And That Happened: Sunday's scores and highlights

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Phillies 2, Mets 0: Blanton beats Santana, yadda, yadda, yadda. I want to use this entry to make my first observation of the All-Star season. Fact: Charlie Manuel manages the NL team this year. Fact:
he has an All-Star roster with too many first basemen and nary a
legitimate centerfielder to be found, among other issues that may very
well prevent the NL from winning. Fact: the league which loses the All-Star game costs its World Series representative home field advantage. Fact: the Phillies stand a decent enough chance to go back to the World Series this year. Fact: the Phillies have been a much better road team than home team this year. Theory:
Charlie Manuel is deliberately tanking the All-Star game in the hopes
that the Phillies lose home field “advantage.” Clever, Charlie. Very

Marlins 5, Pirates 0: Ricky Nolasco continues his post-call-up
tear, this time shutting out and striking out 12 Pirates and giving up
only three hits over eight innings. Hanley Ramirez was scratched from
the lineup because his hip is sore. When asked if he’d play in the
upcoming series in San Francisco, he said “I’ll see how it feels after
a 7-hour plane ride.” That’s funny. I checked Expedia, and there are no
direct commercial flights between Miami and San Francisco that
take more than six hours, and many take a little less. A chartered team
plane shouldn’t do any worse. If Ramirez is right, though, I can only
assume that Jeff Loria is so cheap that he has his team flying
Southwest or something. If you’re at the Oklahoma City airport later
today and see a guy that looks kinda like Dan Uggla getting a TCBY
while waiting for his connection, it probably is Dan Uggla.

Athletics 5, Indians 2: OK, we’ve got a situation here. Last
week I said I’d go with “Major League” quotes until either (a) Eric
Wedge was fired; or (b) the Indians won three in a row. In reality,
when I said that I assumed that Wedge was a dead man walking and that
the bit would end soon. Then, prior to yesterday’s game, Shapiro goes
and announces that Wedge will keep his job for the rest of the season.
So here’s the problem: there’s no way in hell this team is gonna win
three games in a row any time soon. Just look at yesterday: they had
two in the bag, their ace on the mound, and Gio-freakin’-7.27
ERA-Gonzales facing them. At home. What happens? Of course they lose.
So what do I do? I mean, I beat some bits into the ground, but I had no
intention of running “Major League” quotes every day. If I did, I’d
start to run out of good ones by, say, September. I’m going to give
some thought to how long I stick with this, but I’m leaning towards
giving it up and simply trying to find new ways to describe how
depressing this team is. I’ll leave that decision for tomorrow or the
next day. In the meantime: “Let me get back to you, will ya, Charlie? I
got a guy on the other line asking about some white walls.”

Cubs 8, Brewers 2: The AP game story quotes Ryan Braun talking
about how the Milwaukee pitchers aren’t getting the job done. That’s
interesting enough, but the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quotes him getting into the GM’s business as well.
He then spent the whole bus ride back to Milwaukee complaining about
how the driver changed lanes too much and yelling at Corey Hart for
taking up too much armrest space.

Nationals 5, Braves 3: Atlanta sweeps the first place Phillies
and then drops two of three to the worst team in Major League Baseball.
Anyone who couldn’t have predicted that hasn’t watched much Braves
baseball for the past three or four years.

Cardinals 10, Reds 1: I’ve sorta not been paying that much
attention to the Reds lately, so I had just been assuming that Bronson
Arroyo was continuing his patteren of getting shelled, then pitching
well, then getting shelled, etc. Looking at it now, the “getting
shelled” option has been a lot more prevalent, and it happened again
yesterday (5 IP, 11 H, 8 R). Arroyo now has the worst ERA among regular
NL starters.

Yankees 10, Blue Jays 8: Joba Chamberlain gets his ineffective
butt saved by Derek Jeter and the rest of the Yankees’ offense. In
Chamberlain’s defense, neither of the homers he gave up would have
reached the seats in old Yankee Stadium. Such a defense only goes so
far, of course, given that Alfredo Aceves pitched against the same Blue
Jays and in front of the same outfield walls yesterday, and he only
gave up one hit in four innings of relief work.

Red Sox 8, Mariners 4: The Mariners would have liked to take
this one, but the fact is that they finished nine road games against
the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox 5-4, and that’s pretty damn

Royals 6, White Sox 3: Some interesting thoughts about the whole Rany-Royals dustup here.
I wish someone would have thought to ask Ozzie Guillen about this over
the weekend. Even in the very likely event that he knows none of the
actors and cares not a bit about this drama, the way in which he would
have put it would have been pretty entertaining.

Twins 6, Tigers 2: A bunch of those “The Tigers are in the
driver’s seat” stories popped up last week. Everyone who wrote them
forgot the fact that the Twins just never, ever seem to go away, no
matter how hard you try and make them. They take two of three from the
kitty cats and stand ready to be a total pain in Detroit’s butt for the
next three months.

Diamondbacks 4, Rockies 3: Dan Haren pitched six innings and
stood to be the winner after the Dbacks took the lead in the top of the
seventh. I probably would have bet the balance of my 401K that the
Arizona bullpen wasn’t going to hold that lead for him, but I’ll be
damned if they didn’t.

Angels 9, Orioles 6: Baltimore held 4-0 leads on Saturday and Sunday and blew them both. But it’s not like there isn’t hope.

Dodgers 7, Padres 6: Broxton blows a four-run lead in the ninth
(I’m sure it was Manny’s fault somehow), but James Loney hits a solo
homer in the 13th to give the Dodgers the win.

Astros 7, Giants 1: Roy Oswalt is 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA over his
last three starts. Randy Johnson bailed early with a strained shoulder.
He probably did it while batting earlier in the game. Some joker
somewhere will use that as an argument for the DH, ignoring that
Johnson has had nearly 700 career plate appearances without incident
before yesterday.

Rangers 5, Rays 2: The Rangers sweep the Rays — allowing only
seven runs in the three game set — and now start a big series against
Anaheim. Tasty.

2018 Preview: Oakland Athletics

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The A’s have finished last in the AL West for three straight years. If you believe the folks at Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus and anyone else who makes projections, they’ll either finish in last again or come within a game or two of it. There’s not a lot of suspense to my prediction here — I’ll end up picking them to finish fifth — but the prediction is not really what a preview is about. It’s about the shape of the team and what we can expect in broad brushes.

While I can’t foretell greatness for the 2018 Oakland Athletics, I can’t say the broad brushes are bad. At least if you grade on a curve. It won’t be a good team, but they’ll be worth watching because they have a lot of good, fun and interesting players who are likely to be on that next good Oakland A’s team in the way Stephen Vogt and Brett Lawrie were not.

Their lineup is pretty spiffy for a second division team. Khris Davis, Matt Joyce and new acquisition Jonathan Lucroy are known commodities both inside and outside A’s fandom, but people who don’t pay much attention to the goings on in Oakland may not be fully aware of just how good and promising Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are. Olson hit 24 homers in 59 games last year. That’s not a sustainable pace — the league will figure him out to — but even regression from that will be fantastic. Chapman hit 14 in half a season and played superior defense at third base. He also struck out 92 times in half a season but who’s counting? [editor: everyone counts everything in baseball]. Hey, look, dingers! Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healey are gone from last year’s crew and Stephen Piscotty is new in town. Marcus Semien is a decent bat for a shortstop. All-in-all that’s a lineup that will play, and play very, very well if Chapman and Olson are what they’ve shown themselves to be thus far.

At the risk of criminal understatement, allow me to observe that the starting pitching is not as promising. Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are at the top of the rotation. On good teams they’d be in the middle or the back. The rest of their rotation options — Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn, who will miss the start of the regular season with a sore forearm — are less-than-impressive. They just signed Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson from the scrap heap hoping, I guess, to recreate some of that, uh, 2010 magic? 2010 was a long time ago!

Jharel Cotton would’ve been in the mix but he’s now out for the year for Tommy John surgery. A.J. Puk, the A’s top prospect would be a nice midseason upgrade, but he’s hurt. Not seriously, but the A’s will probably be more careful with him now than they would’ve been, which still would’ve been careful. All-in-all, there was a lack of quality arms to begin with, but with the injuries mounting, starting pitching could be a trash fire for the A’s.

The bullpen has a new look with newcomers Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit and Emilio Pagan joining 2017 in-season additions Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher. That’s a pretty good and pretty interesting group which was going to see a lot of innings as it was in our new bullpenning era, but now that the rotation looks shaky as hell, they’ll see even more. If you’re curious about the limits of leaning on a bullpen, postseason-style are, Oakland will be running a pretty fun experiment to that end in 2018.

I look at this club’s bats — especially the young guys upon whom its so very easy to project so much promise and optimism, because I’m a sucker for hitting prospects — and think that they can outperform those statsy projections and be better than the Rangers and Mariners. Then I think about how the upside — UPSIDE! — for the rotation is 380 innings from Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson and I sorta wanna cry.

If the A’s get some breaks and some unexpectedly good (or average) pitching performances, they could certainly finish above the cellar. Perhaps well above the cellar. For now, though, I’m guessing that they’ll be in 80-win territory at best and finish last in a division that does not have any teams totally punting, making for a competitive and, subsequently, tough year.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL West