The Oakland A's hold a 45-41 advantage over their Bay Area rivals, the San Francisco Giants, in the regular season since Interleague play kicked off in 1997. They have been a half game better than the Giants so far in 2012, with a 20-19 record compared to the Giants' 19-19 mark.
Coming off of an extra-inning, morale-building 5-4 victory over the defending American League champs in Texas on Thursday, Bob Melvin's team hopes it can win the three-game set against San Francisco and earn its second-straight winning road trip. So far in 2012, the A's have made significant strides away from Oakland with an 11-9 record after going 31-50 last year.
Despite a -12 run differential and owning one of the worst offenses in baseball, the A's have gotten by with solid pitching, avoiding double plays and pestering opponents on the base paths.
The club has made up for its anemic slash line (.218/.294/.346) by walking at the 13th-best rate in baseball (8.8 percent), stealing the second most bases per game (.97) – while having the fourth-best stolen base percentage (82.6 percent) – and leading baseball by hitting into just .44 double-plays per game.
For a team that struggles to consistently get hits, the A's are making the most of the ones they do get. Oakland is 11th in baseball with 34.4 percent of its hits going for extra-bases. Credit Josh Reddick's 10 home runs, eight doubles and team-leading 1.6 WAR for keeping the club's offense afloat while the A's have dealt with numerous injuries.
Reddick has been one of baseball's best outfielders in the month of May. After walking just twice in March and April, Reddick has demonstrated a new sense of patience at the plate. His 10 walks this month have upped his slash line to .293/.391/.655 with an outstanding OPS of 1046. Prior, his line was a much more pedestrian .277/.299/.479.
Third baseman Brandon Inge became the latest inductee to the team's disabled list. In his 11 games with his new team, Inge was the team's best run-producer, driving in 17 on just 10 hits. But a strained right groin landed Inge on the DL and forced another change for the A's at third, a position that has been a revolving door all season. The A's promoted Josh Donaldson last week when Yoenis Cespedes was put on the DL and added Adam Rosales to officially replace Inge on the 25-man roster Thursday. The A's has used four third basemen since Scott Sizemore hurt his knee on the first day of team drills in spring training and that number should grow to five when Rosales makes an appearance at third.
The Giants are an odd team, in that they are the worst team in baseball with runners in scoring position, yet hold the ninth-best team average at .258. They are the 23rd-best scoring team in baseball.
For teams with very good pitching, like the Giants, defense must go hand-in-hand in order to win consistently. San Francisco, however, commits well over an error a game, the worst in baseball. The Giants are -14 in defensive runs saved (DRS), meaning they have given away 14 runs on defense alone in just 38 games.
Friday's series opener will see a veteran and rookie hurler square off. A's starter Jarrod Parker (1-1, 2.10) will make his first-career interleague start. He'll take on the resurgent Barry Zito (2-1, 2.53), the former A's ace. Zito's ERA is at its high point for the year after he started the season with an impressive complete-game shutout in Colorado. Only in his following start on April 14 has he lasted longer than seven innings since then, however. In his last three starts, he's allowed seven earned runs in 9.2 innings, good for a 6.52 ERA.
After signing with the Giants in the offseason before the 2007 season, Zito has struggled against his former club, going 1-4 with a 7.24 ERA and .333 average against.
Parker is coming off of the first loss of his career after his team won in his four previous starts. He allowed six hits in 5.2 innings, but struggled with his command in his second-straight outing by walking four. In those starts, Parker has walked nine in 12.2 innings. The A's should be concerned about that rate, given that his poor command during spring training led to him starting the year in Triple-A.
Parker only walked three in his previous 13 innings, proving he can effectively be in the strike zone at the big league level. Luckily for him, the Giants are one of the most free-swinging teams in baseball.
Saturday's second game will feature Oakland native Tyson Ross (2-3, 6.25) against Ryan Vogelsong (1-2, 2.66). Ross earned the win Monday in Anaheim after losing his previous three starts. Against the Angels, the right-hander didn't allow a run in six innings while yielding five hits. Ross hasn't been great on the road thus far, but two horrendous outings on the East Coast are responsible for his poor numbers. Ross has an 8.38 ERA in four road starts, but gave up 16 runs in 7.1 innings in two starts at Tampa Bay and Baltimore. On the West Coast, he's allowed six runs in 24.1 innings, good for a 2.22 ERA.
Since rejoining the Giants last year, Vogelsong has gone through a metamorphosis. In five years with the Pirates, he went 10-19 with a 6.00 ERA before coming to San Francisco and posting a 2.96 ERA in 34 starts since the start of 2011. He's been a horse for San Francisco this year, lasting longer than seven innings in four of his six starts. In his last 21.1 innings, he's allowed just three earned runs on 19 hits. At home, he's posted a 1.77 ERA with a .203 average against compared a 3.54 and .274 on the road.
The right-hander has a good fastball, averaging better than 91 MPH, to compliment a deep repertoire. He also throws a curveball, changeup, cutter and slider.
Sunday's series finale features two former Cy Young Award winners when Tim Lincecum (2-3, 5.77 ERA) and Bartolo Colon (3-4, 4.13 ERA) take the hill. Lincecum, a two-time winner of the award, is off to a poor start in his sixth season, having allowed 46 hits in 43.2 innings.
Formerly a power-pitcher with a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s, Lincecum has been forced to go through a change in pitching styles, becoming more control-oriented instead of relying purely on his stuff. He's struggled to find his release point consistently while toning down the effort in his delivery to focus more on location. After throwing more than 212 innings in each of the last four seasons, Lincecum could be experiencing the results of wear and tear, given his transformation in styles. He's only had one quality start on the year, after throwing more than 22 in his previous four seasons.
Lincecum has lasted six innings or less five of his eight starts, owning the worst strikeout to walk ratio of his career at 2.18. In his last three starts, he's had a 5.82 ERA.
Colon will be looking for his first win since April 18. He's coming off a rough start in Anaheim on Wednesday, when he allowed 12 hits in 6.2 innings en route to his team's 4-0 loss. In his last nine frames, the right-hander has allowed 21 hits and 11 earned runs.
After his solid start to the year – winning three of his first four starts – Colon was pegged by many as a potential candidate to be moved at the deadline to a contending team looking for a starter. But that notion has taken a hit with his recent struggles.