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The A’s have made what is likely their big offseason signing for the 2013-14 offseason when they agreed to a two-year $22M deal with lefty Scott Kazmir previously of the Cleveland Indians. Kazmir was of course once a very highly heralded prospect and pitched well early in his career with the Tampa Bay Rays, then a loss of velocity saw some scary results before he resurrected his career last year in Cleveland. In comparison to some of the other contracts being handed out, this deal doesn’t seem terrible, but given that the A’s were beaten by their cross bay rival Giants by just one-million to sign Tim Hudson this deal seems a little less fortunate.
This deal will entirely hinge on which Kazmir the A’s get. Do they get the 2013 Kazmir who pitched 158 innings across 29 starts for a 4.04 ERA, 3.51 FIP and 2.5 WAR backed by 9.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9? Or do they get the 2010 and 2011 Kazmir who for the Angels combined to earn -1.3 WAR care of reduced velocity and a mere 5.5 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 and 1.5 HR/9 adding to a 6.17 ERA and 5.96 FIP in an equal 29 starts across 151 2/3 innings? While Hudson likely represented a degree of risk given his age and recent injury, Kazmir represents risk in that he has been all over the place All Star in 2006 and 2008 to not pitching anywhere in 2012. For his career Kazmir has thrown to a 4.16 ERA (4.06 FIP) with 8.8 K/9, 4.0 BB/9 and 1.0 HR/9 so if he stays near equal the A’s should get good value from the deal. However as noted Kazmir has been either a meteoric star or crash-burn failure. Today it was also announced that the A’s will be tendering a contract to Daric Barton which represents one-million that perhaps could’ve persuaded Hudson to choose the eastern side of the Bay as opposed to the West.
The other thing this deal represents is clearly the end of the A’s relationship with Bartolo Colon. While there could be a surprise in there, Colon’s camp obviously feels he can garner a multi-year deal and this move makes it seem like they must be asking for more than $11.5M a season. Kazmir will be turning 30, so if he is in fact “fixed” he is in his prime, whereas Colon’s advanced age brings up a few more concerns. While I had questioned Colon’s durability, he proved me wrong in his two years with the A’s, time and time again making a low-strikeout, pinpoint control pitch-to-contact method work. He will be missed.
Kazmir has the potential to be a signing akin to the deal that landed Brandon McCarthy. Whereas McCarthy “clicked” in Oakland, Kazmir “re-clicked” I suppose you could call it, in Cleveland. McCarthy wasn’t someone to count on for 30 starts a year but he was good when he was out there. Likewise, Kazmir has some durability concerns but if he can be good when out there the A’s depth can help them a great deal. The A’s now have seven starters for their starting rotation still, so it’d be interesting to see if they deal one (Brett Anderson the most likely candidate), or if they keep their depth (remember last year the Dodgers seemed to have way too many capable starters and yet ended up plucking from the Albuquerque Isotopes lineup numerous times throughout the summer). High upside deal that won’t sink a franchise, typical Billy Beane, no complaints here.
The A’s signed Nick Punto today to a one-year contract worth $2.75M that includes a vesting option for 2015 also worth $2.75M. The option is really complicated so I am just going to quote Susan Slusser’s report from the San Francisco Chronicle where she explains,
“[Punto's] 2015 option for the same amount vests in complicated fashion, all centered around days on the active roster. Some specific injuries would count for more days, some less. The short explanation: if Punto spends less than 30 days on the DL next year, his option for 2015 kicks in. It also could vest with more days on the DL, depending on the reasons. He did not land on the DL at any point last season, but has 11 DL stays in his career, including three in 2011.”
While there are thoughts that this move might portend some truth to the Jed Lowrie to St. Louis rumors, the A’s insist it isn’t the case and I frankly believe them. Punto is uber-versatile with 358 career games at third, 356 at second base, 320 at shortstop, 11 in the outfield, and five at first base. This is really useful for teams with playoff aspirations as the A’s proved 2012 was not a fluke with their second straight division crown. In 2013 with the NL West champion Dodgers, Punto hit .255/.328/.327 with a .296 wOBA and 90 wRC+, a plus defender helped him reach 1.9 WAR making his value last year $9.3M. While Punto is aging, he will be 36 for the 2014 season, he has been worth at least $2M every year since 2004 and over $2.75M every year save three (2004, 2007 and 2012) in that period. Punto provides a great insurance plan at numerous positions for the A’s in 2014 and also gives Oakland more options. While people will argue his production doesn’t justify offsetting Eric Sogard who also has shown some versatility, I think there is a great deal of utility in having a veteran on a young club and Punto provides that as well. This is a small signing, but I think that this is a solid one for Billy Beane and the A’s.
Coco is someone I had complained about when this deal was initially signed but he silenced those complaints this past season putting up a 3.9 WAR year (his best season since 2007) backed by a .261/.335/.444 slash line with a career high 22 home runs and career high (for a full season) 10.4% BB%. He also had a career high 117 wRC+ to go with a solid .339 wOBA. He did all this despite a low .258 BABIP which is odd given that his speed (which resulted in 21 steals in 26 attempts) should help him manage a better mark in that regard. With just a $7.5M option for 2014, if he can put up numbers anywhere near what he has put up in Oakland where an average season looks like a .264/.327/.417 slash line with 12 home runs and 35 steals and 2.9 WAR he will be well worth it as his value (roughly $14.5M) has been nearly twice that amount. No brainer. Now there is discussion of him possibly being considered for an extension and there I might balk given his age (34) and what should be declining range in the outfield and diminishing speed. But yes, no brainer on Crisp for 2014 at $7.5.
Anderson isn’t quite a no-brainer but at $8M (and given that it also provides the A’s access to a $12M option for 2015) it is a fairly conservative call. Rumors state that Toronto might be interested in Anderson along with other clubs, so keeping him at the very least gives the A’s options. Anderson’s value has dropped every year going from being worth $16.3M in 2009 to $9.7M, to $4.6M, to $4.1M to last year’s $1.4M. Obviously Oakland doesn’t want to pay $8M for $1.4M of production, but the hope is Anderson stays on the field. That is frankly the biggest question, can he stay healthy? The record shows the answer should be a very clear: no. Only one season with more than twenty starts (2009, his rookie campaign). Last year he was not good at all throwing 44 2/3 innings of 6.04 ERA baseball though FIP (3.85) likes him more based on his 9.3 K/9, 4.2 BB/9 and 1.0 HR/9. Can’t complain with the move.
Suzuki was never going to be picked up. Selected merely so the A’s would have more options down the stretch with John Jaso and Derek Norris injured there is no place for him on the 2014 roster and furthermore there shouldn’t be if the A’s were to pay him the $8.5M required by picking up the option. Instead, Zuk who put up a .303/.343/.545 slash line in just 35 plate appearances for the A’s in their stretch run since coming over from Washington (he had a total .232/.290/.337 between both clubs in his 316 plate appearances) will get a $650K buyout.
At the beginning of 2013 it appeared Young’s option would certainly be picked up but he had a miserable season in Oakland hitting an anemic .200/.280/.379 slash line with 12 home runs, a .289 wOBA and 82 wRC+ in 375 plate appearances. His 0.5 WAR was far off his pace from 2010-2012 with Arizona and made this an easy decision to cut him loose.
The Oakland A’s are far from media darlings. Hell, even me, a fan of the team, doesn’t pick them to win the division figuring that 2012 was a fluke. Yet here they are back-to-back division champs. No one really talks about the A’s. Our “stars” (are there any really?) are unknown to others. How many back-to-back division champions see only three combined All Star appearances featuring Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour (a last minute sub!) and Ryan Cook? Not too many. But one enduring myth about the A’s persists and I see it everywhere and that is the myth of Oakland being able to generate young pitching talent as if it is an effortless endeavor. The origins of this myth likely are from the early 2000s when the A’s put together Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, followed up with the likes of Joe Blanton, Rich Harden and Dan Haren, who in turn were followed by the likes of Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez and now onto Sonny Gray, A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily. This never ending fountain of young pitching. Today that myth persisted in this piece by Drew Silva of HardballTalk. Writing about the somewhat old (three days or so is old in internet land) news that the Toronto Blue Jays have interest in Anderson he wrote,
“Oakland is stocked with good, young starting pitching. Which makesBrett Anderson — who finished the year in the bullpen — a potential trade candidate this winter. Anderson carries an $8 million club option for 2014″
To be fair, I feel there are many reasons to trade Anderson. Despite being heralded an ace and named this year’s Opening Day starter, Anderson really hasn’t shown his stuff at the MLB level that has people in Oakland singing his praises. His career has spanned five seasons during which he has made just 73 starts and pitched just 450 2/3 innings. During that time he has put up a respectable but hardly ace-like 3.81 ERA with a slightly better 3.56 FIP. He has an alright 7.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and 0.8 HR/9. The biggest problem of course is that he has pitched just 450 2/3 innings in these five seasons for an average of 90 1/3 a season. That is because he is brittle, finding himself on the disabled list time after time. In fact one must go back to his first season (2009) to find a season in which he made 30 starts. His next best total came from 2010 (19) and next best after that 2011 (13) and well you get the drift as he sunk to six starts in 2012 and just five this past season. Since his debut season of 2009, 138 other pitchers have thrown more innings than Anderson. Not a sparkling statistic and nothing he has done has proven him to be an ace. This past season was his worst as a pro as he pitched just 44 2/3 innings across 16 appearances and just five starts sporting an awful 6.04 ERA (though FIP liked him much more at 3.85 the victim of an irregularly high .359 BABIP and absymal 61.5% strand rate) with 9.3 K/9 and a career worst 4.2 BB/9 and 1.0 HR/9. Is this a guy to pay $8M for next year? Might not be the wisest of investments.
That said, the premise of the post was that the A’s can do it because of their deep pitching staff, not necessarily because the pieces that Anderson could net may be worth more than the uncertainty that is Anderson. This myth is just so deep. Let’s look at the A’s starting pitching depth for just one second. First, Colon is not assured to re-sign so as it stands the A’s have Parker, Griffin, Straily, Gray and Tommy Milone. Who is next? Andrew Werner who is not what I’d call stocked with “good, young starting pitching” as he had a 5.78 ERA and nearly as ugly 4.28 FIP in 165 innings with the River Cats, furthermore he will be 27 next year? Arnold Leon and his underwhelming strikeout totals in AA and AAA who just turned 25? On the 40-man roster you have Michael Ynoa who has 21 innings to his name at High-A Stockton and with a 7.71 ERA and 7.3 BB/9 there to boot! The idea that the A’s have a lot of pitching depth is pure crap. Yet it persists. Foul ground and a never ending turnstile with good live arms, that is what Oakland is apparently known for. Just wish the latter were true.
I love Grant Balfour. This year, I bought a shirsey of his – a level of commitment that is reserved for so few players in my world. He is everything you want in a closer, boisterous, exciting and clearly most importantly effective. When a guy is good at what he does, normally you want to lock them in, re-up them. But with closers that simply isn’t the case. Relievers are replaceable. Quite easily so.
How do you judge who is a good closer? Let’s go the most simplistic route: saves a category in which Balfour ($4.5M) finished tied for eighth in MLB with 38. Ahead of him were: Craig Kimbrel ($655K), Jim Johnson ($6.5M), Greg Holland ($539.5K), Mariano Rivera ($10M), Joe Nathan ($7M), Rafael Soriano ($14M), Addison Reed ($520K) and he was tied with Aroldis Chapman ($2M). The key thing here is those bracketed numbers – the amount these players each earned in 2013. The numbers are just so dramatically divergent with closers. Even if you took out the pre-arbitration elibgle guys here, you have Soriano being paid tied as much as Nathan who in turn is being paid about one and a half times what Balfour is being paid. There is a lot of variance. But maybe saves is a poor measure of quality?
Let’s try something like wins above replacement. I have filtered out everyone with at least ten saves (and arbitrary number but these are guys who were closers for at least a decent chunk of 2013). Balfour falls to 25th on this list (out of a total of 35) with his 0.6 WAR. Yet he is ahead of the aforementioned $14M man Rafael Soriano (0.5). WAR isn’t always the greatest at measuring closers, so let’s go with a method I prefer which is the shutdown to meltdown ratio. This means how many times did a closer affect his team’s chance of winning by 6% or more (shutdown) or 6% or less (meltdown). Important stuff. Relievers are there to close out games, ensure victory. If they come in with a team having an 80% chance of victory and shut it down? Shutdown. Likewise if they blow that same 80% chance of winning? Meltdown. Simple stuff. Pretty fair. Here Balfour fares very well, fifth in baseball with a 6.6 ratio behind only, Holland (at an incredible 10.25), Nathan (9.75), Kimbrel (7.8) and Benoit ($5.5M) (7.3). These are in my mind the best at what they do and I think few would take issue with any of these guys being considered among the top five closers in baseball. But again look at that disparity on pay. While that will exist many times, here again we see it at work. Let’s do this list yet another way, by pay.
Here are the nine highest paid relievers in baseball: Soriano ($14M), Jonathan Papelbon ($13M), Rivera ($10M), Carlos Marmol ($9.8M), Heath Bell ($9M), Chris Perez ($7.3M), Nathan ($7M) and Frank Francisco ($6.5M) and Johnson. Would anyone agree that that list is the nine best closers in baseball? There is a reason for this, closers from year to year are wholly inconsistent. Let’s replicate the three measurements of quality for 2012.
So we start with the inexact but simple example of saves. The first perfect example is that Balfour wasn’t even the closer all year. It was a role shared with Brian Fuentes and Ryan Cook, so in terms of total saves he finished a distant 22nd (further proving my point right off the bat). The top ten on that list were: Johnson ($2.625M), Fernando Rodney ($1.75M), Kimbrel ($590K), Jason Motte ($1.95M), Soriano ($11M), Perez ($4.5), Chapman ($2M), Papelbon ($11M), Nathan ($7M) and Joel Hanrahan ($4.1M). First of all the discrepancy pay wise remains, secondly look at the turnover. There are wholesale different names on this list. In fact of the guys on this list, several Motte, Perez and Hanrahan, weren’t even closers in 2013. Let’s look at WAR, why may provide some insight.
Balfour does well on the WAR count in 2012 at 1.5 as he was tied for eighth among those pitchers who had at least ten saves. The list ahead of him includes some familiar names and some first time mentions in this piece with: Kimbrel leading the way followed by, Chapman, Rodney, Holland, Kenley Jansen, Nathan and J.J. Putz. In the shutdown to meltdown ratio category, which again I see as most important, Balfour again performs well finishing ninth among the 34 qualifying pitchers with a 4.6 mark, behind Rodney (17.0), Johnson (15.3), Kimbrel (9.3), Chapman (6.8), Sergio Romo ($1.575M) (5.6), Hanrahan (5.2), Soriano (5.1) and Perez (4.9). These guys represent the best but again their pay doesn’t match that assessment at all.
The point is simple. The best closers vary from year to year. There might be some who are consistently among the best, and Balfour very well may be one of them. But you can get that same production from other people both on the free-agent market who aren’t currently closers, or from converting someone else (and the A’s have several candidates including Cook who served admirably in the role) to become your closer. As far as value, there is so little as everyone knows in paying big on the guy who will shutdown your ballgame. Of the nine highest paid closers in baseball this year, one is playing postseason baseball (Marmol), and he isn’t even his team’s closer. That says something doesn’t it?
A’s and Tigers look to end the series and send the other home while they themselves would advance to Boston to take on the Red Sox. Here is hoping that it is the A’s who win and the Tigers who get sent home as the past few times it has not been so. The last time the A’s advancing against the Tigers being way back in 1972 when the Billy Martin led Tigers fell to the A’s in the fifth and deciding game of that American League Championship Series. Sadly, that is also one of the last times the A’s won a deciding final game as every other time they’ve been in a final game of a series since they’ve been on the losing end since the 1973 World Series against the New York Mets. Time to change that history. On the TBS pregame show Dirk Hayhurst picks the A’s, everyone else picks the Tigers. Go Garfoose and Go A’s!
5:09PM PDT – Top of 1st, 0 out – Can’t say I agree with any of the discussion that this was a clear cut choice or you have to go with “impact pitchers” and so on in a game like this. I think Sonny Gray has the potential to be that, I think you can make an argument he is that now. But lest we forget that Bartolo Colon did not pitch poorly at all this year. He was the A’s stopper. He was the A’s ace. Sabremetrically or traditionally he was a great pitcher this year. It is fair to go with Gray and understandable, but it certainly isn’t the obvious choice or the only choice.
5:10PM PDT – Top of 1st, 1 out – Strike three. He gets Austin Jackson looking. Good start. Need to see more of that.
5:12PM PDT – Top of 1st, 2 out – Torii Hunter hits it well but right at Alberto Callaspo. Watch, with Callaspo in at second for offensive purposes, just like Jhonny Peralta in left field for the same reason, you’ll see all these plays head his way. That’s like a law of baseball nature.
5:15PM PDT – Bottom of 1st, 0 out – And out comes Justin Verlander. Verlander against the A’s in the postseason: 23 innings, 0.39 ERA on one earned run, eleven hits, six walks and 33 strikeouts. Up first is Coco Crisp who had a leadoff homer in Game One of last year’s ALDS accounting for the only run.
5:17PM PDT – Bottom of 1st, 1 out – Not the prettiest catch there for Don Kelly in left field but it is a catch. Funny that it was Peralta and Kelly converging with Jim Leyland opting clearly for offense over defense.
5:19PM PDT – Bottom of 1st, 2 out – And Josh Donaldson goes down swinging. Weak series for Donaldson who doesn’t look great. That at bat makes him 3-for-18 (.167/,211/.167) with six strikeouts. Part of the A’s problem is Donaldson and Lowrie being at the top of the order and doing next to nothing between the two of them.
5;21PM PDT – Bottom of 1st, 3 out – Lowrie follows suit and strikes out too. 2-for-17 (.118/.211/.294) with two walks and seven K’s for Lowrie.
5:26PM PDT – Top of 1st, 0 out – Four pitch walk to Prince Fielder. Inauspicious beginning to the second inning here.
5:29PM PDT – Top of 2nd, 1 out – Well hit ball for Victor Martinez but a nice play by Coco to go and run it down. Tough sun with this bizarre 5pm start time.
5:31PM PDT – Top of 2nd, 1 out – Three inches saves the A’s on the foul ball from Peralta. Whoo. I hate to say it, but I agree with Buck Martinez, Gray doesn’t have the snap that he had in Game Two. The body language sort of shows it too. Between pitches he is raising his cap up, which seems a bit like he is frustrated.
5:33PM PDT – Top of 2nd, 3 out – Peralta K’s and Prince is caught off the bag with the 3-2 count he was “running”. Short rundown and he is out inning over. This could be big just as that strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out was in Game Two.
5:39PM PDT – Bottom of 2nd, 1 out – Yoenis Cespedes with a sharp line out to right center field. It seemed like Hunter was really sort of close to Jackson there. Not sure if he started off there or quickly got to where he was and it was a camera angle thing, but it seemed like he was leaving a lot of room down the right field line (which would make sense) but why would Jackson be so far to the right? Maybe it is just a camera thing though.
5:42PM PDT – Bottom of 2nd, 2 out – Sonny looks a little shaky. Verlander does not. Third strikeout as he gets Seth Smith down looking.
5:44PM PDT – Bottom of 2nd, 3 out – And another K. Four total as Verlander gets Brandon Moss swinging. Moss was trying to put every pitch in the seats.
5:47PM PDT – Top of 3rd, 1 out – One quick out for Gray. First pitch swinging and Alex Avila grounds out to Moss. He needs a quick solid 1-2-3 to get some forward momentum. I agree with the broadcast crew in that regard and also with the fact that that strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out might have reinvigorated him as it did in Game Two.
5:49PM PDT – Top of 3rd, 2 out – Omar Infante grounds out to shortstop. Two down.
5:51PM PDT – Top of 3rd, 3 out – Kelly flies out to Cespedes who barely has to move. Gray faces the minimum through three. Martinez is such a moron “they [the A's] haven’t had an impact starter like Sonny Gray for a while”. Because the teams that failed to get to the playoffs before lacked an impact starter? Barry Zito? Mark Mulder? Tim Hudson? Dan Haren? Rich Harden? No impact starters there.
5:56PM PDT – Bottom of 3rd, 1 out – Callaspo is in for offense and he flies out to center field after five pitches.
5:57PM PDT – Bottom of 3rd, 2 out – Martinez at first was correctly saying that Gray wasn’t as sharp as he was last time out, then he talks to Leyland and says that he is just as good. Thankfully Leyland corrects him saying he is looking good but not as on point as he was in Game Two. I can’t stand Martinez. I also can’t stand watching the A’s play against Verlander who just tears through these A’s. Josh Reddick is the latest victim grounding out to Infante.
6:00PM PDT – Bottom of 3rd, 3 out – Perfect through three for Verlander who K’s Stephen Vogt for his fifth K of the ballgame. 51 of 160 A’s have struck out in this series (31.9%). That is crazy.
6:04PM PDT – Top of 4th, 1 out – Jackson flies out to Reddick in right. Jackson has been terrible but Tuesday had a hit when it matters which I suppose is some solace for him.
6:07PM PDT – Top of 4th, 1 out – First hit in the game for either side comes as Hunter hits it straight back up the middle. Not the part of the lineup you want to allow your first hit in front of.
6:08PM PDT – Top of 4th, 1 out – Wow. That was so obviously gone from the moment he hit it. I was actually surprised when the camera started tracking it and it wasn’t as deep as I thought it was. It sounded gone. That was murdered. Gray’s shutout inning streak is over at eleven and a third. Why did he try throwing inside? You never want to go anywhere near where Cabrera can get to it, and you certainly don’t challenge him in his wheelhouse. Tigers up 2-0.
6:11PM PDT – Top of 4th, 2 out – 3-1 on the putout as Fielder is set down. Nice play by Gray to get over. Solid defense there.
6:12PM PDT – Top of 4th, 2 out – Opposite field hit for Martinez on the curveball. That curveball did look pretty fat, so Buck is right, but he keeps going back and forth. A 1-2-3 inning from Gray and Buck will be back to how amazing he is.
6:13PM PDT – Top of 4th, 2 out - TBS shows a shot of Dave Dombrowski who is wearing a green tie! Really? Of all the colors green? That is pretty funny.
6:14PM PDT – Top of 4th, 2 out – Peralta with a solid base hit to left field. Curveball isn’t working. Tigers are sitting fastball. This is not good. Bob Melvin needs to get someone up in the pen. Why isn’t Curt Young running out there and stalling things some? Brett Anderson should be able to go a few innings right? Same with Jesse Chavez.
6:17PM PDT – Top of 4th, 2 out – Gray loses the handle on Avila and walks the bases full. Finally Young comes out. In the bullpen Dan Otero starts to warm down the left field line. 28 pitches so far in the fourth inning 69 overall (just 38 strikes). Yikes.
6:20PM PDT – Top of 4th, 3 out – Infante grounds out. Big out. Massive failure averted there. But let’s remember. The A’s have yet to get a baserunner on Verlander. They haven’t scored on him in the playoffs in over a year. They need to figure him out and figure him out fast.
6:25PM PDT – Bottom of 4th, 1 out – Ten up, ten down as Coco grounds out to Peralta.
6:27PM PDT – Bottom of 4th, 2 out – Donaldson lunges for one out of the zone and gives Verlander another easy out on a fly out to Jackson in center.
6:29PM PDT – Bottom of 4th, 3 out – Lowrie grounds out to Infante. These guys don’t even have to move really. The A’s are just hitting them all right at guys. A .000 BABIP shouldn’t be sustainable, but with Verlander he’s had at least two games like that.
6:33PM PDT – Top of 5th, 0 out – Leadoff walks are not a recipe for success. Especially when they are to guys like Kelly (.222/.309/.343 with a 79 wRC+).
6:36PM PDT – Top of 5th, 1 out – Jackson gets K’d yet again. He is having a miserable series. He is one guy in this lineup that I haven’t had any concern about, though of course he had the back breaking hit in the last game.
6:38PM PDT – Top of 5th, 2 out – Gray looking really inconsistent as I liked his sequence against Hunter and he looked like a new rejuvenated pitcher there. Ground out gets Kelly into scoring position with Cabrera due up.
6:40PM PDT – Top of 5th, 2 out – Gray gets down 2-0 and he and Vogt (or probably the A’s dugout) decide to just put him on. Doesn’t get easier with Prince due up now with two on.
6:42PM PDT – Top of 5th, 3 out – Stressful inning, but nothing comes of it for Detroit. Fielder hits it back to the pitcher. Gray knocks it down and does the underhand toss to Moss and the inning is over.
6:46PM PDT – Bottom of 5th, 1 out – Infield pop out for Cespedes to Peralta. Thirteen straight A’s set down.
6:50 PM PDT – Bottom of 5th, 2 out – Positioned perfectly Peralta gets the grounder that probably could have been the A’s first hit off the bat of Smith. Fourteen straight A’s set down.
6:52PM PDT – Bottom of 5th, 3 out – Fifteen straight A’s set down as Moss gets K’d for the second time tonight. Verlander through five: no runs, no hits, no walks, six K’s on just 66 pitches 45 of them strikes. His ERA is of course 0.00, but his FIP a sparkling 0.65. Stark contrast to the crooked numbers Gray has through five: two earned runs on four hits including the Cabrera home run, four walks and three strikeouts for a 3.60 ERA and 6.85 FIP on 92 pitches, just 50 for strikes.
6:56PM PDT – Top of 6th, 0 out – Another lead off baserunner as Martinez hits it pretty much straight back up the middle for his second hit tonight.
6:57PM PDT – Top of 6th, 0 out – Back-to-back base hits for the Tigers as Peralta hits a single that plunks in front of Cespedes in left field. That will end the night for Gray as Melvin heads to the hill. Final line on Gray: 5+ innings, two earned runs on six hits including a HR, four walks and three strikeouts on 98 pitches, 53 for strikes. In to the game will be Otero. Otero has been great this postseason as Melvin’s in many ways go-to- guy with three appearances during which he has thrown three and two-thirds innings allowing two hits, walking no one and striking out two. The two runners are the responsibility of Gray, but the man entrusted with them Otero has not always been the best about keeping those runs off the board as 37% of his inherited runners this season have scored.
7:00PM PDT – Top of 6th, 1 out – Big play. Not a 3-6-3 but a 3-6 out to get Avila. Men on the corners with an out.
7:02PM PDT – Top of 6th, 2 out – Infante just hit into a 5-4-3 double play. But Callaspo bobbles a bad throw from Donaldson and Melvin’s decision to go for offense over defense has thus far not panned out. VMart scores from third. Tigers lead 3-0, a lead that seems insurmountable against Verlander right now.
7:04PM PDT – Top of 6th, 2 out – Otero walks Kelly (still not the guy, you want to walk). Martinez still saying that there was no question Gray was the one to start in this game as the camera pans to Colon. Martinez is still wrong and thus far has been proven so.
7:07PM PDT – Top of 6th, 3 out – Jackson grounds out to Callaspo to end the inning. A’s have their work cut out for them.
7:11PM PDT – Bottom of 6th, 1 out – Callaspo grounds out to first base. Sixteen straight A’s set down.
7:13PM PDT – Bottom of 6th, 1 out – A baserunner! A baserunner! The A’s have a baserunner! Who would have thought of all the guys to draw a walk and break the trance that hitters had been lulled into that it’d be Reddick. Reddick had an awful year but he did draw walks 10.4% of the time. Verlander didn’t miss a K by much as Reddick drew it full before ending Verlander’s perfection.
7:15PM PDT – Bottom of 6th, 2 out – Vogt takes Verlander to the warning track. Reddick advances on the fly out and the A’s now have their first runner in scoring position all night.
7:17PM PDT – Bottom of 6th, 3 out – Coco flies out to left field to end the inning. Verlander still has the no-no in tact. A’s running out of time. Nine outs away from golfing.
7:21PM PDT – Bottom of 7th, 1 out – Hunter grounds it out to Donaldson and one is away.
7:22PM PDT – Top of 7th, 2 out – Pop out to second base and again Cabrera is neutralized.
7:23PM PDT – Top of 7th, 2 out – That was a solid hit laced to right field for Prince falling just in front of Reddick. Sean Doolittle is warming up in the A’s pen looking to redeem himself from his outing on Tuesday.
7:24PM PDT – Top of 7th, 2 out – Martinez with an opposite field base hit. Third hit of the night. It seems like he got fired up from his altercation with Grant Balfour. He has been a different hitter since then.
7:27PM PDT – Top of 7th, 3 out – Stretch time. Peralta grounds to Donaldson who steps on third to end the inning.
7:34PM PDT – Bottom of 7th, 1 out – Donaldson looks terrible. He is just swinging at everything. Strike out number seven for Verlander.
7:37PM PDT – Bottom of 7th, 2 out – It seems like this is the best we are going to get this game. Lowrie has a good at bat. Well as good an at bat as you can have where you don’t draw a single ball, and furthermore where you check swing/foul off a ball that bounced up there. Long fly ball to the warning track in left but Kelly had no problem settling under it.
7:39PM PDT – Bottom of 7th, 2 out – No hitter no more! Cespedes gets a hit back up through the middle. As per the broadcast crew that is a ten game hitting streak in the postseason for Cespedes. Impressive stuff.
7:41PM PDT – Bottom of 7th, 3 out – I love this the elite pitchers are always around 15 pitches per inning crap from Martinez, I mean it makes sense, but really? For what it is worth Colon this year had 14.59 pitches per inning, and Jarrod Parker who one day could be elite but isn’t today had 15.20, and Gray had 15.55. Meanwhile Smith gets K’d to end the inning for his eighth K. A’s down to their final six outs.
7:44PM PDT – Top of 8th, 0 out – Doolittle is out for the A’s. Doolittle has made three appearances in this ALDS for three and a third innings, allowing two earned runs on three hits including a home run, with two walks and five K’s for a 5.40 ERA and roughly a 5.90 FIP. Small sample size galore and all that mess comes from Tuesday’s game in Detroit.
7:47PM PDT – Top of 8th, 1 out – Cespedes backpedals to the warning track but Avila’s hit is completely benign and settles into his glove for the first out.
7:48PM PDT – Top of 8th, 2 out – Infante hits it to shallow center field but Coco runs in to get it. Two down.
7:50PM PDT – Top of 8th, 3 out – Kelly K’s. 1-2-3 inning for Doolittle. A’s have six outs to work with. The A’s bring up Moss, Callaspo and Reddick.
7:55PM PDT – Bottom of 8th, 1 out – Moss can’t get the benefit of the doubt against Verlander tonight. No way he would. That pitch was ball four, but was called a strike and you can’t be surprised. Verlander fights back and gives Moss the hat trick with his ninth K of the night. Drew Smyly is up and throwing in the Detroit bullpen.
7:56PM PDT – Bottom of 8th, 2 out – Verlander makes short work of Callaspo who grounds out to Prince.
7:57PM PDT – Bottom of 8th, 2 out – Reddick is the offensive star of the game! Gets on twice! Base hit up the middle on the changeup. He is aboard with two outs. Wonder if Vogt hits or if they go with a substitute. The A’ s are carrying three catchers and have not made much use of them.
8:00PM PDT – Bottom of 8th, 3 out – Melvin sticks with Vogt. Vogt strikes out. Tenth of the night from Verlander.
8:02PM PDT – Top of 9th, 0 out – Verlander’s night is done. Why? He is clearly the best option for the ninth, this has to be inspiring to A’s hitters who have felt he was unhittable (largely because he was). The book closed on Verlander: eight innings, two hits, one walk and ten strikeouts on 111 pitches with 76 crossing the plate as strikes. Joaquin Benoit will throw for the Tigers in the ninth it seems regardless of whether or not the Tigers pad their lead. The A’s meanwhile will go with Balfour to hold down the Tigers and keep the A’s in the ballgame to face the top of the order. Balfour has been in two games this ALDS throwing two innings, allowing no hits with a walk and a strikeout. Balfour picked up the win in Game Two and the save in Game Three.
8:06PM PDT – Top of 9th, 1 out – Jackson strikes out swinging (again). I bet he will be happy for the new set of stats that come with playing in the ALCS. An opportunity to hit the reset button so to speak.
8:08PM PDT – Top of 9th, 2 out – Hunter flies out to Coco. Two down.
8:11PM PDT – Top of 9th, 3 out – Last time A’s fans get to see Balfour in an A’s uniform perhaps and he gets a K of Cabrera. If this is it – and I presume it is – a nice way to end his tenure in Oakland.
8:14PM PDT – Bottom of 9th, 0 out – Benoit coming in to get the save and close out the game. Ramon Santiago comes in at third base and Jose Iglesias comes in at shortstop to shore down the left side defense for Detroit. Benoit has been a bit shaky, two appearances for two and a third innings of two earned run, on two hit baseball with a walk and five strikeouts. That adds up to a 7.71 ERA but a 0.20 FIP.
8:17PM PDT – Bottom of 9th, 1 out – Can’t say I was a big fan of the strikezone in that at bat. Two pitches that were well outside called strikes. Ends up a weak groundout to Infante and the A’s are down to their final two outs.
8:20PM PDT – Bottom of 9th, 2 out – Can’t say I really had any confidence in Donaldson there and he delivered on my expectations. He was swinging at everything, and he was swinging recklessly at everything and did so again there. Down to their final out. It all rests on Lowrie’s shoulders to keep this series going.
8:22PM PDT – Bottom of 9th, 2 out – A’s season stays alive! Lowrie opposite field into left center above a leaping Iglesias. He runs and gets a double – man it looked like it might get thrown out at second for a minute there.
8:25PM PDT – Bottom of 9th, 2 out – Cespedes is hit by the pitch! Tying run comes up to the plate. I said before the game the key to this game was Seth Smith. I didn’t anticipate it would be like this. But the tying run is Smith.
8:29PM PDT – Bottom of 9th, 3 out – A’s lose. Smith flies out to Hunter in right field. A’s were just outplayed in this game. Good luck to the Tigers, you don’t want to lose to a team that then rolls into the ALCS and lays and egg. You want to lose to the champs.
It all comes down to this. Put up or shut up for both the Tigers and the A’s. Bob Melvin had the biggest decision going into this one in choosing who his starting pitcher would be and late last night chose Sonny Gray to take the hill to square off in a rematch of Game Two against Justin Verlander. The first two games in Oakland were all about the pitching but the bats of both clubs awakened in Detroit though neither club has particularly impressive offensive numbers right now with the A’s hitting .243/.307/.434 for the series slightly edging out Detroit’s .234/.290/.320 line. The story of Game Two was how Gray kept up with Verlander he and will be tasked with doing it for a second straight night. Can he replicate the eight inning, four hit, two walk, nine strikeout performance he brought? That will determine whether or not the A’s win because Verlander certainly has replicated his seven inning, four hit, one walk, eleven strikeout performance before.
Along with the change in starting pitchers Melvin has one other (long overdue) adjustment to his lineup which top to bottom will be: Coco Crisp CF, Josh Donaldson 3B, Jed Lowrie SS, Yoenis Cespedes LF, Seth Smith DH, Brandon Moss 1B, Alberto Callaspo 2B, Josh Reddick RF, Stephen Vogt C. The big change being that Eric Sogard (0-for-9, BB, K) is being replaced by Callaspo (1-for-3, with a double and K). The other significant move is moving Moss (2-for-15, HR, 3 BBs) down in the order and sliding Cespedes (7-for-18, double, triple, HR and 4 Ks) and Smith (5-for-12, HR, BB and 3 Ks) up. I think this game really hinges on Smith. He has had a good series, he will be hitting ahead of Moss and needs to sort of set the table for him and hitting behind Cespedes who has been adept at getting on will mean he needs to improve upon his 3-for-18 with a HR, 6 BB and 5K record against Verlander. If Smith does well, I feel the A’s can really win this game, he is the one Athletic who needs to change their history against Verlander (for what it is worth he went 1-for-3 against him in Game Two).
Jim Leyland meanwhile goes for more offense as he changes things up a bit: Austin Jackson CF, Torii Hunter RF, Miguel Cabrera 3B, Prince Fielder 1B, Victor Martinez DH, Jhonny Peralta SS, Alex Avila C, Omar Infante 2B, Don Kelly LF. Out is Jose Iglesias whose sparkling defense and blazing speed is not enough to overcome his 1-for-12 with a BB and 2 Ks in the series. Kelly was one of the lone Tigers to figure out Gray in Game Two going 2-for-3 against him further encouraging the relegation of Iglesias to the bench. Can Gray get through this lineup with the same hot butter knife he carved them up with in Game Two? It remains to be seen.