Game 26: A's 4, Red Sox 2 (13-13)
4-2 wins are the kind that sort of define A's baseball. (Also 4-1 losses.) The A's got an early run on a hard Seth Smith line single after a Yoenis Cespedes double and later, in the sixth inning, had a doubles party, hitting three two-baggers in four batters (the fourth was Kurt Suzuki, who took a pitch off his hand), resulting in three runs and a 4-0 lead that Brandon McCarthy, Ryan Cook, and Brian Fuentes made stand up.
Grant Balfour had the night off completely, so even when a save situation arose in the ninth, he stayed seated. The wisdom of such a course of action is yet another of those "who knows" plays -- Bob Melvin only has limited access to Balfour's psychology, but he's sure as hell got a lot more access than we do. If he thinks that Balfour needed a day (or two, given today's off-day) to clear his head and that such head-clearing would result in better pitching, well, then that's what Bob Melvin thinks.
Brandon McCarthy mostly looked good, despite three walks. So far this year, he's nearly doubled the percentage of batters faced that he's walked (3.6% to 6.6%), but some of that is probably that last year's rate was unsustainable. The 2012 walk rate is still quite acceptable. The more alarming numbers are the strikeouts (13.2%, exactly double the walks, after a ratio closer to 6:1 last year). The ground-balls, per Baseball Prospectus, are also down a tick (48% last year, 45% this year), but I'll wait and see on that one.
When you add all this up, we're still talking about an FIP in the mid-threes and an FRA (Baseball Prospectus's main pitcher rate stat -- glossary entry here) right around league-average, but McCarthy falling from "above to well-above average" to "average to above-average" isn't a terribly hopeful sign if you'd like to see him stay in Oakland a few more years.
That said, we're talking about 1/4 of the starts / innings / batters faced that we're expecting from him, so there's still plenty of time for him to turn it around. It's not quite a "small sample thus it's meaningless" situation, but it's hardly too late for something to re-click with McCarthy and his command.
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