Philip Humber’s perfect game has the Chicago White Sox riding high after a three-game sweep in Seattle. They’ll look to bring that momentum to Oakland, where a rejuvenated Barolo Colon looks to back up his 38-consecutive strike performance by containing Chicago’s dangerous lineup.
First time manager Robin Ventura has his Chicago White Sox club off to a nice start after it was painted with low expectations in the offseason. At 9-6 and only half a game behind incumbent favorite Detroit, Chicago has gotten very good pitching from its staff while being 10th in baseball in scoring runs. His diverse mix of young players and veterans still has an uphill battle to contend for a playoff berth, but could find itself in the thick of things should it keep its early season form.
The A’s are coming off losing two of three from Cleveland at home and look to build some steam before they hit the east coast for nine game against the Orioles, Red Sox and Rays. While the A's have gotten the pitching to stay in games early on this year, they are the second-worst hitting team in baseball and are only scoring 3.08 runs a game.
Oakland’s early season theme of roster reshuffling continued over the weekend, with the club demoting starter Graham Godfrey and acquiring infielder Luke Hughes to potentially band-aid its issue at third base. The club has gotten little-to-no production at the plate from its third basemen this year, with Josh Donaldson and Eric Sogard combining to hit .129 with a home run and four driven in.
Hughes was claimed off waivers from Minnesota Sunday. The Australian-born infielder has the ability to play all over the diamond and represents a slight upgrade at the plate over what the team has seen from Donaldson early on. Hughes was 2-for-11 before being let go by the Twins and has a career .224/.285/.342 line with eight home runs and a 627 OPS.
On Friday, the A's acquired another Australian in right-handed reliever Rich Thompson, who replaced Neil Wagner in the team’s bullpen. The 27-year-old brings 81 games worth of big league experience from the Angels with more strikeouts (105) than innings pitched (104).
Monday’s series-opener features a match-up of two former Cy Young winners on the rebound during the twilight of their careers. Appearing healthy for the first time since 2008, Jake Peavy (2-0, 2.75 ERA) is off to a stellar beginning to 2012. He’s missing bats and showing command with a 10.50 strikeout to walk ratio with 21 whiffs in 19.2 innings. He only has two walks leading to an outstanding 0.814 WHIP. No A’s players have faced Peavy during the regular season except Coco Crisp and Seth Smith, who are a combined 3-for-12 against him. Peavy is throwing five pitches, featuring his slider and cutter at significantly higher rates than his curve and changeup.
The A’s counter with Bartolo Colon (3-1, 2.63), who has thrown better than anyone on the A’s starting staff. The 38-year-old is coming off one of the most impressive performances imaginable against the Angels, throwing 38-consecutive strikes at one point en route to a three-hit, eight-inning outing. He’s made 20 career starts against the White Sox, with a 10-6 record and 3.97 ERA. Paul Konerko has had some success against Colon, with two home runs and five doubles against him in 45 career at-bats.
As a whole, the Chicago is the eighth-best slugging team in baseball, .419, while Oakland is third-worst at .332.
Game two features righty Gavin Floyd (1-2, 4.58) and Tom Milone on Tuesday. Milone has thrown well in his first April in the big leagues, going 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA and just 14 hits in 19 frames. The lefty’s last outing in Anaheim on Thursday was his shortest of the season, lasting just five innings. He allowed seven hits. Milone struggled to throw strikes consistently to his arm side of the plate, often getting beat by trying to throw inside to right-handed hitters. Throwing his fastball just 87 MPH, Milone doesn’t have enough velocity to get away with relying solely on throwing inside. His ability to throw strikes on the outside half to right-handed hitters will be crucial.
Floyd boasts very good career numbers against the A’s. In his seven starts, he’s 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA and .238 average against. But those numbers are inflated by his outings against the A's in Chicago. At O.Co Coliseum, hitters are batting .329 against him four starts, where he’s allowed 23 hits in 17 innings. The right-hander is coming off a loss to Baltimore, where he allowed five earned runs in six innings.
Coco Crisp should be reinstated to the lineup Monday after battling the flu for the past several days and he is 4-for-9 against Floyd in his career.
On Sunday, A's top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker was announced as the starter for the third game of the series. Acquired in the Trevor Cahill trade, Parker could have the highest upside of any starter on the A’s staff with a power fastball and three quality off-speed pitches. The right-hander could have broke camp with Oakland had his command been better in spring training, so the team let him work on a few things by allowing him four starts in Sacramento. He found that command and only walked six hitters in 20.2 innings. Wednesday will be his second career start in the big leagues after getting a look with the Diamondbacks last September.
Parker was once considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball before Tommy John surgery caused him to miss all of 2010. Now completely healthy, his feel is back after being more than two years removed from the surgery and looking to re-solidify himself as one of the better young arms in baseball.
Parker faces off against another talented young hurler in Chris Sale (2-1, 3.50). The White Sox used the 6’6” lefty as a reliever over the last two seasons before moving him into the starting rotation this year. So far, hitters are batting just .224 against him, while averaging better than 95 MPH on his fastball. The former first-round pick features a hard slider and changeup. After being drafted 13th overall in the 2010 draft, Chicago was high enough on Sale to bring him up to the major leagues that same season, and he appeared in 21 games, striking out a staggering 32 hitters in 23.1 innings pitched. In his last start Friday in Seattle, he struck out 11 Mariners in 6.1 innings.