Here is a link to my column about the A’s. The full text runs below:
A funny thing happened to the Oakland A’s on their way to a three-game weekend series at home against the rival Angels. The New York Mets happened to the A’s.
The Mets are not supposed to happen to anyone. The Mets are a young team, a pretty bad team. The A’s had beaten them Tuesday in the first game of a two-game series that frankly never should have happened. What are the A’s doing playing the National League Mets?
But play the Mets they did in a Wednesday matinee. Bob Melvin was confident about the game, didn’t even start Josh Donaldson, although he played later when things became desperate. A’s starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija got his brains beaten in and the A’s lost 8-5 even though they had chances to win. The Mets gave them chances by committing three errors.
The A’s should be riding a two-game winning streak into Friday’s series opener against Los Angeles, or whatever the Angels call themselves — they probably have as much right to “Los Angeles” as the 49ers have to “San Francisco.” But instead of a two-game win streak, the A’s will come into Friday’s game after a loss.
It’s worse than that. The A’s, who finally have enjoyed national notoriety this season — “Lew, we’ve been discovered!!!” — have lost six of their past seven games, eight of their last 10. That is no way to prep for the Angels in what will be — no doubt about it — a showdown series, a series for dominance in the American League West, a series that, a while back, didn’t figure to matter this much. That’s how fabulous the A’s had been.
How fabulous were they? Well, for 112 straight days they had at least a share of first place. That included 106 consecutive games with sole possession of first. All that is over with now. The A’s are in second place. The Angels are in first. It’s sad when a team loses its fabulosity.
The A’s, for the time being, are not the team they used to be. Is it possible they really needed Yoenis Cespedes to be a dominant offensive club? It’s too early to tell, but you wonder.
After Wednesday’s game, I said to manager Bob Melvin, “You have a big series coming up on Friday. At what point do you stop thinking about today’s game?”
Melvin laughed. It was not a giddy laugh.
“Probably take me a little while, couple of hours or so,” he said. “There were a lot of frustrating things in today’s game, so it takes you a little while to get over them. But you do have to move on to the next thing. We have an off day to clear our heads, and we know it will be an exciting series and a big series coming up.”
All credit to Melvin for telling the truth. Another manager might have said he already had moved past the crummy loss to the crummy Mets, and he was already focused on the Angels. Melvin is a real person who acts like a real person.
It is fact he’s treating the three home games with the Angels as a playoff series. He changed his pitching rotation to throw his best guys. They are Sonny Gray, Jon Lester and Scott Kazmir.
Who got bumped from the series? Jason Hammel, of course — Hammel with his 1-5 record and 6.75 earned run average since joining the A’s. Hammel may be a nice man, he could be Mahatma Gandhi, but no way you pitch him against the Angels with everything on the line. No way you take a chance on him pitching like, well, Samardzija pitched against the lowly Mets.
The Angels series is something the A’s should welcome. They have a chance to reassert themselves. It’s not just this one series we’re talking about, either. Late next week, the A’s travel to Anaheim for four games. That’s seven games against the Angels in 10 days. That is make-or-break baseball. That is wonderful.
The A’s probably have better starting pitchers than the Angels. But in the first two games this weekend, the Angels will pitch Hector Santiago and C.J. Wilson, two lefties. The A’s, the new, vulnerable A’s, haven’t batted well against lefthanders. The A’s have decisions to make in those games. Which left-handed hitters can they afford to play? Josh Reddick? Brandon Moss? Stephen Vogt?
Jonny Gomes, who bats right, probably will play. The A’s have to make serious choices with real-life consequences. A few weeks ago, no one could have foreseen this.
I want to bring you back to before Wednesday’s game, to Melvin sitting in the dugout chatting casually with the media. Someone asked about the A’s losing ground in the standings.
“We’ve just gone through a tough stretch here and, really, the first one of the year,” Melvin said in a steady voice. “We’ve been pretty consistent. I don’t think anyone puts too much emphasis on one series because we’re going to play them 10 times. All the other games mean just as much. Albeit, when we do play them, it will be a weekend series here. There will be a lot of excitement to it. It certainly makes it easier to get up for games.”
I’d like to interrupt Melvin a moment and point out he used the world “albeit.” Do you ever use the word albeit? I sure don’t.
Back to Melvin.
“I never thought it looked like we were running away from them,” he said. “I don’t buy into that at all, these percentages you see up there to win the division and all that. It can be swung very quickly in three games. We know they have a very good team. They’ve gotten better as the season’s gone along. They’ve added players, certainly pitchers. They’re one of the best teams in baseball and we know we’re going to have some emotional games against them.”
I would like to add that the A’s are still in good shape. If they sweep the Angels at home and take over first place, someone could write, “The A’s hit a rough stretch in August, albeit a stretch that looks much smoother after beating the Angels.”
Sometimes, albeit is the most important word.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn firstname.lastname@example.org.