Friday, September 19, 2014

Pray for Mojo

If baseball is a game designed to break your heart than surely the A's are succeeding. Finding ways to lose is what bad teams do and the Athletics have been, if not a bad team in the second-half of the season, than just a plain unlucky one.

The reality is that as much as the Cespedes-Lester trade made sense on paper, it has become the focal point of fanbase furor and emblematic of the emotional hollowing-out of the team. When Josh Donaldson compares his own teammates play to that of a "circus," you know the stitching on the ball is coming unwound.

The A's prize in the Cespedes deal, Jon Lester, has said all the right things and fired off the standard cliches about "winning now" and "helping the team;" but, more than any trades in recent years, he is viewed as a hired-hand and a mercenary with his bag packed to head back to out of town as soon as the last game is completed. As unrealistic as it was, when Cespedes said he hoped to play his whole career in green-and-gold, it was like the most beautiful girl agreeing to go to the prom with the well-meaning, smart, glasses-wearing nerd with the severe overbite who had just asked her after emerging from being stuffed in a locker.

Maybe, just maybe, with Cespedes, the A's ownership would pry open their sizable wallets and dole out a contract that made a statement: we plan on being good, for a real long time and Cespedes is ours. And then, slowly but surely, all 5-tools would blossom and Cespedes would be the unstoppable force he seems capable of being. Instead, Jon Lester awaits to cash in his golden ticket to big money and Cespedes awaits a rebirth in Boston.

Rational, clear-minded arguments aside, when Cespedes left it felt a little bit like the fun departed with him.

In 2012, the team and Cespedes were unknowns and expectations were modest, at best. In 2013, the team was either poised to prove itself a fluke or push past the first round, "experts" seemed split. Going in to 2014, this team was supposed to win and maybe that has been the problem. However, games in June and games in August and September are entirely different. The A's are clearly the hunted these days, not the hunters.

Eliminated clubs like the Astros, White Sox and Rangers are relishing the opportunity to be a fork in the eye of playoff contenders. After all, what else do they have to play for? The role of the villain or the spoiler is a great motivator.

Fans of the game know that the Bartman catch didn't sink the Cubs in 2003. The Buckner boot in 1986 didn't cost the Red Sox the World Series. For A's fans, the Kirk Gibson home run in 1988 came in game one, not game seven of the World Series. And, everyone knows that Josh Hamilton dropping the ball in center was not the sole reason why the Rangers lost game 162 in 2012. (It was glorious and it sure did help.) The truth is Cespedes' departure did not seal the A's 2014 fate.

Cespedes departure needs to be added to a series of unfortunate events, including:

- Playing six games against the Royals just as they were peaking;
- An epic slump from Brandon Moss, whose power has all but dried up of late;
- John Jaso's continuing issues with concussions;
- Stephen Vogt's foot problems;
- Nick Punto's strained hamstring;
- Jed Lowrie's hand injury and subsequent fielding woes;
- Really poor starts in August by Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir; and
- Losing Sean Doolittle to an intercostal strain.

While true that the team's offense took a hit with Cespedes gone, focusing on that one hole in the ship ignores the dozens of others contributing to today's slow sinking out of the playoff race.

It seems the key word these days is "mojo" and fans are presented with two options: 1) abandon ship and watch the Titanic ease into the abyss; or 2) stay engaged and hope-against-hope that this "unsinkable" ship/season rights itself. As we aren't left with much else, get right with the deity(ies) in your life and send positive vibes to the A's. All we need to do is get in. The playoffs are a totally different environment.

We need that positive mojo!

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