The Oakland A's stirring 14-inning win over the visiting Chicago White Sox on Wednesday might have been the club’s biggest win of the young season. On Friday, they hope to bring that momentum 3,000 miles east when they take on the Baltimore Orioles to start their first East Coast road trip of 2012.
Winners of six of nine, the A's have to be feeling good about the first month of their season thus far. The team did not hit well. At .205 and .318, the team has the worst batting average and slugging percentage in the major leagues. But it has been the pitching that has helped the team remain competitive with a 10-10 record. The 2.71 team ERA ranks fifth in baseball and second in the American League behind the Texas Rangers.
Oakland has gotten quality starting pitching from some unlikely candidates, with youngsters Tom Milone and Tyson Ross combining to go 4-1 with an ERA just above two. Veteran Bartolo Colon is leading the team in innings (34.1) with just a 2.62 ERA and is off to a sensational start to his 15th season.
The Baltimore Orioles are also off to a surprising start, tied for first in the AL East with Tampa Bay and a game and half ahead of the Yankees with a record of 12-7. They’ve gotten off to a good start in the power department with three hitters combining for 16 of the team's 26 homers in their 19 games.
Former top-prospect Matt Wieters leads the team with six long balls, 13 RBIs and a 1007 OPS. He’s increased his walk rate but has nearly doubled his ISO this year from last to .188 to .345. In his fourth year in the majors, the talented catcher appears to be reaching the power potential that made him such a highly rated prospect.
Free-swinging outfielder Nolan Reimold is red-hot, riding a 10-game hitting streak into the series. His five home runs are tied for second on the club with outfielder Adam Jones, who has also been impressive in the early going. Like Wieters, Jones is a young player the Orioles are heavily relying on to become a mainstay in the lineup for years to come. Hitting .306/.342/.611, Jones has also appeared to turn the corner after struggling to find consistency in his six years in the major leagues.
Baltimore’s pitching has held its own as well. The team is fourth in the AL in team ERA with a 3.29 mark and a .245 batting average against its young staff.
Oakland will send Brandon McCarthy (0-3, 3.38) in the opening game of the series on Friday. The right-hander's numbers haven’t been bad, but McCarthy has indicated that he isn’t where he would like to be. He has allowed 40 hits in 32 innings while managing a respectable 3.75 FIP. McCarthy’s problem has been finding the middle part of the strike zone more often then he would like. He’s much more effective using his array of fastball grips when he able to find the edges of the strike zone consistently.
McCarthy will take on right-hander Jake Arrieta (1-1, 4.01), who has a WHIP of just 1.095 so far in his third season. He is coming off a poor start in Anaheim, where he gave up five earned runs in 4.1 innings against the Angels. Arrieta is a four-pitch pitcher with good velocity on his fastball that averages nearly 93 MPH. He throws his slider and curveball at the same frequency, while featuring a changeup that he’s still refining. He’ll be looking for his first win since April 6, where he threw seven innings of two-hit ball against the Twins.
Saturday’s game will feature Ross (1-0, 2.13) and lefty Wei-Yin Chen (1-0, 2.60). Chen, a free-agent acquisition in the offseason from Taiwan, has thrown well in his first three big league starts. In 17.1 innings, he has allowed 18 hits and struck out 15. He features an average fastball and slider that’s still progressing. He also features a changeup and a slow curveball that he throws roughly 7 percent of the time.
Last year, Chen spent the season playing in Japan where he compiled 2.68 ERA and struck out over five hitters per nine innings. The Orioles signed him to a three-year deal in the offseason, hoping the ready-made major leaguer could plug right into the club’s starting staff.
Oakland has been very happy with Ross’ first two outings of 2012. He wasn’t on the 25-man roster coming out of spring training because the team’s unorthodox allotment of off days allowed it to carry only four starters for the season’s first two weeks. The 25-year-old hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in either of his starts, allowing 11 hits in 12.2 innings with seven strikeouts.
In his winning effort versus Cleveland, Ross struggled to find the strike zone consistently, allowing five walks in 6.2 innings. When he’s right, he’s getting a lot of hitters out via the ground ball with his sinking fastball and hard slider. But after allowing four fly balls in his first outing against the Angels, he allowed nine against the Indians.
Sunday’s series finale will see Colon (3-2, 2.62) take on Tommy Hunter (2-1, 4.74). Colon has allowed two or less earned runs in four of his five outings so far. In his career against the Orioles, the right-hander is 11-8 with a 3.26 ERA and .257 average against. Colon has been the A's most consistent starting pitcher, going at least seven innings in his last three starts.
Hunter, a right-hander, features an average fastball and a cutter that he throws nearly 25 percent of the time. His curveball comes in at around 77 MPH, with a rarely used changeup. Hunter was traded along with Chris Davis to the Orioles from the Texas Rangers for reliever Koji Uehera and cash at last summer’s deadline. Hunter’s lifetime 23-13 record benefited from the Rangers' prolific lineup, as he had a 4.36 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in his four seasons there.
The A’s would love to win the series on the road against a Baltimore team that’s gotten off to a good start to the year. After Sunday’s game, they’ll have a quick turnaround with a game Monday in Boston against the resurgent Red Sox, who have won four in a row heading into Friday.