When the Oakland Athletics dealt for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, there were those ready to hand the World Series rings to them on a platinum platter. And there were those others, myself included, who cautioned not to do it just yet. Not that it stopped them, especially after the A’s landed Jon Lester out of Boston.
At the moment of Samardzija and Hammel, the A’s had gone 6-5 in their previous eleven games while the Los Angeles Angels, concurrently, had gone 8-3. The A’s had the American League’s best team ERA to that point—and that was despite losing Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to season-ending injuries, and despite riding Sonny Gray and Jesse Chavez a little too hard in their first full major league seasons. The Angels were occupied with revamping their then-troublesome bullpen.
The A’s also held a three and a half game lead over the Angels at that point. Today, however, the A’s may be looking back to that point as the good old days. A four-game Labor Day weekend bushwhacking from the Angels does that to you. Just ask A’s manager Bob Melvin, who ripped his team a few new ones after Sunday’s 8-1 destruction.
Embarrassing. Pathetic. The worst he’d seen his team play in he couldn’t remember how long.
And weren’t these Angels supposed to be getting dangerously close to a prospective collapse, now that they’d tightened up their bullpen, when glittering rookie starter Garret Richards went down with a knee injury covering a play at first base? Wasn’t the Angel rotation just a little bit short on prowess, enough maybe to let the A’s find the California Coaster in the nick of time?
This is how deeply the Angels took it to the A’s on the weekend: Angel pitching produced a 29-inning shutout streak during the span. Manager Mike Scioscia drew successfully to an inside straight Saturday when, still pining for a serviceable fifth starter, he started reliever Cory Rasmus . . . and got a combined shutout from Rasmus and seven other relievers while upending Samardzija’s complete game with a 2-0 win.
Heretofore uncharted rookie righthander Matt Shoemaker, who wasn’t even rated in the top thirty among the prospects in a somewhat weakened Angels farm system, throwing seven shutout innings Sunday and running his record to 14-4 with a 3.27 ERA, all with a split fingered fastball, a two-seam sinkerball, a slider, and a proper curve ball. Who says you need to have a howtizer to neutralise the enemy?
Not to mention that the Angels outscored the A’s 18-4 in the four games. They made this season’s American League ogres look like elves this weekend.
Come Sunday, Shoemaker pitched like an ace and allowed no Oakland runner to reach third, Mike Trout parked his 31st bomb five innings after his two-run single made it 5-0, Scott Kazmir—the erstwhile Angel who’d been enjoying quite a run in Oakland before the All-Star break—got only four outs and walked two runs home in the Angels’ six-run second, and a well-enough rested Angel pen kept the A’s from prying more than a single run out of them.
That followed a Saturday game in which, while the Angel bullpen produced the unlikely shutout, the Angels scored the game’s only two runs on an RBI single from Erick Aybar and a wild pitch by Samardzija scoring Howie Kendrick—all in the fourth inning.
Which in turned followed a Friday night showdown between Lester and Jered Weaver, with Weaver outpitching Lester for seven innings including his artistic squirm out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth, Chris Ianetta sending home three of the four Angel runs with a two-run homer and a bases-loaded walk, and Albert Pujols sending one solo over the left field fence.
And to think it all began Thursday when Kendrick sent Pujols home with the winner on a tenth-inning sacrifice fly that followed a little controversy in the ninth, in a game where the Angels jumped Gray for an early 3-0 lead before the A’s tied it up over the fifth and sixth.
Aybar’s first base line chopper turned to interference when A’s reliever Dan Otero bumped into first baseman Brandon Moss and caused Moss to obstruct Aybar on the basepath. That opened the way for the Angels to load the pads before a pop up and a ground out ended that chance to win it.
It got this bad for the A’s: Umpiring crew chief Gerry Davis described Friday night plate ump Geg Gibson’s obstruction call as a judgment call, the kind the rules say can’t be overturned even on replays. On Saturday, there were those A’s insisting Davis flashed a few crybaby faces toward the A’s, who protested the Thursday game but later withdrew the protest.
Kazmir swears Davis was calling inner zone pitches against him Sunday out of spite, possibly after being reprimanded by baseball government over Saturday’s alleged crybaby faces. “I saw 10-plus pitches that I thought were right there,” the veteran pitcher told reporters. “I don’t know if it has something to do with last night and how he got reprimanded or anything like that, but the professionalism is something that I have an issue with. No matter what happens on the field, some things are just unacceptable. When you constantly pitch inside and hit your spot every single time and have nothing to show for it, it’s frustrating.”
What should be frustrating for the A’s is that they went 12-17 in August and have been 18-22 since the All-Star break, with no winning streak larger than three (the only such streak in the span) and one five-game losing streak.
What should be frustrating for the A’s is that, while Lester has been mostly what you might expect him to be since they landed him in a swap for Yoenis Cespides (3.35 ERA; 1.oo WHIP) and maybe more (his August ERA: 1.72), Samardzija has pitched in a bit of hard luck (3.57 ERA; 0.97 WHIP, 6.20 K/BB, but a 4-4 record) and Hammel has been a bust. (5.77 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 1.50 K/BB, and a 1-5 record.) And the load on Gray has begun taking its toll: he had a 2.79 ERA before the All-Star break but has had a 3.61 since.
What should be even more frustrating is the Oakland bats not named Josh Donaldson turning to toothpicks since the break. Moss and Derek Norris are both hitting under .240 with sub-.320 on-base percentages since the break. Until he hit the wall and lost a ball during Lester v. Weaver, Coco Crisp hit .172 with a .252 OBP since the break.
Concurrently, the Angels spent August going 19-10 with a pair of four-game winning streaks and a six-game winning streak including the weekend whipping they laid upon Oakland.
The A’s may have just landed Adam Dunn from the White Sox in a trade, but the question before their house now is whether any run production from Dunn will make up for his notorious plate and strike zone weaknesses.
By the light of the schedule, it’s going to be easier for the Angels to hold and increase pace than the A’s before they meet again in the next-to-last set of the season. The Angels hit the road for ten games against the Astros, the Twins, and the Rangers; the A’s face a pair of sets with the no-pushover Mariners, including one before they get to use the Astros and the White Sox for practise.
It’s not impossible that the A’s will look back at the interference/obstruction on Erick Aybar as the moment their season went from a grand chance to win the West to the tumble from which they couldn’t recover. But it’s probably not advisable, either. Baseball has a way of turning predictions into the same kind of pudding into which the Angels turned the A’s this weekend.