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.