Cespedes is lone bright spot as A's bats struggle
OAKLAND -- The problem for the A's on Friday night in Game 1 of their American League Division Series against the Tigers was obvious.
Yoenis Cespedes had two of their three hits, including a long seventh-inning, two-run homer off starter and winner Max Scherzer, and Coco Crisp had three walks. That was the extent of the offense as Oakland whiffed 16 times against three Detroit pitchers in a 3-2 loss at the O.co Coliseum.
Josh Reddick, who struck out three times in four at-bats. "He was everything. That homer was huge for us, pulling us back to one run at that point.
"Nobody else executed, really. Aside from those two guys, we never seemed to get into a rhythm like we have been all year. Cespedes picked us up big time, which he has done with the long ball in his whole career."
A best-of-five series is a very small sample size and the A's offense must get untracked quickly, beginning in Game 2 here on Saturday night (9:07 p.m. ET, TBS). The A's, obviously, are already down 1-0 with the scene shifting to Comerica Park for games on Monday and Tuesday, the latter only if necessary.
Cespedes, who has been battling a sore right shoulder for the past month, said the A's can't count on him to carry the offense every game.
"It doesn't depend on me only," the Cuban-born player said in Spanish through his interpreter after the game. "This is about the whole team. Today I was good, but let's hope everyone is good tomorrow."
Reddick agreed, noting that "it doesn't get any easier" with Justin Verlander on the mound against rookie Sonny Gray, who is making his first postseason start, coming after only 10 starts since he was elevated to Oakland for good from Triple-A Sacramento on Aug. 10. Detroit's former Cy Young Award-winning right-hander defeated the A's twice in the ALDS last year as the Tigers prevailed in five games.
"We know it's a tough task to beat those guys back-to-back," Reddick said. "We didn't do it tonight. Hopefully we can make the adjustments necessary and don't dwell on this game."
Verlander hasn't been the pitcher of old as he has struggled for much of the season, but in Game 5 last year on Oct. 11, he pitched a shutout against the A's at the Coliseum. He struck out 11, walked one and allowed only four hits.
Likewise, Scherzer struck out 11 in seven innings on Friday night. Relievers Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit whiffed the other five with Benoit striking out the side in the ninth inning as the lefty-swinging Reddick ended it, flailing at air.
The A's don't have the propensity of striking out. They were 20th among the 30 big league teams this past season with 1,178 whiffs. In comparison, the Astros led the Major Leagues with 1,535. The Braves, who struck out 16 times against the Dodgers in a Game 1 loss that opened their National League Division Series on Thursday, finished the season tied with the Mets for third overall at 1,384.
So what happened to the A's on Friday night?
"Scherzer does what he does," Reddick said. "He throws 96, 97 [mph]. He pushed it up there and he's got some sink at 93. And he's got a great changeup. It's not like he's going to come out there firing fastballs every time. His changeup has a splitter action. He does a good job of mixing it up. He keeps us off-balance really well. And Benoit is in that closer's role for a reason this year. Striking out the side speaks for itself."
The A's haven't had much trouble this season generating offense. They were fourth in all of baseball in both runs scored (767) and RBIs (725), plus third in homers with 186. This during a season when Cespedes was in and out of the lineup and batted .240 with 26 homers and 80 RBIs in 135 games.
Cespedes has had continuous problems with his shoulder, limiting him to only three innings in the outfield since Sept. 14, all of them coming at Seattle on Sept. 27 during the final road series of the season.
Cespedes was questionable for the playoff opener until manager Bob Melvin said on Thursday that he'd be starting in left field. He claimed after the game on Friday night that the shoulder isn't really bothering him.
He proved it with a second-inning triple. And with Scherzer starting to struggle at the 100-pitch mark in the seventh inning, he followed a Brandon Moss infield single with a bolt into the left-field seats. It was his first postseason homer, and suddenly Detroit's 3-0 lead had narrowed to 3-2, which is where it ended.
"I feel good," said Cespedes, who a lost a Victor Martinez liner in the lights in the top of the eighth inning, turning the catchable ball into a two-base error. "I'm not 100 percent, but I feel good enough to play."
That's good news for the A's. Right now he's the nexus of their offense.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.