The A’s set out to make Justin Verlander work in Game 1 and were partly successful, boosting his pitch count early on. Verlander improved as the outing went on, but those early pitches resulted in his departure after seven, and once the A’s got into the bullpen, they came up just a couple of feet short of tying the game on a Brandon Moss fly to right in the eighth.
Unfortunately, that proved to be team’s only threat after the first few innings in the 3-1 loss to the Tigers. The A’s didn’t have a hit with a man on base during the game. They became just the 20th team in postseason history to strike out at least 14 times in a nine-inning game.
It feels like Oakland’s first defeat in a month or two. In reality, it had been nine days since they lost to the Rangers in the finale of a four-game series. They’d won six straight since to claim the AL West title.
The A’s still have home-field advantage in the ALDS, but they don’t want to go back to Oakland down 0-2. In Sunday’s Game 2, they’ll need to take a different tactic against Doug Fister, a strike-thrower who has handled them well in the past, going 5-4 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 starts. They’re going to need to be more aggressive and not let Fister get ahead with his fastball. Fister will throw his curve and changeup early in the count as well — he’s no easy assignment — but the A’s can’t miss the heater when it comes.
Personnel changes aren’t likely. While Fister has faced the A’s plenty, the only two current regulars he really has any track record against are Cliff Pennington (1-for-21) and Coco Crisp (6-for-12). It would make sense to sit Pennington and give Adam Rosales a try, though the A’s usually only do that against lefties. As hot as they’ve been, they’ll probably just stay the course.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.