At one of the myriad papers I’ve worked for in what is now the Bay Area News Group empire, we used to have a desk man who would get uncommonly frazzled on deadline, and if you tried to ask him a question when the heat was on, he had a retort that became infamous over the years for some of us:
“No time to think, gotta panic!”
This suddenly seems to be the mindset of a lot of A’s fans right now after a pretty good barbecuing of the green and gold here in Kansas City. Susan Slusser of the Chronicle got a Twitter response whining, “They’re not a playoff team anymore.” Noting that Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija all took tough losses in this series, I got one that read, “Three very overrated pitchers.” We could probably go through all of our feeds and comments sections and pull out 10 such doomsayer pronouncements.
Chill, everybody. Your team is still 25 games over .500, and it still has the best record in baseball. It simply ran into the hottest team in the game right now and lost three out of four. No reason to lose too much sleep. All of the Oakland starters pitched reasonably well. Ryan Cook took a licking Thursday, but he was coming off 20 straight scoreless innings.
The Royals just happened to pitch better in this series, and they got some timely clutch hits in favorable pitcher’s counts. As I wrote a few days ago, they are potentially a dangerous team for anybody in the playoffs if they get there. But they are not better than the A’s. That’s a delusion.
Alas, a lot of fans are deluded right now into thinking there’s something mightily amiss with the A’s. Naturally, there is still that large army of Yoenis Cespedes fans out there who believe the team cut out its offensive heart when it traded the outfielder for Jon Lester, who has only gone 3-0 since that deal. Look, the team is 7-7 since the trade. Not great, but hardly a sign of an imminent apocalypse. I seem to remember a stretch in late May, when the club had Cespedes, when they lost 6 of 8 against Toronto and Detroit, and another period where they got swept by the Tigers in late June/early July.
There’s nothing wrong with the A’s right now that a little hot streak by Coco Crisp and Derek Norris wouldn’t correct. Crisp went 0-for-11 in the K.C. series and scored one run. Norris went 0-for-13 with six strikeouts and two double plays. Norris has been terrific all year and just had a bad patch here (and he’s from the area, so it really had to hurt). Crisp, you know what he brings.
And get over the trade thing. The fact of the matter is, we’re not going to know whether the Cespedes/Lester deal was a smart one until October. And even then we still won’t know because you can’t speculate if the A’s win the World Series or flop again in the early stages that things would have been any different had they maintained the status quo.
If you want a real reason to worry, be concerned about the middle infield. That’s troublesome. Jed Lowrie and the A’s jointly decided that it was best that the shortstop shut it down and go on the disabled list due to the hairline finger fracture he suffered in late July. Lowrie has tried to play through the injury, but he realized he’s hurting the team by playing. He can’t get any zip on his throws, has to adjust his grip, and he’s 2-for-15 at the plate since the injury because he’s leaving his injured finger off the bat. Hence, he doesn’t want to continue hurting the clubm into September and October. The A’s need to get him well because they don’t have adequate fallback for the long term.
They can probably cover shortstop with Eric Sogard and Andy Parrino for a week or so, and at some point, Nick Punto should join that rotation once he’s recovered from his right hamstring strain. Should they make a deal? It depends on what’s possible. To acquire a veteran like Jimmy Rollins, Rollins would have to accept the trade as a 10-and-5 man. You would think the idea of coming home to the East Bay would be appealing, particularly to a first-place team, but Rollins has been loyal to Philadelphia and said he’d prefer to stay there. Maybe his mood has changed. We’ll see. And the A’s would still have to give up something.
With a guy like Aaron Hill in Arizona, the A’s would be taking on a balky multi-year contract that has two more years to run after this one. With Lowrie a pending free agent, that might work as long as Billy Beane and Bob Melvin were comfortable with the idea of Hill being their shortstop for the next couple of years at a high price. He’s due to make $12 million a season in both 2015 and 2016.
To those who suggested they might have Addison Russell to play short if they hadn’t traded him for Smardzija and Jason Hammel, get a clue. Russell was in Double-A when he was traded, coming off a severe hamstring injury, and he wouldn’t have been ready for that kind of jump, and the A’s certainly wouldn’t have wanted to start his service time clock to plug a gap for three weeks.
It should be interesting to see what the A’s do with Lowrie out, and maybe they’ll do nothing. Melvin said he’s comfortable with the middle infielders he has now. Just me, but I might be inclined to make another run at Rollins. Of course, you know the Angels are watching the A’s, and as long as they are behind them, they can block a waiver deal by making a claim. For that matter, so can Seattle. So it won’t be an easy tactical maneuver.
Stay tuned. But here’s another piece of advice: Think before you panic. The sky isn’t falling.