Whac-a-Mole
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-05 23:30

Once upon a time, there was a bad college essay that began by quoting Wikipedia:

The term “Whac-a-mole” (or “Whack-a-mole”) is used colloquially to depict a situation characterized by a series of repetitious and futile tasks, where the successful completion of one just yields another popping up elsewhere.

This is either laziness, or what you do when you were planning to pull and all-nighter, but you fell asleep instead, and you have an hour before class to pull some crap together before class.

In my case, it’s sort of the latter, as I was planning to write this essay Saturday evening after dinner, but at 8:19PM, our power went out. It stayed out until after midnight, by which point I had gone to bed.

This is the third time in the last month or so that we’ve lost power. The first one was a planned, rolling blackout. The past two have been from some sort of technical malfunctions, the manner of which we have not been informed. This most recent power loss was also the first one that happened after sunset, so we were left completely in the dark.

But that’s what life is like right now. Maybe there’s a pandemic, and you have to take precautions. Maybe you take precautions, and someone in your family gets sick anyway. Maybe you take a test and that person isn’t sick with the pandemic disease, but you still need to be careful and air out your home and isolate everybody. Maybe once you isolate, there’s a fire somewhere, and smoke, and you need to need to stop airing out your home, and seal everything up. Maybe after that there’s a record heat wave, so you have to cover all your windows up to keep the heat out. You get something into a manageable state of affairs, and then the power goes out. Something else is always popping up.

The A’s aren’t immune to that phenomenon. Just as my family member got sick and we had to isolate (all better now thank goodness), the A’s had Daniel Mengden test positive for COVID-19, and so everyone had to isolate, and then a whole cascade of other issued followed. The A’s only played two games in a week and a half, and were quite rusty at the plate on Friday, but seemed to fix that problem on Saturday, with a few exceptions.

Every part of the A’s team has had to play a bit of whac-a-mole this season, where one part struggles, and the other part has to pick up the slack while that part gets fixed, except for the bullpen. The bullpen, led by Liam Hendriks, has been pretty much rock solid all year. Jake Diekman has discovered a new, nastier slider, which has made him a much more effective, almost dominant, left-handed arm out of the pen. Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit has been quite consistently good, as well. Even the back of the bullpen, with Lou Trivino, J.B. Wendelken, T.J. McFarland, and Jordan Weems. Not a single one of those names has an ERA over 3.00.

The rest of the team, however, has had success come and go. None of the starting pitchers–Frankie Montas, Jesús Luzardo, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, and Mike Fiers– has been consistently good. They’ve all had good days and bad days. Thankfully, not all of them have been bad at the same time, so the A’s have avoided any long losing streaks. They’ve been good enough to keep the team close enough through the middle innings to let the strong bullpen take over.

When the season began, it looked like Fiers and Manaea were broken, while Montas and Bassitt were dominating. But Bassitt has been a bit rocky lately. Luzardo alternates between being unhittable and struggling, sometimes in the same game, like Friday’s game. Montas had a bit of a small injury a few weeks ago, and ever since then, he’s been broken.

Meanwhile, however, the dominant Sean Manaea, the one who threw a no-hitter against a very good Red Sox lineup a couple years ago, suddenly returned in this game. At the beginning of this year, he was having trouble hitting 90mph with his fastball, but here, he was touching 95mph, and sitting 93mph the whole game long. What a difference that makes! He did give up a run on one inning, but he was never hit hard– a couple of the baserunners in that inning were from a bunt single and a bloop.

Offensively, only Mark Canha and Robbie Grossman have been consistently good all year. Stephen Piscotty has been clutch, making contact and getting hits with runners in scoring position, something nearly everyone else in the lineup has struggled to do. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson have both hit for a lot of power, but have had long stretches where they haven’t hit anything at all, and have swung through a lot of fastballs in the zone that they usually punish. Olson seemed to snap out of his funk in this game with three hits, but Chapman struck out five times, despite being ahead in the count during many of his at bats, simply because he was flat out swinging through fastballs inside the zone. His timing and/or mechanics are off somehow. Ramón Laureano started off the season in quite a groove, but then got ejected and suspended by fighting the Astros, has also been in a similar funk ever since. But he homered in this game on a down-and-in fastball, so maybe that problemed has been whacked.

But despite all these ups and downs, the A’s find themselves after their 8-4 win on Saturday with a 3.5-game lead over the Astros coming into the series finale vs the Padres. They’ve been one of the best teams in the league despite not having everyone playing well at the same time. You just would like to see one of those damn moles stay down once they’re whacked, so we can finally see how great things can be if everything functions smoothly at the same time, just for once.

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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