Memo to Ben Cherington: Should Billy Beane call on Sunday, Major League Baseball’s waiver trade deadline day, wondering if the Red Sox can try with all their might to sneak a certain Cuban slugger through, there’s only one retort: “No, you can’t have him back.”
The Oakland Athletics, former American League West leaders, could use a guy like Yoenis Cespedes right about now, don’t you figure?
Exactly one month after the Jon Lester trade, it’s getting even uglier for Oakland and its suddenly putrid offense. After Saturday night’s 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, the A’s have now lost the first three of a pivotal four-game series against the current West leaders – on a scorching 45-22 pace since June 15 – and find themselves drifting deeper and deeper into wild card territory. They haven’t scored since the the sixth inning of Thursday night’s controversial loss, a string of 22 straight innings without a run.
On Saturday, Oakland mustered only three hits (which is two more than the Red Sox could manage against Jake Odorizzi and company as the Rays won, 7-0) against a group of eight Angels relief pitchers, chipping in to replace Garrett Richards, whom the Angels lost for the season after his gruesome injury in Boston last week. The truth is, L.A. could probably throw Tony Danza out there these days and come up with the same result.
You don’t exactly have to be a master in sabermetrics to understand that the A’s terribly miss their former outfielder, now running out the string of a lost season in Boston. After all, it’s probably a little more than coincidence that the A’s were a remarkable 228-131 with Cespedes in their lineup since 2012, including a 65-35 record in 2014.
Now that he’s gone, the guys he left behind are only 12-16 in August.
Through Friday, the A’s still led all of baseball with 637 runs, an average of 4.75 per game overall. But in August, that amount has dwindled by nearly one run per game; the A’s have scored 102 runs this month, an average of 3.78 each night. Brandon Moss, with 23 home runs on the season, hasn’t hit one all month. Derek Norris is batting .193. Jonny Gomes has a .635 OPS for the month; Coco Crisp is hitting .191 with a measly .592 OPS.
On the day Beane made the “Lespedes” deal happen with Boston, acquiring the Boston lefty to even further fortify the strong Oakland rotation, the A’s were 66-41, 2 1/2 up on the Angels. After peaking at 23 games over .500 (59-36) on July 8 the A’s went through a late July stretch that was, at least according to Beane, showing the team on a “downward track.”
So, three weeks after picking up Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, Beane pulled the trigger on Lester, who has been awesome, (3-2, 2.66 ERA) for Oakland, but at the perhaps debilitating cost of the A’s cleanup hitter in Cespedes, who has driven in nine more runs with the Red Sox than the banged-up Coco Crisp, who leads the A’s with 13 RBI in August. Cespedes has 28 hits with his new club, more than anyone else this month on his old one. Only Josh Donaldson and Josh Reddick can claim to be slugging more than Cespedes’ mark of .480.
“I’m happy to have Lester’s three wins,” Beane told the San Jose Mercury News last week. “Those are three wins I don’t know we’d have without him.’’
If that sounds like a bit of denial, who can blame him? In salivating over what Lester could potentially deliver the A’s in the postseason, Beane was willing to surrender an integral component of what was actually going to get him there. The A’s may have possessed their most balanced playoff team in years, and in the span of three-and-a-half weeks, their general manager transformed it right back into the pitching-rich, offensively-inept squads that came up short in October over and over and over again.
If it weren’t for the bats of Donaldson (.295, three home runs, 12 RBI, 43 total bases) and Reddick (.275, four home runs, 11 RBI, 40 total bases) the A’s would likely be in even deeper trouble than they find themselves at the doorstep to September, one more month to rebound and capture the AL west, or risk tossing themselves to the fates in a one-game wild card playoffs. And we know how kind the fates have been to Beane over the years.
But the longtime “Moneyball” architect manages to hear only slight bursts of criticism in the Bay Area. It’s hard to argue with what Lester can mean to the A’s, but the poor guy went from one anemic lineup to another. Lester lost on Friday night to the Angels, 4-0 (a fantastic pitching duel against the Angels’ Jered Weaver), allowing two earned runs over six innings, in a game that came on the heels of a two-game stretch in which he lost to the Braves, 4-3, and beat the Angels, 2-1. That’s five runs in all that Lester has had to work with over his last three outings.
“As it looks right now, we’re pressing and we’re not nearly as good offensively as we’ve been all year,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “Any time you struggle like that, it’s going to look like you don’t have enough, but I’m confident in the guys we have and I think we’re going to come out of it.”
Fourteen-and-six Scott Kazmir tries to get the A’s out of that funk in the series finale Sunday. Kazmir was blasted by the Angels in his last outing against them (three innings, 10 hits, seven earned runs) on Aug. 24, but we all know how this is going to go. Kazmir will probably pitch six-seven innings, scatter a few hits, and eventually lose 3-0. That’s the A’s pattern, and it’s showing signs of getting worse, never mind rebounding back into what it was when Yoenis was still around.
It sure looks like Lester is going to get wasted in Oakland, as far as taking the A’s to the promised land is concerned. In other words, business as usual for Billy Beane, who’s liable to come up short on promise yet again.