Apart from Ted Lilly starting the game and the A's looking like blind squirrels in search of a nut, Sunday was a whiplash effect from earlier in the year.
The A's franchise has a long-standing tradition of philosophies regarding series in league play;
- Work the count and knock out the opposing starting pitcher as early as possible to get to the bullpen.
- Work the opposing bullpen as much as possible so that the opposition is forced to abandon pitching match-ups with batters and rely on available arms.
- Win the series.
Art Howe has long been prone to allowing his team to lose focus and play too loose. The A's, for the most part, are young in age but long on experience. At this stage in GM Billy Beane's N Year Plan it is detrimental to allow a team to drift.
A reoccurring theme with the A's is getting an early lead and coasting. This is true with most any sport. Get up a lot early and you kind of tiptoe around. Remember win 20 of the Streak? 11-0 against the Royals in the 3rd and they blew the lead. Let's not wake up the other team, let's just see if we can get this game over as soon as possible.
The problem is that the leads haven't been as substantial lately. Saturday the got an unearned run and Huddy made it stick.
"We achieved what we had to do at this point in the year to get where we want to go. We'd like to win this series, that's a given. But a split at this point would be fine because it keeps us in position to win the division." - Art Howe
Wow. Put the kids to bed and katy bar the door. That's playoff baseball, boy howdy.
It sounds like Art might start knitting and chewing on some puffed wheat wafers and drinking his Metamucil before writing out the lineup card.
Someone update Art's Day Runner because this is September, not April.
While you're at the stationary store, drop by Barnes & Noble and pick up Lao Tzu's the Art of War. Better get it on tape or CD.
People wonder why the A's are prone to fits of losing in the first half of the season and pick it up late in the year. Maybe it's because their manager doesn't have his chi in sequence.
Whatever happened to trying to win every damn game? They're still keeping score, why not try to hang a dozen runs on the other team before they can get somebody up in the bullpen? How about trying to put your players in a position to be successful as opposed to maintaining some marginal Managerial status quo?
Art's a good people person and a decent guy. He's a solid manager. He's not a very good manager and far from great. If he was, the A's would have a hundred wins and his four starting pitchers would have each won twenty games. That's not a fan, knee jerk reaction, either. Look at Tim Hudson. He's got a 3.01 ERA, 224 innings pitched and only 14 wins to show for it, yet, he averages 7 innings per start. You show me an AL pitcher with those stats and I show you a Cy Young candidate.
In Mark Mulder's last three starts he has one win. However, he left all three with the lead. Okay, technically a complete game shut out doesn't count as leaving the game. You get the point. Mulder could very well be at 20-5 right now with 4 less starts than Barry Zito who is 21-5. Cory Lidle had an amazing streak of consecutive innings pitched without being scored on, yet, his ERA is at 3.96. Art Howe has taken him out of games when throwing fewer than 100 pitches and allowing fewer than four runs.
Part of being a manager is good game management which Art has not mastered.
Art does plan well. Last week in Anaheim the A's didn't have their rotation in order for the important series. This week at home the A's throw Lidle, Mulder, Zito and Hudson at the Angels who counter with Calloway, the Rally Monkey, Washburn and Appier.
With the end of the season series in Texas, the A's finish with Mulder and Zito taking the hill. Game 1 of the Division Series is scheduled for Tuesday night. There has been a lot of talk about switching the order of who appears when to get Zito to start game one. This is stupid because Mark Mulder is the team's Ace, an Ace of Aces, if you will.
But, the whole problem could have been averted instead of jerking Aaron Harang's chain around and making I-80 between Sacramento and the Bay Area look like Harang's driveway. The A's used two of Aaron Harang's options this year when they really didn't have to. Harang spent less than 24 hours in Sacramento the first time and didn't even get a chance to get a locker.
Eeyore (as Harang is referred to by EiOS) made his first appearance as a reliever yesterday and didn't stink up the joint. But, if Art hadn't changed the rotation earlier this month there wouldn't have been a debate about catching Anaheim, playing the Yankees or Twins in the Division Series or why Rick Peterson wears a jacket when its 110 degrees outside.
The Ted Lilly Experience should have moved its venue to the bullpen before headlining. Placing a starter with a sub-70 pitch count out on the mound is basically putting your team on panic alert. You know the bullpen will be used and you know that you expect the hitters to get a sizeable lead. It doesn't help a lot with the flow of things in the clubhouse to let everyone now, "Hey, we all think Ted Lilly is a good pitcher and that he is better than Aaron, even with the recent DL stint". Lilly is a good pitcher a solid number four starter, but not a front line guy. Aaron Harang's future might actually be in the bullpen, as a closer. He's 6'7" with a mid to upper 90's fastball who doesn't give up a lot of homeruns. But, taking Lilly and placing him in a showcase situation to determining his playoff roster possibilities is/was a distraction.
This is a team that rolled off 20 in a row and made huge strides when ownership and management made big roster changes earlier in the year.
You would think we would stop at Art's pitching staff difficulties, but, we'll continue. We'll also add that this is a team that has won a lot of games. This is a team that should have won a lot more.
We have remarked that David Justice looked very good running the bases earlier in the month. That was after a few weeks of being in and out of the lineup. Mark Ellis has gotten the last three days off. Olmedo Saenz finger is bothering him so much that he may not be available for the post-season roster. Terrence Long has been a Freak Show in center and Eric Byrnes and John Mabry are the Yeomen of the Guard. Jermaine Dye looked very good for a few days, but has slumped recently, though it must be said that with any serious leg injury it takes a good 18 months to heal and be comfortable. Scott Hatteberg has been better than expected at first while Ramon can hit sub-.200 as long as he keeps the pitching under control form behind the plate. Exactly at what point does inconsistency become consistent? Eric Chavez has been labeled for years as a streaky player. So, after a lot of time has elapsed, is he still streaky? Isn't he just Eric Chavez? Miguel Tejada had a bad weekend and it will be great to see how he responds against Seattle.
As for the A's lineup and batting order, we would like to see this:
DH Ray Durham
1B Scott Hatteberg/John Mabry
2B Mark Ellis
Or even this:
But, in all likelyhood:
Long is missing from our lineups for good reason. We'll say this, we think that Terrence needs to mature. Ramon can get away with a very low numbers because his presence behind the plate nealry overwhelms any statistical relationship. The better the A's pitch, the less he has to hit, in our books.
Long, however, does not have that luxury, creditability or stature. His poor defense does not hide his poor production.
A sub-.700 OPS is utility-infielder bad. Long is at .698. At this point the A's could use a replacement player at league averages and fare better. Long is dead last in fielding percentage among regular centerfielders, leads all of MLB centerfielders with 8 errors, is next to last in zone rating and 14th in range factor.
In other words, if this was spring training, T Long may not even be on the 25 man roster.
Arizona might be a very cold place for the Alabama boy come spring.
While at the game on Saturday we noticed that Adam Piatt has regained a lot of weight and looks healthy and comfortable. Piatt missed most of 2001 with viral menengitis and lost a lot of weight and confidence. If Piatt can add a few more pounds he might be the A's long term answer at 1st base. Adam came through the system as a 3rd baseman and went to the outfield when the A's had a need. Another A's player did that, too. Jason Giambi.