Chicago 3, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
A's Current Record: 33-35
This was the worst loss of the year, hands down, because of how important the game was (the Rangers won again, dropping the A's to 6 behind in the division), how badly the A's needed a win, and how Bob Geren absolutely gave the game away. One of the worst managing jobs I've seen from a usually competent manager --- it's not like NL rules are too difficult to understand.
Starting from the beginning --- Jack Cust was once again in the lineup in the outfield, and while I obviously understand the need for offense, benching Ryan Sweeney (also one of the A's better hitters) with a flyball pitcher like Dallas Braden on the mound was a mistake. If anything, Conor Jackson should have been benched if he wanted Cust in the lineup. Sweeney would enter the game in the ninth, so it wasn't that he was hurt or anything.
Dallas Braden pitched an excellent game despite a tight elbow, and when he was taken out, I was a little confused but he said after the game the elbow was bothering him, so Geren's move to the pen made more sense once I heard that. After Mark Ellis gave the A's the 2-1 lead with a 7th inning HR off Randy Wells (who also looked good and went a little too long as Lou Piniella let him throw 129 pitches), the A's looked primed to go to their bullpen to close out the win.
I can't fault Geren for relying on Michael Wuertz, but he's been fairly ineffective this season, hanging more sliders and giving up a lot of hits to lefties and showing inconsistent command of the strike zone. After Wuertz loaded the bases in the 8th, going to Andrew Bailey was the right move, and he took a tough blown save giving up a sac fly and getting a strikeout to leave the game tied.
However, when Bailey was brought into the game, Geren failed to double switch, meaning Bailey's spot would lead off the 9th inning --- he had a couple of options. He could have brought in Adam Rosales for Kevin Kouzmanoff (who had made the final out of the 8th), or he could have brought in Ryan Sweeney for either Rajai Davis or Conor Jackson, which would have made the pitcher's spot the 5th or 6th due up in the 9th instead of leading off. Instead, he just pinch-hit Sweeney for Bailey, a decision presumably made easier because the Cubs tied the game.
Apparently he doesn't want to use Bailey for more than an inning in an effort to save him for late in the season --- which is RIDICULOUS because September's not gonna matter if the A's can't win games NOW. And what was his genius plan if Bailey had gotten out of the 8th? Let him lead off the 9th in a 1-run game? Or let Jerry Blevins try and close out the game? What a total botch. You need your best pitcher in the game in these situations, and Geren completely blew it.
Gabe Gross deserves some blame, as well --- with runners at the corners and 1 out in the top of the 9th, he swung at the first pitch from the very erratic Carlos Marmol (19 BB and 5 HBP in 30 IP coming into the game) and popped out to foul territory --- a terrible at-bat in a crucial situation.
And then the final icing on the crap cake of a game was Blevins walking the game away, and Geren getting the assist with another dumb move. Blevins walked Geo Soto to lead off the inning, who was then sacrificed to 2nd, bringing up Koyie Hill, who Geren decided to intentionally walk. Yes, I know the run doesn't matter there, but it's KOYIE HILL --- the guy is hitting .236/.276/.292 with a career line of .218/.285/.302 and has been 40 runs below average for his career, which spans about 1 full season of PAs. This is the guy to go after, and then you can walk Theriot to get to Fukudome. Maybe if the bases aren't loaded, Blevins doesn't have to groove a fastball to Fukudome, and Fukudome doesn't get the game winning hit. I don't understand the thinking behind what Geren did in the last two innings.
The loss is especially damaging because the A's now head to St. Louis to face 2 of the top pitchers in either league in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. One victory in those two games would be a surprise, and I'd be shocked if the A's scored more than 3 or 4 runs combined off those two. Already at 1-5 on this road trip, don't be surprised if the A's come home 8 or 9 back in the division, ready to sell off pieces before the All-Star break and call it a season.