What an incredibly difficult stretch the Oakland Athletics find themselves in. After taking two of three in a hard-fought road series with the New York Yankees, the A’s hobbled their way to Cleveland to face an equally feisty Indians squad.
The bad news is the Athletics got swept out of town in four games. The worse news: They left more physically damaged than psychologically—which is saying something considering the "Railinggate" blown home run call during Wednesday’s loss.
To be sure, Oakland is not immune to injury. The A’s are used to players getting hurt and the team is equipped to have major league depth at each position to compensate. However, the Athletics right now have too many starters who are on the mend, which is greatly impairing the team’s performance on the field in all facets—the offense, defense and pitching. One game they’ll score a few runs and lose; and the next night they’ll be completely shut down offensively.
They simply cannot put a whole game together when so many players are missing.
This team has been through these types of trials and tribulations before. Last year they were able to overcome rough patches like the one they’re currently in. Can they do it again this season? Will they be able to tread water until they get back to full health and strength? If the Cleveland series is any indication, then not likely.
Here are five lessons learned from the series against the Indians.
On Tuesday, the A’s placed right fielder Josh Reddick on the 15-day disabled list with an ailing wrist, joining fellow outfielder Chris Young, who was recently shelved on Saturday. Four members of the A’s outfield rotation have seen time on the DL, which is ironic given the presumed depth Oakland tried to provide during its offseason acquisitions.
Coco Crisp is currently also on the DL, while Yoenis Cespedes is the only healthy starting outfielder—and that’s a relative diagnosis.
The A’s have promoted Michael Taylor to fill in. But the 27-year-old has not done so well, tallying only one hit in 15 at-bats for the season. Meanwhile, veteran Seth Smith has received a chunk of the starting duties in left field, and though he has several years' of experience in the big leagues, the left-handed hitter has slumped terribly since being inserted into the everyday lineup.
Smith has played in every game since Crisp was sidelined on April 29, going 7-for-35 with one run batted in and 13 strikeouts. Numbers that further support his platoon status.
Needless to say, Oakland’s outfield is struggling mightily without its regular rotation. Though Reddick and Young have been completely inadequate so far this season, the continued use of Taylor, Brandon Moss and Luke Montz are taking its toll on the overall lineup.
The Athletics’ most important position players—both offensively and defensively—are Cespedes, Crisp and Reddick. And the team needs all three healthy at the same time in order to legitimately compete.
The insertion of substitute outfielders is not new for manager Bob Melvin, who shuffles his lineup with the precision of a blackjack dealer. But the inconsistency is starting to take its toll on his ability to blueprint a batting order that will provide some consistent offense.
With Coco Crisp sidelined nursing a sore hamstring, Melvin has had to be creative with the top of the order, with catcher John Jaso and infielders Jed Lowrie and Adam Rosales each seeing time at the leadoff spot during Crisp’s absence.
Jaso has received the majority of the leadoff assignments—and his performance has been below par: a slash line of .231/.429/.308 while batting first. It’s that .429 on-base percentage that Melvin likes so much. His OBP is somewhat easy on the eyes, but his overall hitting ability is better suited for the latter third of the lineup—not at the top of the order.
Jaso should not be a leadoff hitter, in large part because it has a negative domino effect on the rest of the lineup. In fact, the No. 2 spot in the order is the most crippled as a result of the shift-changing.
Melvin, usually astute at placing hitters in creative spots in the lineup, has been forced to slot Seth Smith in the two-hole for the majority of this road trip. Smith has responded with an anemic .207 batting average, with 10 strikeouts. Which, amazingly, is a heck of a lot better than when Chris Young was batting second: .107/.212/.179.
What was made clear during the Cleveland series is that the top of the A’s batting order is a wreck. The mixing and matching did not work against the Tribe. The first three hitters went a collective 10-for-47 with three runs scored in the four-game set.
If Oakland is going to jump-start its offense again, it needs some improvement at the top of the order.
The A’s pride themselves on stacking their roster with versatile players—ones who are able to play multiple positions in the field. One of the drawbacks of having so much “depth” is that no player is truly where they are probably supposed to be. The Athletics are simply fielding a group of adequate but not good fielders.
This mediocrity is starting to influence outcomes. Negatively.
During the Cleveland series, the A’s tallied five errors, several of which directly contributed to the team losing two separate games in the series. Tuesday’s contest was a pitching duel, with the A’s losing 1-0, the lone run coming with the assistance of two errors on the same play. On Wednesday, Adam Rosales’s throwing error gave the Indians an unearned run that proved to be the difference (aside from an umpiring error, of course).
Right now, the A’s are not firing on all cylinders, on offense, on the mound and in the field. If they are to withstand this tough stretch with so many players on the DL, they need to eke out victories while they are short-handed. For that to happen, the A’s have to tighten up on the defense end.
This guy has more lives that Garfield.
Daric Barton has had one of the more toilsome careers with the Athletics. The one-time starting first baseman saw only 113 games in the majors during the previous two seasons, after appearing in 159 in 2010. Flashes of ability are overshadowed by dark stretches of inadequate production. And those flashes are actually flashbacks, as Barton has not lived up to the promise he once displayed many seasons ago.
Prior to this season, the A’s designated the veteran for assignment, a big decision regarding the team’s longest-tenured player. His future was at a crossroads for sure. At 27 years of age, Barton is still relatively young. Still, would Barton ever regain his major league status?
But the cat came back, the very next…month.
As a result of all the injuries, Oakland recalled Barton to fill a spot on the 25-man roster. Hopefully, he can make an impact and shore up the defense at first base, where Brandon Moss was struggling. (Moss moved to the outfield during the Cleveland series—he committed an error in right field in Thursday’s game.)
Barton is the equivalent to the Golden State Warriors’ Andris Biedrins: a one-time starter whose glory days and peak were during his early 20s, several seasons ago. The team can’t or won’t exactly get rid of him outright; so he’s just there, in case of emergency.
The Cleveland series upped Oakland's state of emergency level to code red.
The major takeaway from this week’s series is one that affects all of MLB. Wednesday’s game was highlighted by the A’s being robbed of an apparent game-tying ninth-inning home run that the umpiring crew failed to overturn despite the use of instant replay.
The resulting 5-4 Cleveland victory stirred up conversation around baseball about the instant replay system and its inadequacies. Should instant replay be expanded? How? What can be done to improve these on-field in-game decisions?
If anything, teams, players, fans and media all learned that there is work to be done with baseball's review system. MLB is the oldest of the four major North American team sports, and it is the furthest behind when it comes to use and reliance upon modern broadcast technology to improve the outcomes of their its games.
And as we all know from the NFL, where the Seattle Seahawks were awarded a victory over the Green Bay Packers on a blown officiating call despite video evidence that did not support the decision, an erroneous judgment can affect a team's season. Even slightly.
Wednesday’s outcome was a heartbreaker for the Athletics, who desperately wanted and needed to squeeze out another comeback victory. Especially after the team’s disappointing 1-0 loss the night before. Had the A’s bounced back with a win on Wednesday, they certainly would have felt a lot better about themselves, the series and the road trip.
Instead, the ripple effect was a negative one, and Oakland was completely listless and lethargic in Thursday’s 9-2 loss, a rotten conclusion to Cleveland’s four-game sweep that knocked the A’s record down to 18-18.
Quite possibly because of one blown call.
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