By Jason Wojciechowski on July 31, 2011 at 8:50 PM
Carl Pavano got knocked the eff around is what happened. After a rough first inning for Brandon McCarthy that saw him stake the Twins to a 2-0 lead, along with a Jim Thome homer in the third that put the Twins up 3-0, a usually insurmountable advantage for the A's to overcome, Oakland put the bats to work in the bottom half, doing one of these after a leadoff ground out:
double, steal, single, single, steal, single, single, double, single
The inning ended, mercifully for the Twins, on a lineout back to the pitcher by Kurt Suzuki, as Cliff Pennington was running on the pitch and was doubled off. By that time, though, it was 6-3 A's. Hideki Matsui plated Scott Sizemore in the fourth with a sacrifice fly, and that closed the scoring. The A's didn't threaten Phil Dumatrait, Matt Capps, or Joe Nathan, and the Twins similarly failed to mount a challenge against Brandon McCarthy, Grant Balfour, or Andrew Bailey.
The exception was the seventh inning, when the Twins loaded the bases with two out against Craig Breslow. The well-bred lefty put Jim Thome away with a swinging strikeout to end the threat and, effectively, the ballgame.
|Weeks (2B)||4||2||1B, 2B, SB|
|Crisp (CF)||4||3||BB, 1B, 2B, SB x 3|
|Willingham (LF)||4||3||BB, 1B x 2|
|Jackson (1B)||4||1||1B, GIDP|
Jemile Weeks had one of the A's four steals, swiping third against Carl Pavano and Drew Butera in the third inning, thus putting himself in a position to score on Coco Crisp's subsequent infield single. Weeks was on second in the first place also because of his speed, as he placed a ground ball down the 3B line just out of Danny Valencia's reach. Valencia was drawn in against a possible Weeks bunt, and when the ball got past him, Weeks was thinking two. Delmon Young got to the baseball fairly well, but his throw was off-line and likely would've been late in any case.
It makes me happy to have a leadoff man like Weeks, even if I'll never mistake him for Rickey Henderson. His OBP is just .325 despite hitting .297, but in the context of the A's park and what's normal for the league these days, he's hitting well: his True Average (not yet updated to include today's game, I believe) is .282, against a league average of .270. PECOTA doesn't yet think much of him, which is fair -- his AA performances in 2009 and 2010 were extremely underwhelming. When the system gets a look at him this offseason, after he's hit 321/417/446 at AAA along with wherever his line ends in the majors, I think it'll see a very useful player.
Coco Crisp had a beautiful game, knocking a deep double toward the right-field line in his first trip and later beating out an infield single to second, racing Michael Cuddyer's jump throw to the bag before walking in his final trip. His three steals included two swipes of third, and the play wasn't particularly close on any of them. He was even running for second on a Hideki Matsui hit, so I'd say the A's saw some weakness in the Pavano-Butera battery that they wanted to exploit.
Perceptions are what they are (read: I'm probably wrong), but Josh Willingham seems much more selective than he was at the beginning of the year, when he seemed to chase every possible slider out of the zone, making weak contact and whiffing a lot. Recently, he's done more like what he did today, walking and hitting balls hard, even when those balls are on the ground (his two singles through the 5-6 hole into left).
Conor Jackson's most notable moment of the game was running through Mike Gallego's stop sign in the third inning and scoring a run, sliding in and slapping the plate with his left hand as the throw came in, just up the first base line a little, short-hopping Drew Butera so that he was unable to hold the ball, much less make a catch and a tag in time for an out. Still and all, I'd more often rather see Jackson obeying Gallego's requests.
Ryan Sweeney hit the double that brought Jackson in to score (and went to third on the throw home, happily, so that he was able to score on Cliff Pennington's single, something that might not have happened from second because of the bloopy nature of the hit -- a good read would have told him that Jason Kubel was not going to get the ball in right, but counting on the vicissitudes of good reads isn't always the best way to win ballgames) but after he struck out swinging in the seventh, he apparently said a magic word to the home plate umpire about strike two, because he was tossed even as he was walking away. This wasn't a "confrontation goes on too long" ejection, clearly.
Here's Brooks Baseball on the at-bat:
Ok, Sweeney has beef on strike two.
Cliff Pennington's single, as I mentioned in the parenthetical above, was a blooper that someone whose natural position was not DH might have caught. Unfortunately for the Twins, Jason Kubel is not that person.
Kurt Suzuki's single was also a blooper in front of Jason Kubel. This was clearly a make-up for his liner that went right back into Carl Pavano's glove in the third inning.
Scott Sizemore didn't see a ton of pitches in the game and struck out twice, but his walk leading off the fourth inning, five pitches after a 2-2 count, was quite nice.
Ben Revere led the game off with a standup triple that got into the right-center gap and rolled forever. Ben Revere, it should be noted, is a left-handed batter and thus pulled the ball, but Coco Crisp was positioned so far over into left-center that I briefly wondered, as the ball left Revere's bat and the camera switched to the behind-home-plate view, whether Crisp had forgotten to take his spot in the outfield before the game started.
Sometimes aggressive position pays off. Not this time.
Scott Sizemore and Conor Jackson combined for a couple of flashy plays, with Sizemore going to a knee behind the bag before giving Jackson a tough short hop to get Michael Cuddyer in the third and diving to his left to stab a Drew Butera grounder in the seventh, again throwing a short hop to Jackson, though this one was a more routine play for the first baseman.
Kurt Suzuki cost Craig Breslow a wild pitch in the seventh when he failed to get his glove down to block his five hole, allowing a fastball to skip through his legs and to the backstop with runners on first and second. No harm, no foul, I suppose, as the Twins didn't score in the inning.
Look at that pitch count line from Brandon McCarthy -- 84 strikes in 108 pitches? That's absurd. Especially with fifteen swing-and-misses -- he was working around the plate all game, and getting whiffs anyway? I don't want to put this more on the Twins' hitters than McCarthy's pitching, but honestly, his pitches didn't seem to have so much more on them than in his past starts.
The Twins did run McCarthy's pitch count up with a ton of foul balls -- he managed to throw 23 pitches in the fourth despite setting down the side in order, for instance, and after a 33-pitch first inning, he was probably doomed to a short start, albeit a fairly effective one.
It should be noted that the first inning wasn't necessarily as bad as it looked, in terms of two runs scoring, 33 pitches being thrown, eight batters coming to the plate, etc. After Ben Revere started the game with a triple and Joe Mauer brought him in with a groundout, McCarthy gave up a hard single (though on a grounder) to Michael Cuddyer before striking out Jason Kubel. At this point, there were two out and one on, and the end was in sight, with a one-run deficit hardly being a dispiriting thing for the A's to deal with. Instead, Jim Thome hit a medium grounder to a place left of second base where the shift wasn't and Danny Valencia blooped a ball into the left-center triangle between Josh Willingham, Cliff Pennington, and Coco Crisp.
On the other hand, with runners on first and second and two out, Delmon Young's soft liner to right should've scored another Twins run, but the man on second was Jim Thome, so McCarthy was fortunate about the sequencing of those particular actions.
Craig Breslow's trouble started with a four-pitch walk to Ben Revere. This should never happen.
Grant Balfour did give up a hit in his inning, but the man was erased on a double-play grounder, scored 6-3 as Cliff Pennington took it to second himself.
Andrew Bailey is allowed to feel no shame about giving up a line-drive single to Joe Mauer. Let he who has not giving up a line-drive to Mauer cast the first stone.
- I got nothin', really. I liked that Melvin stuck with Breslow given the four-run lead he had to play with, even as Breslow's two walks in nine pitches, to Ben Revere and Jason Kubel, gave him every reason to lose all confidence in the lefty.
The A's are now ten games under .500, 11.5 back of the Rangers, 9.5 back of Anaheim, and ten runs under an even run differential. There are three teams worse than Oakland in winning percentage, but five, including the Indians, worse in run differential.