Defensive struggles and little offense does the Oakland A's in on Opening Day
A's fans quickly remembered why their team only went 14-5 against the Seattle Mariners last year. Ben Sheets gave up a run in each of the first three innings as the A's dropped the first game of the season to the Mariners 5-3, at home. The culmination of poor defense and a slow offensive start proved to be just enough to keep the A's from making a comeback on day one. Let's breakdown each aspect of the game.
Offense: Give credit to Mariner ace Felix Hernandez for stymieing A's hitters through the first 5 innings. At the same time, it's hard to believe that they couldn't even hit the ball to the outfield until a sixth-inning single. The only hit until that point came on an infield hit by Rajai Davis. The good news is the A's only left 5 runners on base. The bad news is they grounded into 4 double plays and didn't really have a chance to leave runners on base. If the A's want to be competitive this year, then the offense needs to rapidly improve their performance, even against an ace and Cy Young award candidate.
Defense: Everybody knew the A's offense would lack, let's say excitement, but the defense was supposed to keep them in games. Their defense lost them the game tonight. It was almost like watching Little Leaguers on the diamond. Kurt Suzuki collected two throwing errors, Daric Barton had one when he couldn't handle a throw across the diamond at first, and Kevin Kouzmanoff had the most glaring error, perhaps across Major League Baseball on opening day. Kouzmanoff sailed a throw to first in the top of the ninth, allowing two runners to score on a subsequent bases loaded single by Casey Kotchman.
Pitching: After three non-impressive innings that left you wondering how he managed to escape each only giving up one run, Sheets started to look like a $10 million dollar man. His lack of command of his fastball led hitters to be able to sit on his breaking pitch. But, he noticeably gained more control over his fastball as the game progressed and had hitters guessing in the fourth and fifth innings. Sheets exited the game after five innings of four hit ball, giving up three runs (two earned) while striking out three. The most glaring statistic on his line is the four walks he issued, which is a direct result of not being able to locate his fastball and get ahead of hitters. Sheets was followed impressive outings from Jerry Blevins and Craig Breslow, combining for 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Brad Ziegler, though, left two base runners on for Andrew Bailey after an inning of work and Bailey proceeded to induce the seemingly innocent ground ball to third that Kouzmanoff sailed to first. He then gave up a bases loaded looper to shallow center field that resulted in the final margin of two runs.
Impressions: With the first game in the bag, there are two things that stick out. One, if this is a sign of the defense to come, it will be a long, long season. Two, Ben Sheets looks like the pitcher the A's hoped he would be when the signed him to an expensive 1-year deal. Although Sheets looked shaky through the first three, he appeared to become more comfortable on the mound as the game progressed. It's important to remember that the guy hasn't pitched since the 2008 season. It doesn't matter how good he is, it's not going to rush back the moment he takes the hill. When he got going, his mid-90s fastball set hitters up for knee-buckling curveballs. It's hard to watch this ninth inning nonsense. I know "taking until you get a strike" is a method many coaches employ, but these are professional players. The A's struck out twice in the ninth inning after taking fastballs down the middle. The players are professionals, but why put them in a situation when they are in a pitcher's count. Make them sit fastball, but at least let them swing away when the pitch is right down the middle of the plate because both times (as well as all of last year), the A's players had to protect the plate and were too tentative to be effective. I'd like to see the A's a little more aggressive in late innings, especially against a closer like David Aardsma, who rarely throws anything but fastballs. While Opening Day provided disappointed, there's hope remaining for the other 161 games.