In Sunday's 3-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, the Oakland A's were forced to sit a slew of regulars dealing with injury. Kila Ka'aihue and white-hot Brandon Inge both sat with leg injuries, while Jemile Weeks was nursing a sprained ankle and Kurt Suzuki needed to rest his battered left hand.
Those players could be good to go in Monday's series opener in Anaheim, with the exception of Ka'aihue, whose hamstring is not well enough to resume running. Coco Crisp remains on the 15-day DL with an ear infection and won't be eligible to return until May 18. Yoenis Cespedes landed on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his left hand and won't be eligible to return until May 22.
With two-thirds of the club's starting outfield out of action, Collin Cowgill will be getting the nod in centerfield. Cowgill was promoted back to the A's from Triple-A on Friday, replacing Michael Taylor because of his ability to play center field. Cowgill was used sparingly when he broke camp on the 25-man roster and didn't get a hit in his four games before being demoted to make room for Tyson Ross in the starting rotation.
But Cowgill was able to get regular at-bats with Triple-A Sacramento and regain the good form at the plate that he had in spring training. From April 28 to May 8, he had a 10-game hitting streak with the River Cats where he hit .381 (16-for-42). He registered one hit in three games over the weekend against the Tigers.
With Crisp out, the A's left field spot will continue to be filled by a platoon between Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith. According to defensive metrics, Smith is a far better outfielder than Gomes, but Melvin likes the energy Gomes brings to the field with his all-out style. Until Ka'aihue returns from him hamstring issue, whichever player isn't in left will likely handle designated hitter duty.
Gomes is second on the team in OPS (886) despite only playing part time. With five of his 17 hits clearing the fence, Gomes represents one of the team's top power threats with Cespedes out of the lineup. Smith is hitting .244, but gets on base at the best clip of any A's player (.394) thanks to his team-leading 20 walks in just 109 plate appearances.
Right fielder Josh Reddick has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last couple of weeks, hitting .333 with five homers and 13 driven in. He's become very comfortable in the three spot in Melvin's lineup and is quickly growing into a fan favorite in Oakland. It will be important for the free-swinging Reddick to get protection in the lineup. Otherwise, he won't be getting many good pitches to hit without Cespedes hitting behind him.
At 18-17, the A's remain in second place in the American League West, five games behind the Texas Rangers, who own the best record in the AL. But Oakland is still ranked last in average (.218) and 28th in baseball in OPS (641). The Angels (15-20) have underachieved thus far, but have far too much talent on its roster to be a last-place team.
The most surprising aspect of the Angels struggles has been those of Albert Pujols. His slash line of .196/.234/.275 is beyond woeful for a player that has notched an OPS better than 1000 eight times in his career, and has never had an OPS lower than 906.
The Angels are still looking for consistency in their bullpen, as well. Mike Scioscia's club has more blown saves than they have converted, which makes being a winning team nearly impossible. Four of five relievers used in save opportunities have blown a save. Scott Downs is the only one with multiple saves (3), but still has blown two saves.
Monday's matchup will feature Tyson Ross (1-3, 7.1 ERA) for Oakland and Dan Haren (1-3, 4.19 ERA) for the Angels. Ross is looking to bounce back after being tagged with losses in his last three starts. Anaheim might be the best place for him to do so. In his career, he owns a 2.75 ERA and 0.92 WHIP at Angel Stadium. His first start of the year came there, and he allowed two runs in six innings to get the no decision. The A's went on to win the game, 5-3.
Ross was an out away from recording a quality start in his most recent go against the Blue Jays. In that start, he allowed three runs in 5.2 innings. He wasn't spectacular – allowing five hits, walking three and striking out three – but it was a far better effort than his previous two outings where he combined to allow 16 runs in 7.1 frames.
Monday's start will be an important one for Ross, who could be on the verge of a demotion should he not turn things around. Last Wednesday's start was a step in the right direction, but wasn't good enough to signify that he was completely removed from his struggles of his previous two outings.
Graham Godfrey has allowed just four earned runs in 26 innings in four starts with Triple-A Sacramento, and he could be throwing well enough to put some heat on Ross. Brad Peacock could be an additional candidate, but he's still working on consistently commanding all his pitches.
Haren is coming off his shortest outing of the season, a start that was marred by back stiffness. Against the Twins, he threw just 3.2 frames and allowed five earned runs. It has been an up-and-down season for the former A's All-Star and the back issues are disconcerting. But he's had an extra day of rest to help overcome the stiffness and has thrown well against Oakland during his career.
Tuesday's game features two more pitchers looking to find consistency. The Angels will send righty Ervin Santana (1-6, 5.09) against Oakland's Bartolo Colon (3-3, 3.96). Santana is coming off his first win of the season after getting zero run support in his previous five outings. His biggest problem – aside from the lack of run support – has been his propensity to give up the long ball. In 46 innings, he's already allowed 12 homers. But he boasts a 13-4 career record against the A's, with a 2.15 ERA and .234 average against. His last start against Oakland came April 18, when Colon and Fautino De Los Santos combined to shutout the Angels, winning 6-0. Santana threw seven innings and allowed four runs.
Colon will look to repeat his eight-inning, shutout performance of the Angels from nearly a month ago, when he earned his last win. Since then, Colon has raised his ERA from 2.63 to 3.96 and is coming off his worst outing of the year. He gave up eight runs on nine hits to the Tigers in just 2.1 frames on Thursday. Despite not earning a victory in his previous three starts, the right-hander allowed only seven runs in 20.1 innings pitched (3.09 ERA).