I’ve seen a lot of people noting that the Athletics getting Jon Lester is specifically designed to — or definitely will — help the A’s win the World Series. To overcome the shortfalls they’ve had in the past couple of postseasons when the Tigers’ rotation outclassed the A’s. To give the A’s the kind of ace that wins tight playoff games.
This is true. Lester will definitely help in this regard. But as we all know — and as Billy Beane himself once famously said — the playoffs can be a crapshoot. The Phillies didn’t win a World Series with Roy Halladay, the Braves only won one with two Hall of Fame pitchers and one who will likely make it. Stuff happens and even if Lester goes all Doyle Alexander in 1987, it doesn’t guarantee the A’s anything. If you doubt that, just go as Doyle Alexander and the 1987 Tigers to show you the World Series trophy they won. I’ll wait.
But even if the A’s fall short of the champagne, this deal can still be a success for them. Because, looking at the standings today, I see a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim team a mere 2.5 games behind Oakland with a lot of baseball yet to be played. The World Series is no guarantee. Heck, the division isn’t either.
The A’s clearly don’t want to be a wild card team. No one does, given that it puts you in a one-game playoff. That’s especially important given that the one-game playoff could be against Felix Hernandez and the Mariners. Or a team that, somehow, picks up a David Price. The playoffs as a whole may be a crapshoot, but the wild card game itself is even a crappier shoot.
So Lester is not just for October. He’s for August and September too. And the trade can be considered a success for them, even if crap happens in the playoffs.
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.