Ray Ratto

Here's to rooting for 7,000 home runs this MLB season

Here's to rooting for 7,000 home runs this MLB season

Because there is no sample size too small no matter what statistically-based analysts might argue, the first projection du jour of the new baseball season is that the 30 major league teams will combine to crack the 7,000-home-run barrier this year.
 
This is a ridiculous assertion given that the leagues combined to just break the 6,000-homer barrier a year ago (6,105, or nine percent more than in 2016). Nine percent more than 6,105 is barely 6,500.
 
But then you see the way baseball is clearly progressing, Three True Outcomes-wise, and then you see that fully 15 percent of all fly balls on Opening Day ended up as home runs (33 of 218, or 15.1 percent) – six alone by those power-hitting juggernauts, the Chicago White Sox.
 
Will this level off? Oh, most likely. Nothing regresses to the mean quite like a 2,430-game season.
 
But home runs, strikeouts and walks have and are continuing to spike as the game moves toward launch angles and velocity off the bat, and hitting is being taught with those virtues as a core to the new philosophy.

And they’re not wrong – at least not until they end up being wrong, anyway, because baseball innovates its core theories more than any other sport. This seems counter-intuitive for a sport that is so deeply generational (read: skewing toward old folks), but having taken the lead in metrics-based theorems, baseball has cycled through them frantically in search of the next great catch-all metric.
 
And you’ll notice I haven’t even gotten to the plutonium core of the baseballs themselves, or the next generation of PEDs that will emerge the next time someone is too lazy to destroy the paperwork, as BALCO was back in the day.
 
Thus, home runs are going to be more plentiful, and there is no constituency inclined to try to brake that march. The A’s are in the mainstream here, and even the Giants in their massively humble way are doing their best: Joe Panik homered for the Giants’ only run off Clayton Kershaw Thursday. Frankly, just making contact is for squares – again, until someone figures out how to make that a better idea than swinging from the arse.
 
So I’m saying 7,000 homers. Toward that end, Matt Davidson is on a pace for 486 and Giancarlo Stanton and Tim Anderson for 324. Hell, that’s 1,134 right there. Like I said, small sample size is a dirty Bolshevik lie.

Trevor Cahill's career day moves A's into tie with Astros atop AL West

Trevor Cahill's career day moves A's into tie with Astros atop AL West

OAKLAND -- It is generally agreed that Trevor Cahill has been a very useful piece of an often suspect Oakland A's rotation. I mean, Sean Manaea is not starting every second day, and Edwin Jackson has only so much trickeration to go around for the benefit of his 13th team.
 
Saturday, though, was Cahill's masterwork by any metric analysis, and it came at one of the dandiest times in this decade of Elephant baseball. An equal share of first place in the AL West was there to be had, a big crowd was in the building, the day was warm, the beer was cold and the bat rack had been charged with vibranium.
 
The result: Cahill’s best start ever, with a palindromic pitching line of 7 1 0 0 1 7 and (dork alert) a game score of 85, his highest ever and one of the 150 best, give or take, in franchise history. Oh, and the A’s beat Houston, 7-1, to move into a flat-footed tie for first place in the AL West with only too many games left to play.
 
“I think it’s so early in the year for that,” Cahill said afterward said of dealing with the rarefied air of mid-August baseball. “It’s not even September yet. I mean, it’s a divisional rival and all, so it’s not like I wouldn’t think about it, but...”
 
But Cahill isn’t going to get giddy on command. He knows he pitched well, very well, but rather than trip down memory lane for the 2010 start against Pittsburgh when he threw 7 2/3 innings of two-hit, 10- strikeout ball, or the late 2009 start against Texas in which he matched Saturday’s pitching line save for a second hit, he fretted about his mid-game changeup (“but I got some outs and the defense backed me up and we got some hits”).
 
Yes. Some hits – 11 of them, including eight doubles, only one of which (Stephen Piscotty’s one-out drive in the fourth) did not lead to a run in Oakland’s binge-and-purge attack. Indeed, this game had breezy shutout written all over it until the ninth inning, and only because backup left fielder Tony Kemp explained to a 90-mph fastball from Yusmeiro Petit what happens to most 90-mph fastballs these days.
 
But in hindsight, the key moment in the game was back in the second when Houston’s Yuli Gurriel hit a grounder that shortstop Marcus Semien couldn’t come to terms with. There was no reason for the moment to resonate at the time, but it was Houston’s only baserunner off Cahill until the seventh, and the only hit he allowed all day.

Had Semien made the play (which in fairness was not an easy bit of business), Cahill would have walked off the mound in the seventh with 100 pitches and a hammer over manager Bob Melvin’s head. Instead of an easy call to pull Cahill, Melvin would have had to wrestle with removing a pitcher on the cusp of a no-hitter, as he did April 21 with Sean Manaea.
 
“Oh, Cahill’s pretty easygoing, and I don’t think it would have been a problem,” Melvin said, lying only about 40 percent. “But yeah, that would have been interesting.”
 
Not just interesting though, but a much more tortuous decision given that Manaea was only at 84 pitches through seven innings back in April while Cahill’s 100 marked only the 14th time all season an Oakland starter has thrown that many pitches.
 
In other words, Melvin had a potential conundrum removed for him, with 32,000-some-odd angry customers on one shoulder and a glowering Billy Beane on the other.

So even when they don’t get outs these days, it still works fine for everyone.

As for the bigger picture, the A’s won their second straight against Houston, and their sixth in seven games, 13th in 16, 19th in 25, and 43th in 53, plus their 20th of 24 at home. They have wiped all 12 games they had spotted the Astros this year, 14 from Seattle, 10 from the Yankees, and even a half-game from the Boston Red Sox, who seem to have actually won more games than they have played this season.
 
And for the even bigger picture, they did all this in front of the sixth-biggest crowd of the year, and the first that didn’t feature the Giants, free admission or fireworks. This winning-80-percent-of-your-games thing may actually be catching on, even if they audience got screwed out of a Cahill no-hitter, a record-setting ninth double, or a chance to take the division lead outright.
 
But hey, that’s tomorrow’s plan. And if you don’t get all of that and then some, be sure to complain to club busybody-in-chief Dave Kaval. He’s the customer service jockey around here, and now that the standard for daily joy has been set, he had damned well better be prepared to meet it, or explain the failure.

A's becoming even harder to ignore after wild walk-off win vs Astros

A's becoming even harder to ignore after wild walk-off win vs Astros

OAKLAND -- August is a nice time for October. For one thing, the weather’s better.
 
The baseball, on the other hand, looked very autumnal, at least here at the corner of 66th and Are You Kidding Me – where The Magic Is In The Concrete.
 
The Oakland A’s, for whom cheating gravity is merely pregame stretching, stole game one of this very playoff-y series with the Houston Astros, 4-3, on Matt Olson’s 10th-inning home run – and when we say stole, we mean swindled.
 
They won the game because Olson turned on an 82-mph slider from  Tony Sipp. They got to Olson because Ramon Laureano is a masterful second-story man.
 
Laureano, pinch-running for Chad Pinder (who had drawn a particularly diabolical walk to start the ninth inning), raced home from first on Nick Martini’s one-out double down the right field line – except that he was called out at home by umpire Alfonso Marquez because of shortstop Carlos Correa’s brilliant cutoff and throw home.
 
Only Laureano jumped up after his head-first slide, Mutombo-fingered manager Bob Melvin and demanded a review of the play. After three fairly agonizing minutes, the call was reversed and the game was tied, en route to being won.
 
In other words, the Astros won all the way until they didn’t, 23,535 fans went home captivated, and the American League playoff race is a little more on than ever.
 
The last two innings were indeed quite highlightable, for both aesthetics and weirdness, and Oakland’s role as the impish mega-underdog was enhanced. The A's cut their deficit behind Houston back to one game, are three games behind the New York Yankees, who beat Toronto 7-5 in a rain-shortened game, and 3 ½ ahead of Seattle, who was comprehensively mauled, 11-1, by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
 
But the momento dei momenti was Martini’s line smash off the right field wall, Laureano’s mad dash from first, third base coach Matt Williams’ emphatic windmilling to send him home, Houston third baseman Alex Bregman’s seeming indecision on how best to avoid Laureano, Correa’s throw, catcher Martin Maldonado’s tag and the out that wasn’t.
 
“I wanted to know about possible interference by (third baseman Alex) Bregman,” Melvin said afterward, explaining how thorough he intended to be in getting the call overturned. “I wanted to know about blocking the plate (by Maldonado), and I thought he (Laureano) definitely got his hand in. I thought the tag was a little delayed.
 
“Of course,” he added, “I’m obviously biased.”
 
Indeed, the call looked too close to overturn, but after a dawdly 3:06 of study time, Marquez reversed himself, and the die was cast for Olson, who crushed Sipp’s fourth slider in a six-pitch at-bat to improve the Elephants’ vistas both ahead and behind.
 
And speaking of bias, Josh Reddick is biased too, and the Houston right fielder and Oakland ex-pat who chased down Martini’s drive was not in an understanding mood.
 
“From everything I saw, he was out,” Reddick said. “I have no idea what they saw. There was no angle that showed otherwise. I’m tired of getting screwed by replays. That’s not the first time. I’m upset by a call that controls everything. I threw it gunning for home plate all the way; I wanted to get the ball to Carlos. He has the best arm in the infield and the most accurate arm. I knew the longer they looked at it they were trying to get it right. Obviously they didn’t.”
 
But there was no doubting Olson’s drive, which left the bat with clear intent to travel far.
 
“It’s definitely one of the cooler things I’ve done in my career,” Olson said. “It’s the most juiced I’ve gotten on a field for sure, just for us to stay in that game.”
 
And to reaffirm what the nation is beginning to understand – that the A’s die harder than most.
 
“We’ve known that we’re a capable team, we’re a very good team all along,” Olson said. “We knew it going into the year that we were going to have a chance to make a run, so glad to finally get a little recognition for it and when we go out and win games like that, people are looking at us a little bit.”
 
Well, actually, a lot. Friday’s game was not a statement by any means – there are still 40 more games to navigate for both teams, and Seattle has 39, and the schedule is sufficiently entwined to recreate games like this again and again before the playoffs are sorted out.
 
But the A’s gave further notice to the reluctant eyes, feet and wallets of the greater East Bay that they will be increasingly difficult to ignore. Friday’s game was a clear worth-the-price extravaganza, and if they keep piling those up, they’ll be nearly irresistible.
 
Nearly, that is. One never assumes they’ve turned that particular corner until they’ve actually completed the turn. For the bandwagon, it's early yet.