The extra-innings loss over the weekend in New York was soul-crushing and bone-rattling. It also had very real implications for the A's bullpen as it was worn down to the Jesse Chavez/Tyson Ross-nub that that is the end of it. Balfour, Cook and Scribner pitched two innings each. Doolittle was unavailable after having pitched 1+ the night before. The damage to the pen for a team in the midst of a meat-grinder of a road trip cannot be understated.
Last night, we saw more of the impact of the heavy workload. Tyson Ross once again absorbed the loss, this time to the division-leading Texas Rangers, after Pat Nishak coughed up a two run lead in the seventh. Melvin's hands are pretty tied at this point in terms of available relievers. He didn't want to burn Balfour, who was warming up in case the A's grabbed the lead, as that would leave him with few options to close the game. Doolittle was seemingly unavailable after working on Sunday. He had already lightly used Jerry Blevins in the seventh.
These seemed to be his options:
Jeremy Accardo (Just called up from AAA and possibly rusty)
Grant Balfour (again, you need a closer, also overworked. Essentially he would be pitching his fourth day in a row -- counting Saturday's game as two)
Jesse Chavez (has been as bad as Ross)
Pedro Figueroa (who can't locate anything it seems)
Jim Miller (long man, who may be needed today given Milone's troubles on the road)
Second guessing a manager is easy. Melvin might very well have punted and hoped for the best with Ross -- who has really fallen off a cliff in terms of his stuff -- 96 hits over 73.1 innings isn't going to get it done.
Imagine that Ross pulls a Houdini and escapes the 9th last night and then the A's go down in order. Who pitches at this point? Do you bring in Balfour who is presumably continuing to warm? Doolittle? Let's say you go 12 innings and use Doolittle, Scribner and Balfour. How confident are you in your bullpen today if this scenario were to play out? You might only have Blevins out of your "A" relievers. Burning the pen down night after night is a dangerous idea.
With the loss, today the A's should have Balfour, Blevins and Doolittle to back up Milone. (Ryan Cook has thrown over 70 pitches the past three games, so you have to wonder if he is available.)
A further caveat to consider is that last night was a game the A's could more afford to lose. The Angels were off and the O's had split a doubleheader -- meaning they couldn't gain a full game on the A's for the first Wild Card spot. If the Angels had won last night against the hapless Mariners, the A's would have a 1.5 game lead, allowing the Angels to gain a full game. The loss last night was only a half game, and that may be crucial. If the A's and Angels both win tonight, the A's maintain a 2 game lead. This sets up Wednesday's game where the A's have their best pitcher in Jarrod Parker going while the Angels face Felix Hernandez. If the A's win and the Angels lose, then you leave Texas with no worse than a two game lead in the second Wild Card as you get ready to welcome in the Mariners at the O.co while Texas (fighting for the #1 seed) takes on the Angels at home. Gain a game in that series and you guarantee at least a one-game playoff (in Oakland) for the right to the second Wild Card spot. That playoff would only be needed if the A's are swept by the Rangers at the Coliseum and the Angels sweep the Mariners at Safeco to end the year.
There is a reason why Baseball Prospectus gives the A's a 74 percent chance of making the playoffs. They just need to figure out why the baseball gods are upset with them.