Baseball Beat/WTNYOctober 09, 2005
What Went Wrong to the Rest
By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

Media coverage is a funny thing.

One day, you're on top of the world, leading off Sportscenter, and making the front page. The lead story to every sports report on the local and national news. The next day, however, you're gone -- over and done with -- and worthless to them. They forget about you for months, until the playing field is level again, and we can begin to argue who will do it next season.

This sudden lack of coverage comes at different times for different teams. For some it's lost in early September, when many teams often go from contender to pretender. Sometimes it's lost slowly, during the season, when divisional mates prove to be too much. For some it goes, comes back, and goes again. This series is about covering those teams.

In previous editions, we looked at those failed September teams, and yesterday, looked at the losers of the NL East. Today, we finish up the regular season edition of "What Went Wrong" at a look at three teams that had the oddest of seasons. At various times during the middle of the year, Oakland, Cleveland, and San Francisco were all considered to be done with. However, the clubs played well when needed, and slowly climbed up the rankings, and began to make some noise in September.

Problem is, the teams simply couldn't capitalize when needed. All three teams saw their season slip away in the September series against the would-be divisional winner. Had the A's beat the Angels, or the Giants top the Padres, or the Indians upset the White Sox, this article could feature a completely different group.

Let's start with the Indians, probably the most interesting of the group, considering their September collapse. In May, no one would have imagined this team had a shot to make the playoffs. In mid-September, few would have believed they had a chance at missing it. But this was a team to constantly defy the odds, whether it be a ridiculous second half run or a final week belly-flop.

In to discuss the Indians is the SportsBlogs' Cleveland affiliate, proprietor of "Let's Go Tribe," Ryan Richards. He answers the usual five questions...

What turned out to be the team's Achilles Heel?

Well, the last week of the season it was the offense. The team couldn't string together two hits together the last week of the season, never mind three or four. While the offense overall was very good over the course of the season, there were some really bad stretches at times. So I guess the short answer is the lack of consistency on offense.

How do you hope Mark Shapiro attacks this problem over the winter?

The biggest hole this early in the process seems to be in right field and/or first base. Casey Blake is not an everyday outfielder, and Ben Broussard is eligible for arbitration for the first time. The Indians need some production from their corners, and while I don't know if there's an answer on the free agent market, the Indians have to make an upgrade somehow. There are issues to address as well: If the Indians lose Kevin Millwood, they're going to need another starter. And they'll have to remake the bullpen; three important pitchers (Wickman, Howry, Sauerbeck) are free agents.

Who would you label as the team's MVP and LVP?

MVP could go to a number of players, from Kevin Millwood to Victor Martinez to the bullpen as a whole. But I'll go with Travis Hafner; Pronk carried the team during several stretches over the course of the season. He missed 2.5 weeks during the season, but still finished the year with 75 extra-base hits. One stat that amazes me about Hafner is that he hit .286/.316/.516 after falling behind 0-2, indicating how good he is at pitch recognition.

LVP has to go to Casey Blake. I don't like to look at RISP numbers as a measure of a player's worth, but posting a .491 OPS with runners in scoring position is so bad that you can't help noticing it.

Season Highlight?

There's a lot to choose from, but for me the highlight of the season was Travis Hafner's grand slam in Fenway on June 28th. The Indians had been down three runs in the eighth, but tied the game in the ninth; Hafner's grand slam off Keith Foulke put the game away.

Season Lowlight?

The last week of the season. Six losses in seven games, five of them by one run. An agonizing seven days considering the Indians had control of their own destiny.


The Billy Beane bashers came out loud and proud in May, when the A's were in last place in the NL West, and Beane's rebuilding job was looking like just that. How dare we had thought this team had a chance to win, no matter how young and promising they looked, right? Wrong. The A's season took a drastic 180 on June 1, when the club caught fire, and quickly rose up the AL West standings, all the way to first place. However, injuries and inconsistency allowed the Angels to eventually take the division, and Oakland simply couldn't stick with Cleveland and the AL East in the Wild Card standings.

Baseball Toaster writer and webmaster Ken Arneson answers a few questions about his favorite team...

What turned out to be the team's Achilles Heel?

Bobby Crosby's ribs, Rich Harden's oblique, Erubiel Durazo's elbow, Octavio Dotel's elbow, Rich Harden's lat, and Bobby Crosby's ankle. And possibly Eric Chavez' shoulder.

The injuries to Crosby and Durazo were the most damaging. They led to far too many at bats by Marco Scutaro and Scott Hatteberg, as well as by Durazo himself, before they figured out how badly he was hurt. The offense, not among the best to begin with, lost a lot of power.

The injuries made for a really schizophrenic season. The A's were really, really bad; then they were really, really good; and finally, they were mediocre.

How do you hope Beane attacks this problem over the winter?

Health and maturity should improve the team quite a bit, so Billy Beane doesn't need to do much. The future looks bright. The question marks for 2006 are at LF and DH. However Beane fills those two positions, I'd like to see some more power, hopefully with at least one right-handed bat.

I hope Hatteberg retires. I wouldn't mind the default choice: re-signing a recovering Durazo on the cheap, and picking up Jay Payton's option. But Beane might have some money to burn this offseason for a change ($7-10 million), so he has some room to be creative.

What Beane does depends a lot on how close they think Daric Barton is. The A's might want to give him a little more time to mature and work on his defense. Otherwise, they could just use Barton right now in the Hatteberg role of DH/backup 1B/emergency catcher, and focus their dollars on the best left fielder their money can buy.

Who would you label as the team's MVP and LVP?

The A's didn't have a clearcut MVP this year. Rich Harden is the team's best player, but he was hurt too much. Zito and Blanton both had long stretches of great pitching, but a few bumps, too. Huston Street was a godsend, but he wasn't the closer all year. Eric Chavez had the biggest offensive numbers, but he sucked so bad at the beginning of the year, I don't want to pick him.

So I'll do the non-stathead thing, and pick the best story: Mark Ellis. He came back from missing a year with a horrible shoulder injury, played excellent defense, and hit .316/.384/.477. He had the most out-of-the-blue offensive season in Oakland since Terry Steinbach hit 35 homers in 1996.

LVP is easy: Keith Ginter. If he had hit anything like what he hit in 2004, he could have taken some of Scutaro's at-bats, and given the A's some more power. But he forgot how to hit, for some reason.

Season Highlight?

The two most memorable plays were by Jason Kendall: diving at the plate to tag out Michael Young to end the game in Texas, and then dashing home to win the game when K-Rod dropped the throw back from the catcher.

The game to remember was on September 7, when theyscored five runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Mariners, 8-7.

But the best part of the season was just that stretch in late June through early August, where most of the team was healthy, and every day just seemed to bring another victory.

Season Lowlight?

The most painful play to watch was on August 21, when Mark Kotsay lost a ball in the sun, helping the Royals win their second straight game in Oakland, after they had just lost 19 in a row. The most costly play of the year was the one where Bobby Crosby broke his ankle against Baltimore.

The lowlight game of the season was the Michael Cuddyer game, when it became clear the A's would not make the playoffs.

The lowlight stretch of the year was in May, when the A's had a ton of injuries, and had to play the Yankees and Red Sox for two straight weeks. That stretch buried the A's; it was amazing that they managed to dig themselves out of it to even be competitive at the end.


Few sub-.500 teams have taken up our airwaves more in recent memory than the 2005 Giants, for two reasons. First and most obviously, Barry Bonds. The game's best slugger nearly missed the entire season with injury, coming back just early enough to create a media frenzy. The second reason is that the Giants played in baseball's worst division, one of the worst ever, one that even sub-.500 play could contend in. So when September rolled around, and Bonds came back, hope was restored in San Francisco. It shouldn't have been.

Moving across the bay, we being in Grant, from McCovey Chronicles, to discuss his memories and complaints from the latest edition of the G-men...

What turned out to be the team's Achilles Heel?

While the starting pitching fell far short of expectations, the biggest weakness of the Giants was a dearth of reliable hitters. No one, save Moises Alou and Ray Durham, could get on base. It's almost as if the team was counting on Barry Bonds a bit too much, but I wouldn't want to speculate.

How do you hope Brian Sabean attacks this problem over the winter?

I want a big, thumping first baseman, and that's what the team needs. There are no big, thumping first basemen available with the exception of Paul Konerko, who I don't really want roaming around at the end of a 4-year deal, and possibly Jim Thome, who is still due the GDP of Peru. If the Giants threw money at Konerko for a short-term fix, and pretended like 2010 didn't exist, I wouldn't be too bitter.

Who would you label as the team's MVP and LVP?

The MVP would have been Moises Alou if he had stayed healthy, but Noah Lowry is a fine choice. The start of the season for Lowry was scary, but he was fantastic the second-half. Even more impressive, in a roundabout way, was how he did it. Last year, Lowry threw an amazing changeup consistently. The change was flakier in 2005, but an improved curveball proved good enough to be an out pitch.

The LVP goes to Armando Benitez. Overpaid, ineffective, and injuried. He'll be fine, and his struggles when he returned were likely due to his being rushed, but the Giants would have won the division if he even came close to a repeat of 2004.

Season Highlight?

Bonds hitting a double in his first at-bat back was nice, but Randy Winn tying a critical game against Trevor Hoffman was the best moment of the season. That game left Giants fans as if the team had a shot; a ridiculous scenario to contemplate for a team as flawed as this one.

Season Lowlight?

Getting one-hit by the A's in a 16-0 rout. Oof. Maybe the worst Giants game ever, from a purely aesthetic point of view.


As always, this article would have been impossible without the help of our fine guests. Hopefully we can continue this series going forward, as the playoffs cut the playing field down in half with each round. We'll be back tomorrow with new content, so please check back.


Ginter was obviously bad, but he didn't have the opportunity to affect the team in the same woeful offensive manner that Kendall and Hatteberg did. Ginter had all of 28 at-bats since July 1st.

Ginter: .161/.234/.263 -- 137 ABs
Kendall: .271/.345/.321 -- 601 ABs
Hatteberg: .256/.334/.343 -- 464 ABs

2nd half:
Kendall: .260/.327/.313
Hatteberg: .230/.299/.311

Considering that Hatteberg was manning the all-important offensive position (DH), that was a huge suck-hole. And playing Kendall every day at the top of the line-up was equally offensive. The two combined for just under 50 GIDPs.

If they could sit on Ginter, they should have definitely sat Hatteberg and put Kendall on the bench far more often than they did.

As an Indians fan, I know the tendency is to say "if only" But I think if you look at the season in detail it is easy to see why they did not win.

First, they were 13-27 against the eventual playoff teams, including 5-14 against the division rival White Sox. Its consistent, but indicative.

Second, they were 52-29 on the road, but 47-34 at home. You have to play at least as well at home as you do on the road.

Third, when your 1B, RF and 3B bat 7,8,9, you have an offensive problem, but it should be relatively easy to fix. Their up the middle is outstanding, but they need some better corners.