Should we just forget the search for a fifth starter?

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A lot of time has been spent trying to figure out who should be the fifth starter in New York, but if it were up to FanGraph’s Marc Hulet, we wouldn’t even be making the effort:

Teams spend millions of
dollars and thousands of hours crunching data to build a successful
five-man rotation, but it’s all in vain. The truth of the matter is that
these mythical creatures don’t actually exist. If we look back to the 2009 season, only two teams had five starters
on their pitching staffs that made 24 or more starts: the Chicago Cubs
and the Colorado Rockies.

Hulet has a better idea: rather than pick one guy to be the fifth man in the rotation, make it a committee affair, filling that fifth slot with a veteran long reliever who could make 8-10 starts, a young pitching prospect who can make 8-10 starts and split the season between the minors and the big club and fill the remainder of the starts with minor league veterans and organizational soldiers.

I like the thinking — don’t anoint anyone “fifth starter” and, rather, use that slot as a proving ground of sorts — but it just seems impractical for anyone but a rebuilding team.  The first time the young prospect gets a go and has a nice outing everyone will be clamoring for him to keep the job. The first time the swingman gets shelled everyone will wonder why a career long relief guy is starting games.

Hulet’s idea is a nice way to optimize resources and give multiple guys looks, but it overlooks the fact that managers get cameras and tape recorders shoved in their faces every single night and are expected to explain themselves. That’s stressful and distracting even if the skipper has the backing of the front office. Upshot: neat idea, but I think it’s ultimately unworkable.

Athletics tie for first place in AL West

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The Athletics are tied for first place in the AL West for the first time since Opening Day. They took the first of a three-game series against the Astros on Friday with a wild (and controversial) overturned replay call in the ninth and Matt Olson‘s decisive walk-off home run in the 10th — the first of his career to date — then returned on Saturday and bested the Astros 7-1 to take first place.

Saturday’s win was less of a nail-biter than Friday’s had been, but its rewards were just as sweet. Trevor Cahill led the A’s through the first seven innings of one-hit, seven-strikeout ball, backed by seven runs on five RBI doubles from Khris Davis, Matt Olson, Stephen Piscotty and Josh Phegley. All told, the four players struck eight doubles to tie the franchise single-game record.

The Astros, meanwhile, were stymied by both Cahill and the A’s bullpen through the first eight innings of the game. Following Cahill’s seven shutout innings, Jeurys Familia took the ball in the eighth and blanked the Astros to preserve the seven-run lead. Yusmeiro Petit wasn’t quite so lucky: with one out in the top of the ninth, he pitched to a full count against Tony Kemp, then saw his 90.1-MPH fastball returned to right field for a home run. That was the first and last time the Astros crossed home plate, however, as Kyle Tucker popped out to third base and Alex Bregman cemented the loss with a fly ball to right.

Entering Saturday’s game, the Astros had not been out of first place since June 13, when they played second fiddle to the now third-place Mariners. They’ll share first-place honors with the Athletics until Sunday’s finale; it’ll take a series sweep for Oakland to take the lead in the division, but they’ve already delivered incredible results over the last two weeks (and it’s worth noting, as MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart pointed out, that Houston has now lost seven of their last eight games). The A’s climbed out of the no. 3 spot at the start of August and have steadily progressed toward first place ever since, driven by two separate four-win streaks and their two decisive wins this weekend. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle also notes that the club has not been in first place in a non-April month since August 25, 2014 — the last year they qualified for the playoffs.