Month: September 2020
One More Day
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-30 23:30

The A’s have been so futile in the playoffs for so long now that there is sometime confusion about exactly how futile they’ve been. I heard a couple of times today that the A’s never win elimination games, but that’s not exactly true. The A’s have won some games when they’ve been the ones threatened with elimination. For example, there’s 2012 ALDS Game 4, the infamous Fosse scream game, in which the A’s trailed 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, and scored three runs to win the game 4-3, and stay alive for one more day.

The A’s problem has been winning games when the other team is on the brink of elimination. In those games, the A’s are 1-15 since Billy Beane took over. So while they may have won an occasional Fosse scream game, the day after such victories, when the other team is also facing elimination, has been where the disaster has come. Of course, in a normal playoff series, the opposing team often sets up their rotation so that their most dominant pitcher is pitching in that particular game, which is part of the problem. The Fosse Scream series, and also the ALDS series following season, had the A’s needing to win a game 5 against a Hall of Fame pitcher like Justin Verlander, which did not go very well.

So I was not too shocked that the A’s won Game 2 of this Wild Card series against the Chicago White Sox, 5-3. This is not the type of game where the A’s are jinxed. They’re not like the Twins, who got eliminated today in two games against the Astros, who haven’t won a single playoff game since 2004, a streak of 18 straight games lost. No, the A’s can win games. They just can’t win series. The only series they’ve won, and the only game they’ve won with a chance to advance, was against those same Twins in 2006, where two teams in the midst of long bouts of playoff futility met, and one of them had to win.

So today’s game did not shock me too much. It’s tomorrow’s game, where the A’s could advance to the next round if they win, that’s the problem. We A’s fans have been burned for so long, by losing in so many unique and unlikely ways in such games, that winning Game 3 of this series seems like it’s impossible.

Game 2 of this series was kind of like the inverse of the Fosse Scream Game. Instead of improbably coming from behind to win, they came from ahead to almost lose. White Sox starter Dallas Keuchel was not sharp, and when Matt Olson hit a grounder in the first inning that hit the lip of the infield and bounced over the glove of 2B Nick Madrigal to score two runs. The A’s added two more runs later on home runs by Marcus Semien and Khris Davis to give the A’s a 5-0 lead. And then things almost went completely off the rails.

Chris Bassitt was great, allowing no runs in 7 innings. He went back out for the eighth, but gave up a leadoff single to Tim Anderson, who is a Pablo Sandoval-type playoff pest you can’t get out because he puts the ball in play whether you throw the ball in the strike zone or not.

Bob Melvin opted to go with Liam Hendriks for two innings, instead of his usual regular season combo of Jake Diekman and/or Joakim Soria for the 8th, and then Hendriks for the ninth. But Hendriks was not sharp, frequently missing badly with his fast ball, and he allowed a 2-run homer to Yasmani Grandal in the 8th, and then with two outs in the ninth, gave up two straight hits to Madrigal and Anderson, and then walked Yoan Moncada. Hendriks was over 40 pitches at this point, and Melvin finally opted for Diekman. Diekman then walked Grandal to make it 5-3, and bring up possible AL MVP José Abreu. Abreu hit a rocket, but thankfully it was right at 2B defensive replacement Nate Orf, who fielded it cleanly and threw Abreu out to end the game.

That was one giant exhale. The A’s stayed alive in the playoffs for one more day. This blog stayed alive for one more day. It’s one more day that is expected to feature very hot temperatures, potentially hazardous air quality (which may or may not force them to delay or postpone the game), and the even more hazardous winner-take-all game, of which the A’s have lost 9 straight. The last winner-take-all game the A’s won was Game 7 of the 1973 World Series against the New York Mets. That was the year before I started paying attention to baseball. So, as far as my experience goes, the A’s have always lost these types of games. I’m expecting the worst.

As Bad As Expected
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-29 23:30

This was the day I was dreading and, with one exception, it was as bad as I was expecting.

Here’s what I said the other day, in an article titled Dread:

This team is built the same as so many of those other A’s teams that failed in the playoffs: full of guys who mash a bunch of home runs off mediocre pitchers in the regular season, but who also simply don’t have another gear, where they can take good pitches from the kind of good pitchers you face in the playoffs, and do something with good pitches.

That’s exactly what happened in Game 1. White Sox starter Lucas Giolito was pitched well, locating his fastball on the corners, and then throwing enough off speed pitches to keep the hitters off balance. Giolito gave them no mistake pitches, so the A’s did absolutely nothing. He threw a perfect game for six innings, until Tommy La Stella punched a grounder up the middle for a single.

Giolito then started to tire in the eighth, the A’s got some runners on and managed to get one run home, and actually got the tying run to the plate. But once again, as the playoffs contrast the regular season, the A’s didn’t get to face a mediocre relief pitcher who would feed them a mistake pitch to feast off of. They were up against Aaron Bummer, who has a 0.96 ERA. He got La Stella to ground out. The rally ended, and the A’s had no other chances to score.

In contrast to Giolito’s mistakelessness, A’s starter Jesús Luzardo made two: a couple of fastballs that didn’t hit the corners but instead leaked out over the plate. In an ordinary regular season game against an ordinary team, the other team probably fails to take advantage of the opportunity presented to them. But the White Sox are a good team, not a bad one, and Adam Engel and José Abreu crushed those two pitches for home runs that gave the White Sox a 3-run lead that they never relinquished.

In addition to those mistakes, they also had one particular player, Tim Anderson, who had the skill set that every A’s playoff team in the Billy Beane era seems to lack: the ability to do damage with good pitches. Anderson went 3-for-4 in this game, and I don’t think any of the pitches Anderson got hits on were bad pitches. He just had the skill to do something with the pitches he was given, even if they weren’t mistakes. That put offensive pressure on Luzardo, and in particular led to the mistake pitch to Abreu.

The White Sox are quite simply a team that is better built for a three-game playoff series than the A’s are. Their weakness is that they only have two really good starting pitchers, so if the A’s can somehow manage to win Game 2, they do have a chance in Game 3, because they won’t be facing the kind of mistake-free pitching that gives them such trouble. But they have to get there first. Otherwise, tomorrow’s A’s game recap will be the last one.

The first day of the playoffs coincided with the first presidential debate. I didn’t watch it. I went for a bike ride instead, to avoid spending a painfully awful hour and a half of television. I knew it would be bad because Trump is trailing in the polls, and he really needed to make Biden look bad, to goad him into making mistakes and looking tired and flustered and confused and unpresidential, to turn the election into a lesser-of-two-evils choice, and so Trump was going to be at his absolute worst. Trump’s only play was to try to win ugly, and so it was going to be ugly.

And when I got home from my bike ride, I was greeted to exactly that news, that the debate was the worst debate in the history of civilization. But the good news is that Biden did not seem to take the bait. He didn’t hit any zingers that landed any sort of knockout blow to Trump, but he also didn’t give Trump the one thing he was fighting so desperately to get: a good pitch to hit. There was apparently nothing that Biden did or said that Trump could use to knock him out of the park with.

When you’re in the lead, don’t give the other team any freebies. Make them earn every single point. And when your opponent is a one-trick pony who doesn’t know how to do anything but pounce on the mistakes of others, all you have to do is not make any big mistakes and you should be able to hang on for victory.

The Interregnum
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-27 23:30

Well, here we are. We made it through a 60-game regular season in a pandemic, amidst racial unrest, and our state on fire. And if it wasn’t for the sentence before this one, you could say the regular season was quite a success for the A’s, as they won the American League Western Division by 7 games over their nemesis the last few years, the Houston Astros.

The A’s regular season ended on Sunday with a 6-2 win over the Seattle Mariners. The victory, combined with the Minnesota Twins losing in extra innings to the Cincinnati Reds, gave the A’s the #2 seed in the playoffs, and a matchup with the Chicago White Sox.

That may not have been the best idea, since if the A’s had lost, or the Twins had won, the A’s would have played the Astros instead. The Astros finished with a losing record of 29-31. The White Sox were 35-25, have a bunch of hitters at the top of their lineup who can mash, and have a pair of very strong starting pitchers, Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, who will be a formidable obstacle in a 3-game series.

The other thing that makes the White Sox a tough matchup for the A’s is that their lineup is strongly right-handed, and have a penchant for destroying left-handed pitching. They went 14-0 against left handed starters this season. And that’s a problem for the A’s, because two of their three strongest pitchers heading into the playoffs are left-handed, namely Jesús Luzardo and Sean Manaea.

But maybe it doesn’t matter, because in this universe, the A’s beat the White Sox in the first round and the Astros in the second, and in an alternate universe, they beat the Astros in this round, and the White Sox in the next. Or maybe it doesn’t matter because in all possible universes, the A’s lose painfully in the first round no matter who they play, because that’s just the way the universe seems to prefer it.

The preferences of the universe, however, are one of the few things that give me hope for the A’s in the playoffs. The A’s have been a metaphorical disaster in every playoffs in which they’ve appeared in the last 45 years, with one exception: 1989. And that championship was accompanied by the literal disaster of major earthquake. So now that we have all sorts of other real, literal disasters going on, could this be the year the universe prefers the A’s win again?

That’s a really stupid, illogical argument, but it’s all I’ve got to cling to. Otherwise, I’m really pessimistic about the A’s chances. I love regular season baseball, but when the A’s are in the postseason, it’s unbearable. Every stupid loss just rips my emotions into pieces. It’s the worst.

Unless somehow, it isn’t. Which I know, logically, must be possible, but my mind cannot grasp the concept. It feels impossible. I just want, for once, in this year of all years, for my mind to be blown by an inconcievable turn of good fortune.

Let the next phase begin, and let’s see what happens.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-26 23:30

It’s Saturday, and there are three things impending in the upcoming week that I’m dreading:

  • The heat/fire/smoke situation
  • The presidential debates
  • The playoffs

The heat/fire/smoke situation is first on the agenda. It started to warm up a bit on Saturday, but it’s supposed to really get hot on Sunday and Monday, perhaps into the 90s in Alameda, and then stay warm the rest of the week. And when it gets hot in the Bay Area, it’s because the wind is blowing from the east instead of from the ocean to the west, which means smoke from the fires will be drifting our way and reducing the air quality.

I’m not looking forward to that because I already have experience with being locked up at home with all the curtains closed to block the hot sun from warming up the house, and with all the windows closed all night to keep out the smoke, and the inability to go anywhere else because of the pandemic, and just how stale the air in your house becomes after a week of being completely sealed, and how claustrophobic that whole combination makes you feel. It’s… bleh… gack… mlglf… auhhohghlllrrauughuhufhaughlfugh.

And yet that’s not even the strongest of my dreads because the air will eventually get better, and that problem will pass, but the other two problems may linger forever.

I know Biden is leading in the polls, and there’s a good half of the population who are solidly sick of Trump, but with that in mind, the debates which start on Tuesday, have very little upside, and a lot of downside. I don’t think Biden will win a lot of new voters in these debates, but there’s a really good chance he could screw it up.

I know what the last four years have been like, and I really cannot bear another four years of this. This country cannot afford Biden screwing this up.

But Biden isn’t exactly immune from gaffes. It’s almost part of his character to turn a simple clear statement into three incoherent paragraphs. I’m kind of grateful that the MLB playoffs start the same day, because that gives me a really good excuse not to watch the debates.

So I don’t think I can watch it live. I’ll be way too nervous. I’ll look at the highlights afterwards. I’ll watch a baseball game between two teams I don’t care about instead.

And that brings us to the playoffs, which I am also now dreading, because, like Biden, the A’s are excessively prone to gaffes, especially in the playoffs. Since the A’s last won a World Series in 1989, the A’s have played 16 games in which, if they had won, they would have advanced to the next round of the playoffs. They lost 15 of those 16 games. The one time they won, in 2006, they then got swept in the next round.

The playoffs have been nothing but painful for A’s fans. I know what that losing feels like. And after watching this doubleheader against the Mariners, where the A’s got swept by the scores of 5-1 and 12-3, I really don’t think this version of the A’s are going to do anything different. This team is built the same as so many of those other A’s teams that failed in the playoffs: full of guys who mash a bunch of home runs off mediocre pitchers in the regular season, but who also simply don’t have another gear, where they can take good pitches from the kind of good pitchers you face in the playoffs, and do something with good pitches. They’re mistake hitters, plain and simple, and in the playoffs, the pitchers don’t give you mistakes, especially in clutch, high-leverage situations.

This 2020 offense has repeatedly done nothing against good but not great starting pitchers, and then only scored runs when they get into the thin bullpens of their opponents. But in the playoffs, (a) the starters will be better and pitch longer, and (b) they won’t see the thin parts of the opponents’ bullpens, even if they have thin parts.

So I’m expecting this A’s team to completely fizz out in the playoffs. They may get some runners on base, but time after time they will fail to move those runners around to score, because they will strike out in the clutch situations where they need a hit. That’s what’s happened to them in the playoffs all throughout Billy Beane’s tenure in charge of the A’s roster, and this team looks no different at all.

Unlike the debates, however, I do plan to watch. I know the pain of the downside, and I am bracing myself for that pain. But unlike the debates, with the playoffs, there is an upside. If, by some miracle, the A’s actually do come up with that clutch hit in that clutch situation, I want to experience that joy. Because that joy is the carrot we’re reaching for when we watch this sport. There’d be no point in any of this if I let myself miss it.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-25 23:30

As the A’s are preparing for the playoffs next week, we at home are doing the same thing, as the weather forecast is calling for the winds to turn from the east, making the temperatures soar, smoke from old fires to fill the air. make the risk of new ones starting extremely high. We’re probably going to be stuck inside again for several days in a row. Time to get our outdoor exercise in, and open the windows and let the house breathe before the air turns too hot and smoky sometime on Saturday or Sunday, and we’re forced to seal things off.

There’s a reasonable chance that the air quality will affect the playoff schedule. But you can’t really plan on that, you have to assume it won’t, and adjust if you have to. That’s why preparing for maximum flexibility is important.

This was the last game that really meant anything for the A’s in preparation for the playoffs. It was Chris Bassitt’s last start before the wild card series. Bassitt was dominant in seven shutout innings, and on normal rest, he will be ready to pitch in game 2 or game 3 of the wild card round. If a game is postponed, he could also start Game 1.

But while Bassitt was mowing the Mariners down, the A’s offense was dormant against Yusei Kikuchi. The game went into extra innings tied 0-0. With extra innings this season starting with a runner on second, the Mariners were able to move their runner across the plate against Jake Diekman. So the A’s went into the bottom of the 10th trailing 1-0. The first two hitters couldn’t drive in the A’s bonus runner, but with two outs, Ramón Laureano doubled home the tying run. Mark Canha then sent the A’s home as 3-1 winners when he hit an opposite field homer.

I mentioned yesterday that I didn’t have time to calculate the odds of who the A’s opponent would be before publishing yesterday, but I finished that calculation today. Here is the current odds going into Saturday’s game:

#1 seed vs Yankees: 0.98%
#1 seed vs Blue Jays: 2.15%

#2 seed vs Twins: 3.96%
#2 seed vs Indians: 23.83%
#2 seed vs White Sox: 48.97%

#3 seed vs Astros: 20.12%

These numbers will change a lot tomorrow.

The Gods of Permutations
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-24 23:30

With three days left in the regular season after the A’s 5-1 loss to the Dodgers, the A’s still have seven different possible playoff opponents in the first round: Astros, Angels, Twins, White Sox, Indians, Yankees, and Blue Jays.

I tried to figure out what the odds were of each of these possibilities, but I got as far as realizing there were 2,097,152 different ways all the relevant weekend games in the American League could play out, and realized I wouldn’t have enough time to do the work before all of Friday’s games would be over, and my calculations would be moot anyway.

But I’m kind of sure that most likely opponent is still the Astros, if the A’s finish as the #3 seed, and the Astros #6. The Astros are locked into the #6 seed if they make the playoffs. The only way they wouldn’t make the playoffs is if they lose their last three games against the Rangers, and the Angels win all three of their games against the Dodgers. Given how good the Dodgers are and how bad the Rangers are, that seems very very unlikely.

So really, the only way the A’s wouldn’t play the Astros is if they don’t finish as the #3 seed. Right now, that’s their seeding, so they’d have to pass either the Rays or whichever team wins the AL Central. Since there are three teams fighting for the AL Central, the winner will probably win at least two if not all three games this weekend, so the A’s would probably have to go 4-0 or 3-1 against the Mariners to not end up as the #3 seed. That’s possible, but not as likely as the combination of going 2-2, 1-3, or 0-4.

But even though the most likely opponents are (I think, in order) the Astros or the Indians, there are still five other possible opponents. So the A’s tried to set up their rotation in order to give them as many options as possible for their first round playoff, which they can adjust depending on who their opponent ends up being.

That’s why they started Mike Fiers tonight, as it was his turn in the rotation, but also finished up with Jesús Luzardo, who was on his normal four days rest because of the off day on Monday. And with Chris Bassitt pitching on Friday, that allows the A’s the option of starting game 1 with either Sean Manaea, Fiers, or Luzardo, and then having the choice of using whichever ones they don’t use in game 1 plus Bassitt for Game 2.

The A’s lost this game to the Dodgers 5-1, as Walker Buehler who started for the Dodgers was dominant. Fiers pitched OK, giving up two runs, and then Luzardo struggled in his first inning of work, giving up three runs, but then settled down after that.

That’s not how you’d normally play out a game like this if it mattered, but the game had no consequence to the Dodgers, and little to the A’s. Setting up the rotation for maximum flexibility was the whole point of this affair, and they did exactly that. The rest is all in the hands of the gods of permutations.

The Most Ordinary Risks
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-23 23:30

We had one day yesterday with nice enough air to go outside for awhile, and one day yesterday with normal enough news to be able to focus our thoughts on baseball alone for a change.

But that didn’t last long, for this afternoon news came out of Louisville that nobody would be indicted for killing Breonna Taylor, only for “wanton endangerment” by shooting into the walls of the neighbors.

I don’t know that I expected anything else. It is nearly impossible to prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt with police officers, particularly when there’s no video of the incident. So there are rarely any consequences for these acts of, at worst, malice, and at a minimum, pure incompetence. So the show keeps going on. It’s infuriating.

In my opinion, there needs to be something between a murder charge and innocence, something more easily provable like “deadly incompetence” or something, where if police officers screw up and people die or get seriously hurt, they at least lose their jobs and never get it back. Otherwise, trust in the police will keep eroding to the point it becomes impossible for them to be effective.

And what does it even mean for police to be “effective” anyway? What is their mission? That’s where I think my political philosophy as I wrote in The Quick Start Guide to Human Society™, of “give people freedom in an environment of trust” can come in handy. If you view the job of the police to preserve order, then you give them a lot of power to rein in “bad guys” enforce the status quo, at the risk of allowing that power to be abused. If you view the police as an instrument of unjust hierarchies, then you want to remove their power to remove the status quo, at the risk of the chaos of lawlessness.

But if you look at the mission of the police as being there to create, defend and preserve trust, so that freedom can work its magic, then you can measure their effectiveness on a different scale. You wouldn’t measure them on crime rates, or on their abuses. You’d measure and incentivize the police on how much the society they serve trusts them and their fellow citizens in that society. If they fail to stop and prevent crime, they’ll also lose trust among the citizens they serve. But if in doing so, the police unjustly target and persecute a group of people, they will lose trust among that group of people. Right now, many police departments across the country don’t seem to care that they aren’t trusted by minority groups. They don’t care about trust because they don’t view trust as their mission, they see catching bad guys as their mission.

That’s another example of the Data/Human Goal Gap I once wrote about. If you measure yourself on catching bad guys, but your real goal is to create trust, you will start out increasing trust as you catch more bad guys, but eventually the trajectory your mismatched measurement takes you on will make you shoot past your optimal point, and you’ll suddenly find yourself decreasing trust even as you improve your crime measurements.

Anyway, that’s my two cents, which I kept to myself all afternoon as these events were unfolding. There are far more important voices than mine on these matters who deserve the airspace. People who are more directly affected than I am. People who are angry, upset, outraged, and rightly so. But this is a diary of sorts of these strange times, so I don’t want to leave it unaddressed, either. It’s what’s been going on in my head as these events unfold.

As I watched the A’s-Dodgers game last night, which the A’s won 6-4 thanks to some late inning heroics by Ramón Laureano, and these thoughts floated through my mind, I had one eye on my Twitter feed trying to figure out what was going on with the Breonna Taylor protests in Downtown Oakland. My two oldest kids happened to be visiting someone in Oakland, and I was supposed to be picking them up at some point that evening. But that can be difficult if the protests are happening near the police station, which just happens to be quite near where the tunnel between Alameda and Oakland empties out. I didn’t want to get stuck in that tunnel if protesters decided to shut down all the streets in that area. I didn’t want to be in the middle of all that if people were really angry.

In the end, it turned out that the protest kind of fizzled after 10pm, and someone else was able to give my kids a ride home, and nobody ran into any inconvenient traffic holdups.

But whether or not we actually got stuck in traffic is not the point. One of the purposes of those protests is to inconvenience people like me, a person can usually ordinarily go about his life without even thinking that an ordinary act of being in one place or going to another place contains any sort of risk at all, while more oppressed people, on a daily basis, have to consider the risks of even the most ordinary acts of human behavior. For me, I had to think about those risks on one particular evening. For others, those risks have to be considered all the time. Even when you’re lying in bed in your own home, like Breonna Taylor was.

Nobody should have to think that way. Everyone deserves an environment of trust, where they can live without calculating that even the simplest of decisions may be too risky, where they can do what they truly want to do with their freedom, even if it’s something as simple as sitting in their homes and watching baseball, and to do so without worry and fear, in peace.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-22 23:30

The A’s have clinched a playoff spot and the division title, so the only thing left to play for is seedings. The A’s are either going to be the #1, #2 or #3 seed in the playoffs, and play the first round at home. But there won’t be any home games beyond the first round. The rest of the playoffs will be played at neutral sites. So there’s really no remaining home field advantage left to play for.

That leaves only the quality of opponents as an incentive for the remainder of the season. But it’s not clear at all that being the #1 seed is any better than being the #2 or #3 seed. The #1 & #2 seeds play the #7 & #8 seeds, who are two best 3rd- or 4th-place teams. The #3 seed plays the #6 seed, which is the worst 2nd-place team. However it is entirely possible that the #6 team, which is almost certainly going to be the Astros, ends up with a worse record than either the #7 or #8 team. The #2 seed is likely to end up worst of the top three seeds to have in the AL, because you’re going to play whichever team finishes out of the top 2 in the AL Central. All three teams have similar records, and they each have a Cy Young candidate, Dallas Keuchel (White Sox), Kenta Maeda (Twins), and Shane Bieber (Indians) that you’d have to overcome.

That’s not to say you couldn’t get beat by the Astros or Blue Jays. You could. But more to the point, there doesn’t seem to be any clear incentive at this point for the A’s to improve their seeding.

So honestly, as the A’s faced off against baseball’s clearly best team in 2020, the Los Angeles Dodgers, I didn’t feel any real urgency to see the A’s win. I watched with the kind of calm indifference you have when watching a spring training game. Although, to be honest, I may not have had the energy to care much because I took advantage of a rare day of perfect weather and clean air quality to take a long 30-mile bike ride during the day. I was kind of too physically tired at that point to bother getting worked up about anything.

The A’s gave up a bunch of home runs to the Dodgers, and lost 7-2. Frankie Montas just hasn’t looked the same since he tweaked his back earlier in the season. His slider lacks bite, his forkball seems to float and doesn’t get hitters off balance, and all that I think makes his fastball more hittable. So that’s a bit worrisome looking ahead to the playoffs. Montas probably won’t get a start in the first round, but if the A’s advance, he’ll probably get a start in each of the subsequent rounds. That said, there probably aren’t any teams he’d face in the AL playoffs with the thunder 1-9 in the lineup that the Dodgers have.

The A’s didn’t do much offensively against Dustin May, but that dude is nasty, so that’s not much of a surprise. They didn’t do much against the Dodgers bullpen either, but the Dodgers bullpen isn’t full of the kind of mediocrity that the A’s devour on other teams.

It is tempting to ascribe the A’s lackluster outing to their urgencylessness, but I don’t think that’s fair. Even if the A’s had entered this game will full incentives to win, the outcome may have been similar. The Dodgers are good. If the A’s go a whole week losing games in this fashion and limp into the playoffs, then I’ll be concerned.

So Proudly We Hailed
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-20 23:30

The A’s lost to the Giants on Sunday 14-2, losing an opportunity to clinch the AL West division title by their own hands. The Astros played twice between that game and the A’s next game coming up on Tuesday, and lost the second of those two games, thereby clinching the crown for the A’s via the back door.

So the clinching wasn’t a particularly memorable event. More memorable, to me, was the fact that my daughter’s middle school band played the National Anthem before that A’s-Giants game on Sunday.

The plan before the pandemic was for their band to play the anthem live in person at the stadium before the originally scheduled game on April 14. Obviously that didn’t happen, so that was disappointing, but the A’s were gracious enough to give them the opportunity to play a recorded version before this game instead.

Since their school, the Academy of Alameda, is currently closed to in-person classes, they couldn’t record the song together in person. And they couldn’t record it live together over the internet either, because at this point in the history of technology, internet speeds are not consistently fast enough for everybody to hear each other at a rate where the lag would not be noticeable. A lag of a second or two on the part of any member of the band would make the song unlistenable. So every member of the band had to record their part separately, and then the band director had to piece all those separate recordings together into one video.

Here is a photo of some of the A’s standing and listening to their recording before the game. My daughter is the one in the upper right corner on the scoreboard playing the flute.

The A’s were kind enough to arrange for a video to be taken of the song being played at the Coliseum. If you want to watch it, I posted the video on Twitter:

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-19 23:30

In case you missed it yesterday, the A’s and Giants decided to play the exact same game on Saturday that they played on Friday. Once again the A’s won, 6-0. Once again, the A’s got a dominant start, this time from Jesús Luzardo. He pitched six innings, struck out seven, walked no one and allowed six hits. Once again the bullpen took it from there flawlessly. Once again, the A’s got a few big hits, this time a two-run homer from Jake Lamb and a two-run triple from Tommy La Stella, neither of whom was even on the team at the beginning of the season, to give them the offensive punch to cruise to the victory. The A’s are now one game away from clinching the AL West title. The finish line is near.

And in case you missed any of the 50 games before this series, let us recap the season so far, by taking one sentence from each of the previous blog entries.

Perhaps we should feel ashamed to have enjoyed it. None of us have done this before. It takes a leap of faith to believe in something that you can’t really see. You have to stare the trouble straight in the eye. And the time of day has lost all meaning because it’s summer vacation in a pandemic.

The powerless usually don’t win most of their battles. I felt the weight of all those days to come. But the honest truth is, most of the time, when I think about the meaninglessness of this baseball season, it’s not because I’m trying to be rational. The rhythms of a shared sporting culture provide structure to our lives. Oh, and Ramon Laureano wears big yellow socks for some reason.

Nobody reads old blogs. And so, a mustache. Is an apology enough? A steady competence works, too. My self-esteem was more hurt than anything.

A brawl in a pandemic is an immoral act. So what’s the point of being competent if nobody notices it? For a few minutes, all the troubles of the human world disappeared. That’s why he’s being suspended. But it did not get fixed.

Happiness is ephemeral. And then just around noon, seemingly out of nowhere, there came a thunderclap that was as loud as any natural sound I had ever heard. I don’t know where to start, I don’t know where to go. We’re trapped inside the walls of our house, and everything on the outside of those walls is hostile and wants to kill us. Humble them.

It’s a short season. I’ll take ordinary. That’s easier to remember in baseball, when the next game is tomorrow. So how do we sleep at night? It’s half a baseball season in a world turned upside down.

We have to care for the sick among us, without somehow getting sick ourselves. Nobody took that option. My mind is such a big jumble right now. Wake up, people! They’ve all had good days and bad days.

It could all fall apart at any moment, off the field or on. A well engineered technical system tests for errors at every step, and has contingency plans to handle those errors. Some good defense, and some mistakes. So everything was on the ground was dusted with a thin layer of ash. I opted out.

We’re all out of outrages to give at this point. I’m beginning to expect the worst, without any energy to hope for the best. It’s the mind’s reaction to losing something you love. Hence there is no policy that dictates what the definition of safe air quality is. And maybe the next day it snows again, but it doesn’t matter.

We are all experiencing what the world is like when a cynical leadership is imposed on us. My mind was elsewhere all night. The finish line is near.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-16 23:30

I, like many other people in this day and age, have taken to binging TV shows during the pandemic to pass the time. Of all the shows I’ve watched, the one that surprised me the most is Ted Lasso.

Ted Lasso is the story of an American football coach who is sent to England to coach an English premier league soccer team. The setup is for a typical fish-out-of-water story, where the American fish is in English water, or the football coach is in soccer water. I decided to watch it just because it had sports in it, not because I expected it to be any good. I was fully expecting it to be bad and predictable and full of stupid jokes.

But Ted Lasso is more than that, because biggest fish out of water tale being told here is one of an uncynical fish being placed in cynical waters. And that, in these times, is an interesting theme to explore. We are all experiencing what the world is like when a cynical leadership is imposed on us. What happens when a distinctly uncynical leadership is imposed on us? The show explores that idea thoughtfully, and I find it delightful.

It’s easy to take a cynical view on sports, particularly this season. Why are they even playing during a pandemic and the other various crises? Because, the cynic says, they’d lose money if they didn’t. It’s all about the cash.

But if can you drop your cynicism for a minute, if you can see past the dollar signs, there is a joy in sports that we deeply missed when everything was shut down.

So here I am blogging about the A’s 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday. It was the 50th game of the year. As I started this blogging adventure this season, I questioned myself: is it even appropriate to distract myself from the troubles of the world with this game? Am I participating in a cynical act in a cynical world?

But even if there’s a cynical reason that they are even playing these sports right now, it may also be cynical to reject the joy that sports can bring. Is it wrong to take pleasure in Tony Kemp’s acrobatic avoidance of a tag at the plate which scored the A’s first run? Should I not take appreciation in the clever way that Mike Fiers used his curveball differently in the thin air of Denver, where curveballs often hang and are hit very far? Should I not enjoy how Fiers used his changeup to steal strikes, and his curveball as a chase pitch, instead how he usually uses them the other way around? Should I not relish how Jake Diekman and Liam Hendriks have become a lights-out duo at the end of ballgames?

The things that bring joy are the things that make life worth living. If we shut those things out, we are throwing away this year or two of our short, finite lives, waiting for a better day that, for any one of us in a dangerous time, may not come.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-15 23:30

I went out for a bike ride in the afternoon and when I arrived home and checked Twitter I saw that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away.

This must be said first and foremost: she lived a remarkable life. May she rest in peace.

Having now said that, I can now also say this: GAH!

I was already concerned about a constitutional crisis if the Presidential election was close and there were shenanigans around it, regardless of the winner. But now I’m certain there will be one, no matter what happens. Because the Republicans will try to pack the Supreme Court with another conservative, the Democrats will be angry about the Republicans dirty but legal tricks, and so the Democrats will do some dirty but legal tricks of their own the first chance they get, like adding four more Supreme Court justices, or adding DC and Puerto Rico as new states, etc. One cynical move gets met with another cynical move. And so what does all that mean for the upcoming election?

Who knows exactly how this will play out, but the instant the news hit, it became certain chaos was about to follow.

As if we needed more chaos in the year 2020.

The news reached me about an hour before the A’s-Giants game, so I didn’t have much time before first pitch to talk about it with my family and process the news.

The news was the elephant in the room, but the A’s broadcast made no mention of it whatsoever. The A’s broadcast was focused on the possibility that the A’s could clinch a playoff berth this evening if they won AND Seattle lost.

That’s what they kept saying, but the actual mathematical truth was that the A’s could clinch a playoff berth this even if they won OR Seattle lost, because Seattle has three games left against the Astros. If Seattle would win the rest of their games, that would mean that Houston would lose at least three of theirs and couldn’t catch the A’s.

In the end, it didn’t matter, because the A’s won and Seattle lost, so either way, the A’s are now in the playoffs. They now have a magic number of 2 to clinch the AL West.

The game was an undramatic 6-0 victory. The A’s scratched out a run in the first, and when Matt Olson hit a 3-run homer in the third, the game lost its edge. Chris Bassitt was in dominant form, so it seemed unlikely that the Giants would be able to put up much of a challenge the rest of the way. He ran out of gas a bit in the seventh, but the A’s bullpen closed the rest of the game out rather cleanly.

An easy A’s victory was quite welcome. My mind was elsewhere all night. I didn’t need any more complicated emotions, thank you.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-15 23:30

The Mariners and Giants postponed their game in Seattle because of an air quality index above 200, one day after the Mariners and A’s played a doubleheader with an air quality index above 200.

The A’s moved on to Colorado, which is a mile above sea level. The the air quality index was fine, but the air was thin. The A’s seemed slow and listless, and lost 3-1 on a complete game shutout by Antonio Senzatela.

The A’s seemed tired, as if they had just spent one day playing two games in which they were lacking enough air to breathe, and had traveled overnight to a place that lacked enough air to breathe to play another game, which was their 14th game in 12 days in five different cities in three different time zones. They need a breather.

Meanwhile, here at home in the East Bay, after a week straight where the AQI stayed over 100, a west wind from the Pacific Ocean blew into town and started clearing out all the smoke.

I immediately did two things: (1) open all the windows to get some fresh air in, and (2) went outside for a bike ride.

Boy, did I need that. It reminded me of the feeling I’d get when I lived in Sweden, after a long, dark winter, when even when it’s sunny it’s well below freezing, there finally comes a day in spring, when the skies are clear, and you turn your face to the sun, and you can actually feel the warmth of its rays on your skin. It feels like a miracle.

And maybe the next day it snows again, but it doesn’t matter. That one day of warmth restores your belief that the sun actually exists, and it’s that restored faith that you actually needed.

Summer Smoker Underground
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-14 23:30

On September 14, 2020, the A’s and Mariners split a doubleheader. The A’s had a 5-0 lead in the first game, but let it slip away with an unusually wild performance by Joaquim Soria, and lost 6-5. The A’s won the nightcap handily, 9-0. But no one is going to remember this wingding for the games themselves.

What will be remembered is that these two teams played a doubleheader in Seattle — a doubleheader!!! — when the air quality index was between 221 and 283. Winning or losing in that environment doesn’t matter. The key word is survival.

Just bonkers.

I have a few pet business management theories, and this doubleheader being played showed off a couple of them.

As I’ve said before on Twitter, I believe that most human organizations can effectively only be dedicated to at most three things, and anything else they say they’re committed to is just lip service.

MLB may say that they’re dedicated to the health and safety of their employees, but playing that game in that air clearly shows that any statements to that effect are just lip service. MLB is not dedicated to the health and safety of their employees. Anyone dedicated to the health and safety of their employees doesn’t play that game.

The other theory I’m fond of actually comes from my wife’s former boss at UC Berkeley, Russ Ellis, who once said, “Nothing gets done unless somebody does it.” Which means, unless there’s a specific person whose job it is to make sure something gets done, that thing won’t get done. People can be aware that a thing isn’t getting done, but they all assume it’s someone else’s responsibility to get the thing done, so it doesn’t get done.

I first complained about the air quality that players were playing in on August 19. An organization that is dedicated to the health and safety of its employees would be proactive, prepared to meet the challenges that arise before they arise, and would have figured out some sort of air quality policy if not in advance, then certainly within days instead of weeks. But they do not have that dedication, so they did not have the right dynamic to do anything but be reactive to problems after it’s almost too late to fix. Hence there is no policy that dictates what the definition of safe air quality is. There is nobody on the staff of the Mariners or the A’s whose job it is to decide if the air quality is or isn’t safe enough to play.

And so they played, and added one more row of data to the growing database table of American imcompetence.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-13 23:30

In the 46th game of the Oakland Athletics 2020 baseball season, the A’s got beat 6-3 by Lance Lynn, who is one of the best pitchers in the AL West this year. That’s going to happen. Frankie Montas matched him for five innings, but then he threw two consecutive badly located fastballs in the sixth, and suddenly the A’s were down to the Texas Rangers by three runs. It was a game they could have won, had they not made any mistakes, but they did make mistakes, and that was that.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve gone numb about [waves hands in all directions] all of this. Ordinarily, a coulda-shoulda loss would bother me for the rest of the day, but now, this was just one more row added to a large database table named bad_news. Nobody gets emotional about rows in a database table.

And that’s kind of appropriate, because I checked my logs from yesterday’s piece, and bots are reading this blog at a 10:1 ratio over humans anyway. I think I got about 8 visits from humans, and about 80 visits from bots. My writing is ending up in far more database tables than human brains.

It is a feature of modern life that there are a few thousand famous people whose handful of thoughts and ideas, deservedly or not, end up in the brains of millions and billions of people. And there are a few billion of us other people whose thoughts and ideas end up are utterly forgotten but for a handful of digital algorithms that convert those thoughts and ideas into their final form: statistics.

Is it any wonder, then, that cynicism, the belief that all human beings are simply motivated by their own selfish interests, is on the rise? If you treat me like a statistic, why should I treat you like anything but a statistic in return? I don’t have to feel anything about a statistic. Statistics don’t change, or grow. Statistics have no path to redemption or transcendence. Statistics aren’t worthy of compassion or forgiveness. You’re just a number, a number that’s either useful enough for me to keep, or unprofitable trash that can be destroyed.

Looking back at what I wrote yesterday, about the numbness and the lack of energy and the hopelessness, it might be easy to diagnose me as getting depressed. But I’ve had some experience with depression in my family. I don’t think that this is depression. I think this is grief.

Grief is the emotional reaction that comes with loss. It’s the mind’s reaction to losing something you love. There are similarities with depression, in the sadness and the lack of energy and numbness, but depression doesn’t necessarily have an event that triggered it.

I’m not grieving the loss of a person I personally know. But I’m grieving the loss of too many people who didn’t need to die. And as a result of that, I am also grieving the loss of an ideal, a belief in my home city, state, and country, a faith that even if things aren’t great right now, we have a system that is resilient, that moves towards fixing our problems, and that works in the long run to make things better.

I have lost my optimism that ours is a system that can actually fix its problems. Every day that goes by where the pandemic rages on and we don’t take steps to mitigate it, where people get sick but don’t have enough healthcare, where people lose jobs and also lose their homes, where racism persists and we deny it even exists (both nationally and locally), where the climate changes and the countryside burns and the air is unbreathable and we call the problem a hoax or spread rumors that protesters are setting the fires, I despair. We are being actively stupid on purpose, and the worse the problems get, the more actively stupid we behave.

I’ve lost my faith in our competence as a nation. And so I’m grieving that loss. I don’t think I’m alone. A lot of people are grieving their loss of optimism in America.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a play about such grief. Hamlet grieves his recently deceased father, of course, but he also grieves the loss of values of the people around him. He suspects that the new king, his uncle Claudius, actually killed his father. His mother marries Claudius just one month after his father dies.

If grief is the reaction to losing something you love, what does that say about people who move on from a loss too quickly? That they didn’t really love at all? That they’re really just cynical bastards out to get theirs?

Hamlet is not happy about this turn of events. He continues to grieve, even when others have moved on. If it had only been his father’s death, Hamlet probably wouldn’t be so dour so long. But his mother’s quick remarriange makes it more than just about a death. It’s a loss of belief in a higher principle: that his mother loved his father.

In the first three acts of the play, events serve to further erode Hamlet’s faith in love. His girlfriend Ophelia rejects him on orders from her father. A ghost tells him that Claudius killed his father. And then he gets wind that Claudius has ordered him to be killed. Nobody around him acts in any way consistent with human love.

As Hamlet grieves, his behavior is indistinguishable to those around him from madness. Everyone around him is too selfish to meet his grief with empathy. Since no one is capable of meeting him where he is, he loses faith even further, and the situation spirals out of control.

Grief is a process. You can get to the other side of it, but only when the time is right. You can’t reason your way out of it, as we see in the first act when Claudius and Gertrude try talk Hamlet out of his grief, by arguing that death is normal, and you just have to suck it up:

KING CLAUDIUS: How is it that the clouds still hang on you?

HAMLET: Not so, my lord; I am too much i’ the sun.

QUEEN GERTRUDE: Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.

HAMLET: Ay, madam, it is common.

Why seems it so particular with thee?

HAMLET: Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not ‘seems.’

You can’t rush grief. Grief is not a thing you can fix with a pill, or an attitude change, or an election. Grief will take whatever time it needs.

I’m sure some things will get better if we elect Joe Biden over Donald Trump. We won’t, for a few years at least, choose the stupidest of all possible policies. But our problems are complex. Biden is not some brilliant theorist with a bunch of unique, creative ideas to fix our problems. Biden is what he has always been: a generic Democrat with generic Democrat ideas. I think Biden can stop a lot of the bleeding. I’m not very optimistic that his policies will fix the root causes of our country’s ills.

However, there is one thing that gives me comfort about Joe Biden at this point in our history. Joe Biden has suffered some terrible losses in his life, and been able to come out the other side. He lost a wife and a child in a car accident, and another child to cancer, He is the one politician, more any other major political figure in this country, who knows grief intimately.

In a time when we’re grieving the loss of faith in our values, in our competence, and we’re having trouble figuring out exactly what our values should be, having trouble getting things done effectively and efficiently, We can do worse than to chose a leader who may not have all the answers, but understands how to navigate through grief.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-12 23:30

I was watching the first game of the A’s doubleheader against the Rangers when I got a call that a family member had been involved in a minor car accident. Nobody was hurt, thank goodness, except the cars, but my game watching was interrupted by having to go to the site of the accident to sort through the physical, emotional, and bureaucratic mess.

The physical and bureaucratic messes are what they are, but the emotional mess is the worst part. Everybody has setbacks from time to time, which is normal and to be expected, but this year has been just an unending river of setbacks, so an otherwise normal and to be expected setback takes on an outsized significance. We’re all just so damn tired of all this crap.

So I missed most of the A’s 5-2 loss in the first game. The car crash mess got sorted just in time for me to get home to watch the second game of the doubleheader. The A’s won that game 10-1, which normally something I’d enjoy immensely, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I was too drained to enjoy anything.

I don’t even know if the news from before the game that Matt Chapman was going to be out for the year with hip surgery played any role in my emotional exhaustion. It was deflating news to be sure, on top of the news from the day before that A.J. Puk was going to have shoulder surgery and also miss the rest of the year. On top of all that, Chad Pinder pulled his hamstring and is also out a while.

As I said on Twitter before the first game, “The sad thing about the Puk and Chapman surgeries is that this year was the only chance for the A’s with Murphy/Luzardo/Puk arriving to have the whole gang here to make a run at a title. Semien, Grossman, and half the bullpen (Hendriks, Soria, Petit, McFarland) are free agents.”

I imagine the A’s will try to sign some of those potential free agents, but not all. Signing all of them would probably add around $40M in payroll, which is extremely unlikely to fit into the A’s budget, particularly before a 2021 season when it is unclear if the A’s will even be allowed to sell tickets to fans at all. I’d guess they’ll resign one or two or three of those guys, and let the others go.

Nope, this year should have been the year–the A’s are solid everywhere, and next year there will be holes to fill, with limited resources to fill them. And now two of their biggest talents won’t be there in the postseason. Now, maybe they can win anyway, but it changes the equation, because when you remove talent from your postseason roster, you need to add more luck to your formula in order to win. And with the A’s postseason history this century, going 1-15 in games when they had a chance to advance to the next round, I don’t believe in postseason luck.

To keep going every day amidst all this chaos takes optimism and hope. I’m running out of optimism and hope. Pessimism is getting sucked into the remaining vacuum. I’m beginning to expect the worst, without any energy to hope for the best. The only thing that’s keeping me going at this point is a sense of commitment and responsibility. Otherwise, I’m going numb.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-11 23:30

It’s been nineteen years since the hijackings of 9/11/2001. I suppose ordinarily, a nineteenth anniversary of something wouldn’t get much fuss. But it’s an election year, so I think there were a lot more stories going around about commemorating it than I remember on the eighteenth or seventeenth anniversary. I guess that sort of surprised me since there’s a whole bunch of other stuff going on, like the entire west coast of the United States burning, or a disease that is killing as many people in a week as three 9/11s.

Three 9/11s a week. That should be an outrage. But those death totals have become so normalized now that it is fading into the background. We’re all out of outrages to give at this point.

The air quality index today was between 200 and 300, which should also be an outrage, but all it meant that we were stuck futzing around inside our houses like all the other days we’ve been stuck futzing around inside our houses lately, so by now we’re all out of outrages about that, too.

Around noon we got a delivery of a couple of air purifier machines that my wife had bought online, to add to the one we bought last year when the air got really bad from the Camp Fire up north. I opened up the boxes, put the filters in, moved them to strategic spots in our house, and turned on the devices.

Look upon me and respect my wealth, power, and status! Let your mouth fall agape in astonishment and admiration at the life of luxury I lead! For I, the storied and legendary blogger Ken Arneson, have purchased air.

There’s another way to purchase air besides these purification devices: purchase the use of an airplane to get the hell out of this fiery hellscape, and to go somewhere that is less on fire than our current location. That’s what the A’s did when they flew to Texas to play the Rangers this weekend.

Texas isn’t on fire, but that doesn’t mean it is without its issues. It does have quite a COVID-19 problem on its hands, and (in an exceptional segue) also has a Rangers team whose pitching staff is decimated by injuries, leading the Rangers to start a pitcher named Luis García against the A’s, who, by the way, is not the same Luis García who started against the A’s just two days earlier for the Houston Astros. The Rangers Luis García was nowhere near as effective as the Astros Luis García, who shut out the A’s over five innings in his start, while the Rangers Luis García walked the first three batters he faced, and then gave up a grand slam to Matt Olson before he was removed from the game, taking the loss in a 10-6 Oakland victory, and no doubt leaving with his mouth agape in astonishment and admiration at the luxurious patience and power and aptitudes possessed by the spirited and triumphant Oakland Athletics.

Opting Out
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-10 23:30

The fitness club where I’ve played soccer for the last 15 years has three indoor soccer fields, and two outdoor ones. I had been playing twice a week, once on Fridays in an indoor league, and then again on Sunday mornings outdoors by renting the field with a group of friends. They have been closed since March when the pandemic hit.

A few days ago, we received notice that they are opening up their outdoor fields for soccer usage again. So an email thread went around to our Sunday morning group, to survey who wants to play, and under what conditions. Play? Don’t play? Masks? No masks? Social distancing while defending?

Some in the group wanted to play with masks, but most of the group didn’t seem to care at all, and were like, “Woohoo! Let’s go!” I may have been persuaded to think about playing socially distanced with masks if everyone else was just as hesitant and cautious as I was. But I didn’t get the vibe that I would be entering any sort of pseudobubble. This to me felt more like trying to open a college campus than trying to start a bubbled or pseudobubbled sports league.

I opted out.

I may have been the only one who did. There a couple others on the fence. I don’t know what they decided. But to me, the evidence from the various attempts to start sports again is clear: full, solid bubbles work. Pseudobubbles leak. If you’re disciplined and diligent, you can manage and mitigate the inevitable leaks so they don’t become full fledged outbreaks. But they will leak.

Today, I listened to Tim Kawakami’s podcast where A’s GM David Forst was the guest. Forst pointed out that Daniel Mengden had been in proximity with about half the team before he tested positive for COVID-19. But nobody else on the team got sick, because they were all adhering to strict social distancing protocols even in those interactions.

I like my soccer friends, but this isn’t a professional setting. It’s an ad-hoc pickup group. There aren’t any strict protocols being enforced. There’s no way that this can be managed in a disciplined and diligent way. It’s just not structured for that. One leak could be disastrous. The risk is too high for my liking, so I’m out.

They were supposed to start playing soccer this Sunday. But then the air quality got really bad. Just after the A’s 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros on Thursday, the AQI in the East Bay climbed over 200 and is expected to stay there through the weekend. The soccer got postponed until next week.

The A’s are getting out of town just in time. There’s a good chance, had the A’s been at home this weekend, the air would have been so bad that they would have had to postpone a game or two, and add even more doubleheaders to their schedule down the line. Instead, they’ll opt out of the smoky air and head off to Texas, Seattle and Colorado.

Sean Manaea had a masterful game on Thursday, getting through seven innings on only 61 pitches. He was sitting 91-93mph on his fastball the whole game, so he’s looking a lot more like the promising young pitcher he was before he got hurt early last season. Anytime the A’s starters can give the team seven innings, the A’s can back that up with an inning each of Jake Diekman and Liam Hendriks, and that’s pretty much the ballgame.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-09 23:30

The sky was the sickening color of Houston Astros jerseys being sent through a meat grinder.

There was the usual morning marine layer of clouds covering the Bay Area in the morning. But above that layer was an additional layer of smoke and ash clouds from fires burning to the north, south, and east of the Bay Area. These smoke clouds filtered out the normal blue light coming from the sky, leaving only yellow, orange, and red light able to get through the marine layer to reach the ground.

Normally, the daytime sun will burn off the marine layer of clouds before noon. But with the smoke above blocking some of that solar energy, the marine layer failed to burn off, and persisted all day long. As a result, the entire day looked like a sunset or an eclipse, with dimmer light and ever-shifting colors.

Another odd effect of this persistent marine layer is that the water vapor clouds caught a lot of the fine smoke particles from the smoke clouds that fell towards earth. Only the heavier pieces of ash could manage to fall through the marine layer and hit the ground. So everything was on the ground was dusted with a thin layer of ash. But because the small air particles that are actually hazardous to breathe weren’t making it to the ground so easy, the air quality wasn’t so bad considering what the sky looked like. The air quality index hovered around 120 all day, which is in the “Unhealthy for sensitive groups” category. Considering that the AQI has been over 200 multiple times in the last few weeks, it could have been worse.

It was against this backdrop that the A’s and the Astros played the fourth game of their five-game series. The game started before sunset, so the strange orange color was still visible against the sky at first pitch.

Jesús Luzardo pitched a pretty good game, yielding only a couple of solo homers in seven innings of work. But the A’s didn’t score until the bottom of the seventh, when a blooper down the line off the bat of Tommy La Stella bounced off the leg of left fielder Kyle Tucker, allowing two runs to score and tie the game.

The game continued tied at 2 until the bottom of the ninth, when Sean Murphy led off by drawing a well-earned walk to lead off the inning against Astros closer Ryan Pressly. Stephen Piscotty pinch ran for Murphy, and got to second base when Tony Kemp was hit by a pitch. Then with two outs, Ramon Laureano drove a ball into the left-center gap for a single to win the game for the A’s, 3-2.

The Astros probably need to win four out of the five games in this series to have a reasonable chance to win the division. But now the A’s have taken three of the first four, so it will take a ridiculously unlikely collapse by the A’s in the last two weeks of the season for the A’s to fail to win the division now.

You would think that the A’s hour has come round at last. But stranger things have happened. In a year when each day brings a new bizarre condition for us to deal with, it would surprise no one if some indignant darkness drops again, and some new rough beast falls from our blood-dimmed skies to vex us further.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-08 23:30

Frankie Montas got back on track in the first game of the doubleheader against the Astros, pitching five innings, giving up two runs, and getting the win in a 4-2, 7-inning victory. If the A’s are going to go anywhere in the playoffs this year, getting him straightened out and pitching his best is imperative. The bullpen anchors this year, Jake Diekman and Liam Hendriks, nailed down the victory.

Also getting back on track in the first game was Khris Davis. He homered and doubled, each time taking an outside fastball, the kind of pitch he had been missing all hear, and driving the ball to the opposite field.

I wouldn’t get too excited about that, though, because in the second game he was back doing another thing that’s been messing him up, namely chasing sliders down and away out of the zone. It’s good that he’s finally hitting the pitches to hit that he’s getting, but he still needs to stay in the zone with his swings. So consider that a split victory, in a sense.

Matt Chapman missed both games, as did Stephen Piscotty, but Marcus Semien was back and played in the first game. He went 0-4, but played good defense behind Montas. In the second game, the absence of both their normal left side infielders basically cost them the game. The Astros scored their winning run in the seventh and final inning, which was initiated by a miscommunication between Chapman and Semien’s replacements, Chad Pinder and Vimael Machín. A ground ball was hit between them, and they almost ran into each other trying to field it, resulting in Machín bobbling the ball for an error. A bunt single, a walk, and a sac fly later, the Astros had their winning run.

I wasn’t expecting much from Mike Minor in the second game, but he wasn’t bad for three innings. Things got away from him in the fourth, however, with a couple of singles, a walk, and then a HBP. He was replaced leading 4-1 by Yusmeiro Petit, who was uncharacteristically wild. He walked in two runs, and then allowed another on an infield single to tie the game 4-4. All four of those runs were charged to Minor, but it was actually the bad outing by Petit that was more to blame.

So, a day of mixed results. A good starting pitching outing, and a shaky one. A good bullpen performance, and a bad one. Some good hitting, and some struggles. Some good defense, and some mistakes. Some injuries, and some return to health. But given the lead the A’s have in the division, splitting their outcomes between wins and losses should be all they need to cruise into the playoffs.

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This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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