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A’s: Visit with Braves underscores Oakland stadium issues

The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum complex

The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum complex

With the selection of Rob Manfred as Major League Baseball’s next commissioner, the plight of the A’s and the prolonged saga of their search for a new stadium is once again the subject of review.

And it comes into the sharp focus with Oakland’s three-game series in Turner Field this weekend.

Turner Field is the Braves’ second home in the last two decades, having moved into the facility originally built for the 1996 Olympic Games in 1997 after three decades in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

And in three years, the Braves will move into an as-yet unnamed new park in the northwest suburbs of Cobb County, a private/public partnership. The new park will cost $622 million, of which the Braves will be fronting 230 million.

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Calm down, A’s fans, your team ran into a red-hot club in Kansas City and it’s no time to go ballistic

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.

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A game of pitching near-perfection by Vargas rather than one of offensive shortcomings by A’s

Quick turnaround to Thursday’s day game, so this will be ultra-short, like the game itself. There’s not much to say anyway when Jason Vargas can pitch a gem like he did Wednesday night at the A’s — 3-hitter, 97 pitches, 23 batters retired in a row to finish the game, and 2 hours, 6 minutes. It just doesn’t get cleaner or quicker than that in this day and age, kiddies.

Vargas has done this to the A’s before (last Sept. 24), and you can look at it this way. Be thankful the guy signed a four-year contract with the Royals and isn’t still pitching in the division with the Angels. Oakland still has to play those guys 10 times, and Vargas could have gotten three starts against the A’s down the stretch.

One thing Josh Donaldson noted after the game I thought interesting. He believes whatever team plays the A’s these days seems to want to make an impression against the club with baseball’s best record. The Royals are in a tight divisional race and playing well, but he may have a point.

“When the Oakland A’s come in to town these days, the (home teams) are ready,” Donaldson said. “They’re out to prove something. We’re always going to come out here and try to play our best game, and other teams understand they’re going to have to be on top of theirs in order to beat us.”

Donaldson is impressed with the Royals.

“Their record speaks for itself,” he said. “They do a good job with their brand of baseball, and they did a good job tonight.”

The A’s, to be sure, will be happy to get out of K.C. with a split of this series, and the series finale pitting Jeff Samardzija against Royals’ ace James Shields. Get a good night’s sleep (and I will, too), because Thursday’s game will come early. Good thing, to put this latest one out of sight, out of mind.

Here’s the game story, with the few nuts and bolts there were. Final version with quotes should be up any minute.

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Moss strikes a few nice blows — and a bunt — against baseball’s increasing defensive shift insanity

You’ve been able to see it coming the last several years, but in 2014, teams in Major League Baseball have gone absolutely Barnum & Bailey crackers with defensive shifts, totally out of control even if it’s smart to do so. It’s a function of getting so much detailed information on where hitters put the ball in play, and teams are using the predictability factors to adjust their defenses on virtually every hitter. They’re shifting on Eric Sogard, for crying out loud, and you don’t need his glasses to see it. It’s almost become rare when you see a batter who is played straight up anymore, unless it’s somebody like Miguel Cabrera, and there just aren’t that many Miguel Cabreras around.

Bob Melvin agrees that it’s getting a little nuts. For heaven’s sake, the Royals kept their shortstop in position on Monday night and moved their third baseman to the left side of second base. That should be against baseball law. You can just see this little bald egghead in a hermetically sealed booth somewhere saying, “Move the second baseman six inches to the left out there in right field.”

Look, we know shifts are as old as the game itself. Teams used to shift against Willie McCovey routinely. But they were rare, utilized for the dead pull power hitter. Now, everybody gets their own unique shift. Daric Barton would probably get a shift, if he were here.
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Royals, not Tigers or Angels, could be biggest threat to A’s in American League playoffs

You have to be a semi-old dude like me to remember the last time the Kansas City Royals were perennially, disgustingly good. After all, they haven’t made the playoffs in 29 years, the longest postseason drought in North American sports. Hence, if you’re under 40, you probably don’t remember any of it.

It just so happened the last time they made the playoffs in 1985, the Royals also won the World Series, and if it wasn’t for umpire Don Denkinger and the lack of a replay system to reverse brutal calls at first base, they probably wouldn’t have that. But those early ’80s Royals teams were so loaded, with George Brett, Amos Otis, Frank White, Willie Wilson, Hal McRae, John Mayberry, Bret Saberhagen, Bud Black, Danny Jackson, Mark Gubicza and Dan Quisenberry.

The 2014 Royals aren’t to be confused with that group, but let this be stated right now: They are a team good enough to end their long playoff drought, and they’re good enough to make trouble for anybody who may have to face them in the playoffs. Right now, they’re giving the Detroit Tigers all they can handle in the American League Central, having taken over first place with their 3-2 win over the A’s and the Tigers’ loss to Pittsburgh. Ask the Giants what they think of K.C., which rolled them three straight over the weekend.

And the Royals seem to not fear the A’s much, either. They’ve now won 3 of 4 in the season series, have beaten Sonny Gray twice, and have demonstrated if they can carve out a lead early on, they are exceedingly tough to come back against, particularly in the late innings.
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A’s: Abad continues as the A’s secret weapon out of bullpen

A's lefty Fernando Abad has been perfect this year when it comes to stranding inherited base runners.

A’s lefty Fernando Abad has been perfect this year when it comes to stranding inherited base runners.

There may be no unsung hero on the A’s whose praises have been sung less than Fernando Abad.

The left-handed reliever has toiled mostly in anonymity while being just a part of one of the best bullpens in baseball.

The numbers he’s putting up this year are anything but the performance of just an anonymous reliever, however.

He came into Sunday’s game with one out in the seventh inning for starter Jason Hammel, who was in a jam with men at first at third and one out. It wasn’t an easy situation to face, but Abad has faced worse.

He threw an unhittable slider that foiled the Twins’ plan for a squeeze bunt in what was at the time a tie game, 1-1. Once the runner, Eduardo Nunez, was trapped for the inning’s second out, Abad then struck out Jordan Schafer for the final out.

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A’s: Hammel finds himself again thanks to his slider

Jason Hammel is confident he's back pitching the way he wants to with A's.

Jason Hammel is confident he’s back pitching the way he wants to with A’s.

It’s not like Jason Hammel has been born again in his last two starts.

But the veteran starting has come back home, metaphorically at least.

Home is where his slider crosses the plate at the knees or a little lower. Home is where his sinking two-seam fastball clips the corners instead of crossing the fat part of the plate.

And Hammel is now pitching like he did when the A’s traded with the Cubs five weeks ago. When Hammel and Jeff Samardzija came over in the deal that sent Addison Russell and Billy McKinney to Chicago, Hammel had a 2.98 ERA and an 8-5 record for a bad team.

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A’s: Sogard a bit of an intimidator at the plate these days

Eric Sogard surprised himself and everyone else with four walks Saturday night.

Eric Sogard surprised himself and everyone else with four walks Saturday night.

Second baseman (and sometimes shortstop) Eric Sogard has been hitting up a storm since the All-Star break, but not even he expected what happened Saturday night – walks in his first four plate trips.

He was batting ninth, and he became just the 14th No.9 hitter since 1914 to draw four walks in a game.

“I must have looked intimidating,’’ Sogard said, laughing. “If I’d known that 1914 thing, I might have looked at a couple more pitches in my last at-bat.’’

Sogard, who said “three walks was probably my max,’’ bounced back to the pitcher in his final plate trip in the eighth inning of the A’s 9-4 win. He’d never walked more than twice in a game this year and his career best was three walk against the cardinals on June 28, 2013.

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A’s: Norris’s homer swing keeps showing up with men on

Derek Norris's power number skyrocket with multiple men on base

Derek Norris’s power numbers skyrocket with multiple men on base

Derek Norris doesn’t expect to hit home runs in the kinds of numbers that Josh Donaldson or Brandon Moss might put up.

He does expect that his home runs will have an impact. Time and again, they have, including Saturday when he capped a 9-4 A’s win over the Twins with a three-run homer in the sixth inning.

The score when he hit it was 6-2, and the extra three runs that made the differential seven runs was vitally important to the A’s in cruising home in this one.

It was the seventh time this year he’s hit a home run with at least two men on base. Three-run homers and grand slams are game-changers, and Norris has those locked in.

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