Now that we have all had about a day to absorb the disappointing loss in game 5 against the Detroit Tigers, it is time to take a look at the ALDS and try to determine what exactly went wrong and why the A’s are packing up and heading home. There are a number of culprits, and a number of scapegoats, but before we embark on singling them out, lets make it clear that this loss was indeed a team effort (aside from Yoenis Cespedes).
Perhaps the biggest missing piece from the Athletics lineup during the series was the team MVP Josh Donaldson. Over the course of the season he had developed into a well-balanced, clutch hitting, power threat that helped carry the A’s into their second consecutive postseason. That Josh Donaldson didn’t make the trip though. The version of Donaldson that made the trip was the one who couldn’t buy a hit as the starting third baseman in early 2012. Donaldson consistently swung for the fences when moving the runner over, or just a base hit would have been best. Donaldson only hit .143 during the 5 game set, walked once, had no extra base hits, and struck out 12 times. His strike out with one out and two runners on in the eighth inning of game 2 seemed pretty critical until Stephen Vogt bailed him out in the ninth inning. He had a number of other clutch situations in which he failed to come through, but was bailed out by a teammate who got the job done. If he was to warrant any MVP consideration for his regular season work, his play in the ALDS didn’t reflect that.
Donaldson wasn’t the only one though, despite his home run in game 3, Josh Reddick struck out chasing a clear ball 4 in the dirt against Max Scherzer in perhaps the most crucial at bat of the entire series. Simply putting a ball in play might have tied the game, but he couldn’t make contact, and couldn’t lay off what should have been an easy walk to take to tie the game. Scherzer would work out of trouble, and Stephen Vogt also had a chance to tie the game without the benefit of a base hit, but Reddick’s was much more egregious. He appeared to have decided to swing no matter where the pitch was, and Scherzer made him look foolish.
Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, and Brett Anderson share blame as well, unable to hold down leads in game 4 when the A’s had their best chance to advance to the ALCS. They were either eminently hittable (Doolittle), or couldn’t find the strike zone when it was needed the most (Cook, Anderson), and it cost the A’s dearly. Small bad breaks made their job a little more difficult, but their general ineffectiveness fanned the flames, and the Tigers capitalized.
Bob Melvin also has to bear part of the blame as well. Leaving Doolittle in the game a few batters too long when it was clear he wasn’t missing bats in game 4, and trying to milk innings out of Sonny Gray in game 5 were really costly decisions. Carrying three catchers, and having all but one plate appearance being taken by Stephen Vogt, allowing a veteran presence like Chris Young to rot on the bench for the entire series. Giving Eric Sogard four games in the starting lineup before pulling him in favor of Alberto Callaspo in game 5, while giving Daric Barton one game before pulling him. His moves made no sense, and it was clear that Jim Leyland simply out-managed him, and that is a big reason why the Tigers are in Boston for the ALCS as we speak.