own. They’re hot hot hot! Hopefully, before the A’s hit town, they will sit at the table too and drink cool water. And their lungs will fill with rain, and the water rushes in.

And motor trips and burning lips and burning toast and prunes

The last time I can remember going to a game at the Oakland Coliseum like today’s, a game that just seemed to drag on and on

and on

and on and on and on

and on

and on and on and on and on

and on

*sigh*

and on

and on and on and on

and on

and on and on,

was back in the days

ex…hale…

when Tony LaRussa

–pause–

was manning the dugout.

Ah yes…

Thanks for the memory. How lovely it was.

Barton is where? I don’t know. Third base!

Here’s an interesting tidbit: the day after the MLB draft was complete, the A’s shifted their top prospect, 21-year-old Daric Barton, over from first base to third on an everyday basis. He had seen some occasional time at third before, but since June 8, he’s played there every day.

Perhaps it is only a coincidence, but the A’s did draft Sean Doolittle, a slick-fielding first baseman from U of Virginia, in the sandwich round this year. In a chat at Baseball Propectus, Bryan Smith said:

Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin told me that Doolittle was the best defensive first baseman he’d ever seen at the level. Gotta like that.

Doolittle is considered a safe pick, a player who is likely to make the majors, but not likely to be a star. He hits for average, but not a lot of power. Which sounds an awful lot like Daric Barton, except for the "best defensive" part.

Add Doolittle to Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher, and there’s a pretty long list of fairly young players in the A’s system who can play a better first base than Barton. The line behind Eric Chavez, on the other hand, is practically vacant. Jeff Baisley made some noise this year at low A Kane County, and was promoted up to AA Midland, where he’s done OK, but that’s about it. You hate to see a 21-year-old relegated to DH duties, so the more ways Barton can get himself into the lineup, the better. Especially on a team as injury-prone as the A’s, with a third baseman as injury-prone as Eric Chavez.

Barton has made five errors in nine games at third base, three of them in one game, so the transition has not exactly been smooth. None of the errors were on throws, however. He started out as a catcher, so even if he has little range and bad hands, he should at least be able to make the throw across the diamond.

The move to third may be a struggle for Barton, but the good news is that it has done wonders for his bat. Barton had been off to a slow start at the plate this year, but since moving to third, he has hit a blistering .526/.571/.710.

 

Toll the Bells for Liberty! Adam Melhuse Has Escaped!

At last, Adam Melhuse has escaped! The evil double shadow of Jason Kendall and MLB rules have the poor backup catcher in their clutches no longer. Melhuse was traded to Texas this afternoon for Cash Considerations.

Considerations is a lousy player to get in return, and I guess Melhuse is still technically a subject of MLB rules, but I won’t complain. He is, at least, going to a place where he’ll get more opportunity than he was ever going to get in Oakland. I am happy for him; he deserves this.

The presumed A’s catcher of the future, Kurt Suzuki, will be called up to replace Melhuse. I suppose this is what Beane has been waiting for all along–enough of the season has passed now that Suzuki likely won’t be eligible for Super Two arbitration status. It give the A’s an extra cheap year of Kurt Suzuki, plus puts some pressure on Jason Kendall to get his act together, and fast. Somebody is gaining on him.

As much as I think Melhuse has been treated unfairly by the system, Billy Beane should get some kudos for getting Melhuse a new home as soon as he was able. Likewise for releasing Jay Witasick. Players make a lot of money, and the rules are the rules, but that’s never a reason not to treat people with simple, ordinary decency. I’m glad to see my favorite team show some.

 

Kaboomlessness

Thank goodness the baserunner in this photograph is not A-Rod. Otherwise, we’d probably never hear the end of it:

Instead, this play is probably doomed to be forgotten because (a) it had no effect on the final score, (b) nobody got hurt, (b) the Twins turned the double play anyway. How exactly Luis "Joe Montana" Castillo managed to release the ball over the head of Jack "Too Tall" Cust and into the hands of Justin "Clark caught a touchdown" Morneau in time to turn the 4-3 double play, I’ll never quite understand.

What will be remembered from this game is the performance of Joe Blanton. Blanton had had two rocky outings since becoming the victim a triple-whammy curse placed on him when (a) Ryan gave him some solid Catfish Stew praise, (b) Rob Neyer spread that praise by (subscribers-only) linking to it on ESPN.com, and (c) Ryan followed up his praise by attending his next start. Let this be a lesson to you all: no good can ever come of such optimistic behavior.

Fortunately, I am happy to report that I was able reverse that whammy by attending Saturday’s game, and saying nothing of it or my expections about Joe Blanton to anyone in advance. As a result, Blanton pitched a three-hit, complete game shutout. You may all thank me in the comments below.

Blanton was masterful today, with great control of all of his pitches. Combine Blanton’s sharpness with Carlos Silva pitching at his ground-ball inducing best (including the one that started the double play above), and you had a recipe for one of the fastest games I’ve ever seen: one hour and 48 minutes. The two pitchers were so good today that they not only removed all the fireworks from the two teams’ offenses (the game’s only run scored on, yes, a double play), they kept fireworks out of the sky as well. The game was over so fast, we had to wait for a full hour after the game for the sky to get dark enough to begin the scheduled post-game fireworks show.

I’ve been pretty busy with travel and work stuff lately, and I have some more busy times coming soon, but I shall try to squeeze in some more whammy-reversing whenever I can. I haven’t even been able to get in any player fasting or anything this year. Travis Buck and Milton Bradley both left the game early with (guess what?) ailments of some sort. I can only do so much.  But does this team need me, or what?