The good news is, if the A’s play like this for 161 more games, they’ll win a good share of them. Most reports out of Japan made it sound as if the A’s were expected to roll over and crumble against the awesome destructive powers of the Mighty Matsuzaka Power Sox. But the A’s did not fold in the presence of the world champions, acted as if they belonged as equals on the same stage as Boston, and lost the game mostly because of three of their own mistakes: two horribly mislocated pitches by Huston Street, and one gawdawful baserunning blunder by bad, bad, Emil Brown. Lessons learned:
Joe Blanton is pretty good. He outpitched Daisuke Matsuzaka for five innings, but ran out of gas in the sixth. It’s still March, he travelled halfway across the planet, and it still took a hitter the likes of Manny Ramirez to knock him out, so we can forgive him for his empty tank.
The jury is still out on Bob Geren. Geren didn’t have much to work with last year with all the injuries, so I’m still not sure what I think of him. But I must ask, why did Geren leave Blanton in the game to give up the lead run, with Alan Embree ready in the pen and a left-handed batter in Brandon Moss coming to the plate? It was a strange, Macha-vellian decision.
The A’s make opposing pitchers work. Matsuzaka only lasted five innings, mostly because of the A’s patient approach up and down the lineup. He had thrown 60 pitches after two innings. This will pay off in the long run, when the A’s face pitchers of a lower caliber than Matsuzaka.
Daric Barton has one heckuva batting eye. Three walks.
Opponents have already adjusted to Bobby Crosby’s adjustment. Crosby has moved up on the plate and opened up his stance in order to help him recognize and reach the outside breaking pitches that have given him so much trouble over the years. The Red Sox responded by jamming him with inside fastballs a couple of times, resulting in a couple of weak grounders. But on the positive side, he went 2-for-5 overall, so if getting jammed every once in a while means he’ll get more hits overall, so be it. Better to get jammed twice in five ABs on inside fastballs than strike out thrice on sliders in the dirt. He’s going to have holes in his swing either way; the smaller the holes, the better.
Travis Buck has not adjusted his swing. Like Crosby, Buck has a hole in his swing–in Buck’s case, it’s the high fastball. Pitchers like Matsuzaka who have enough zip on their fastballs can get him out pretty consistently by going up the ladder on him. He needs to learn to lay off that pitch.
PECOTA might be right about Hannahan vs. Chavez. The PECOTA projection system thinks Eric Chavez is on a steep decline, and that right now Jack Hannahan might be, if not a better player overall, a better hitter than Chavez. Given that Chavez is going to be out for probably another month or so with a bad back, perhaps PECOTA is right. Hannahan had two hits (including a 2-run homer) and a walk, so that’s another data point in support of this theory. On the other side, there were a couple of plays at third base where Hannahan did not make as clean a catch or as strong a throw as Chavez normally makes.
Keith Foulke might be Keith Foulke again. Foulke looked awful in spring training until his very last outing, where he put together the kind of quiet, 1-2-3 inning he used to assemble when he was at his peak. He faced the heart of the Red Sox order in the eighth inning, and got through it with no damage whatsoever.
Huston Street should listen to Alan Embree more. At FanFest this year, Street and Embree discussed their differences in approach: Embree thinks Street doesn’t challenge hitters enough with fastballs, and tries to fool batters with off-speed stuff far more often than he needs to. I’m sure Embree was on Street’s case again after today’s game, as Street threw consecutive changeups to Brandon Moss (who?), the second of which started on the corner, but then backed up over the middle of the plate into Moss’ happy zone, for a game-tying home run. If Street follows that first changeup with a fastball instead, the A’s probably win this game. It’s one thing to try to trick a David Ortiz or a Manny Ramirez into chasing something when you’re ahead in the count (Ramirez’ blow against Street was a two-strike slider which, had it been located well, probably also wins the game for the A’s, but hung like a tee over the middle of the plate), but you don’t need to fool the Brandon Mosses of the world like that. Another data point: Foulke’s eighth inning included freezing Manny Ramirez for a called third strike with a straight fastball on the outside corner.
Emil Brown goes straight into the doghouse. I can understand what Brown was trying to do–if he gets to third base with one out, then the A’s can tie the score without a hit. But he has to make 100% sure the throw is going to the plate and won’t be cut off, like it was. The fact that the next two batters got hits make it seem even worse. It’s the worst baserunning blunder by a new player on a new team since Mark Sweeney. Brown hit some balls hard today, but he’s going to have to do a lot more of that to get back on the plus side of the ledger after this blunder.
The A’s outfield defense: shaky. Jacoby Ellsbury made a great catch in centerfield that prevented a leadoff double by Brown in the eighth. Meanwhile, Brown almost flubbed a fly ball to left, Travis Buck misplayed a catchable drive that led to the three-run rally in the sixth, and Jeff Fiorentino had a shot at catching Ramirez’ double in the 10th, but his effort wasn’t a picture of elegance.
Mark Ellis RULEZ. Well, we knew that already. Still, a homer and a walk in five plate appearances, two double plays turned, and a nifty play ranging deep up the middle in the second inning to turn a potential two-on, no-out situation into a rally-killing fielders choice out. Nice.