The streak is alive, fellow Oakland fans! Where are the fireworks? The Celebrations in the street? The calls from the president?
Oh…right…because it’s the 10th consecutive opening day loss for the green and gold. THAT kind of streak. I’ll cancel my celebratory booze guzzling. Or, maybe I won’t.
It’s hard to get too upset about losing opening day. We have so much practice at it, see. And, it’s the first game of the year. With all the hype and the ceremonies, and the RAIN, it all just kind of feels sloppy anyway, right? We’re all a little wobbly from being away for so long, the reality of a full, new season still not sinking completely in. At least, that’s how I felt from the pre-game show onward. Baseball is HERE. Already. I missed your ability to make me shout things at the glowing picture box 8 feet in front of me.
Which, brings us to…
THE GOOD: We have to start here with Sonny Gray and Josh Donaldson. As we’ll talk about in the next section, Sonny was anything but dominant tonight, but he gutted it out and went six scoreless innings. Against an Indians team that is no slouch when it comes to offense. Perhaps not as stacked as the A’s line-up can be, yeah I called us stacked, but still; the Indians are not the pushover of the last several years, last year excluded. I’m also a huge HUGE fan of how Sonny can handle himself off the mound snagging balls and making throws. It’s definitely a plus. And JD. Man, he looks great at the plate. That last at-bat he had, with the ball to the wall off Cody Allen, was mid-season shit. He crushed two hits tonight with a runner in scoring position. Donaldson is looking very good indeed, and that’s very exciting to see.
Believe it or not, Cespedes also had better at-bats than he did during spring training. He struck out once on a breaking pitch away, but I also see him lay off several as well. I’m not saying we should get too excited just yet, but I do think there is reason to believe that Cespedes can turn things around earlier this year than waiting till September like last year. Were they RESULTS today? No. But, it was an incremental improvement and I’m being optimistic. Cespedes deserves some optimism. He’s that talented. And…I do have to eat a little crow here, but Daric Barton had two plays at first tonight, THREE actually, now that I remember a dugout throw in the dirt. He was 1-for-3 with a walk. We’ll see how that continues to play out…I’m maybe already becoming a convert to the fact that he does have value in two aspects: he can play D at first, and he can take a walk. If we need a baserunner at first, Barton is your man. I still don’t want to see him in any other position at the plate, but if we need a walk, sure. I’m happy to see Daric up there.
THE BAD: Josh Johnson has to take top honors tonight, for obvious reasons. He was all over the place. And where Sonny had the stuff to get himself out of jams, Johnson didn’t. His fastball was exceedingly straight, his off-speed stuff couldn’t be controlled, and overall there wasn’t a single moment where I felt he was in control. Now, the guys up top talked about being over-amped; that he was too pumped up. It’s true, if you throw too hard and you’re a movement pitcher, like Johnson is supposed to be, everything flattens out. The only thing about that is it’s a story that Baltimore fans can say they recognize. Johnson, yes, led the majors in saves last year, *but* BUT…he also led the league in blown saves. He is very hittable. And possible over-worked. I hope that we get to see very soon the Johnson that might put a runner on with a bloop single, but then immediately erases that with a ground ball double play.
Lowrie is the lame duck tonight on the offensive side. Twice he followed up Donaldson with a rally-killing out and a runner on third. The first time maaayyy not have been his fault, he hit one squarely up the middle…but from what I could see it would have been right to their shortstop for a double play and inning over, and we really need a ball in the air to the outfield there. The second at-bat against Allen was horrible. Lowrie showed very little patience at the plate tonight. Punto also looked overly aggressive with a first pitch fly ball in that pivotal 8th, and a swinging strike out to end the game in the 9th. I’m not trying to be hard on Lowrie, but I do foresee some regression here this year, and I think he’s much better suited with Jaso down in the 6th or 7th spot. *If* Reddick can put his bat back together. Yeah, that may sound crazy, but it’s just a gut instinct I have. I do think Reddick can put up 2012 numbers again, and that Crisp-Donaldson-Reddick-Cespedes-Moss top of the line-up could be pretty freaking gravy. Granted, if Lowrie proves me wrong and puts up .290+ like he did last year, Reddick should be hitting 6th or 7th. Look at me, tinkering with the line-up already. But, you know what? I can guarantee you with absolute certainty that the A’s will be doing the same thing all year long. So, suck it.
Finally, I do get to yell about one more thing: try and rationalize what Daric Barton did at second on JD’s shot to center field all you want, it wasn’t the right move. Donaldson, with one out, hits the ball all the way to the wall in dead center field, and Barton was back at the second base bag when it bounced off the top. Sure, if it gets caught, you don’t get to third. But there are then two outs if that happens, so it’s not nearly as important to ensure that you can get to third base on a caught ball in that situation as it is to ensure that you SCORE on a hit by going halfway and staying there. That completely changes the dynamic of the game, right there. That’s the kind of stuff that kills you in the postseason, those moments when you should have scored, and you didn’t.
At the end of the day, the A’s played well tonight. No errors, some slick defense, and solid pitching with one unfortunate exception. Our offense even looked vintage; if the starter is on, get to him early enough to jump on their bullpen, which we did. And, if Donaldson’s ball had been two inches deeper in center field, or if Barton had played heads up base running, we would have been in excellent position to win tonight. It shouldn’t have been a shutout tonight, we hit better than that. You kind of have to shrug your shoulders. They beat us tonight. Barely. Their pitching after Masterson is much more hittable. We can absolutely take the series.