There have been bad outings from starting pitchers, blown leads from relievers and the team has failed to plate a run three times. Monday’s blown lead to Minnesota in the eighth inning was a low point. That was trumped by a walk-off, three-run homer by former Athletic Josh Willingham after the team entered the ninth with a 2-0 lead. Then, Francisco Liriano struck out nine Oakland hitters in six innings after coming into the game with an 8.47 ERA.
May 22’s loss to the Angels moved the first rock, and now the A’s are trying to dig themselves out of a mudslide.
But help is on the way in the form of the team’s most dangerous bats and best starting pitchers. Yoenis Cespedes is poised to return from his hand injury in Friday’s series opener in Kansas City and Brandon McCarthy is set to take the hill on Saturday.
Luckily for the A's, the Royals have an MLB-worst 5-17 record at home. But after getting swept by the Twins - who hold the worst record in the American League – Oakland doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt against any team.
Bartolo Colon (4-5, 4.52 ERA) will start Friday for the A's and will be awfully happy to see the calendar change. In May, the 15-year veteran went 1-3 with a 7.92 ERA, allowing 44 hits in 25 innings.
Colon’s issues stem from missing location. Given that he’s thrown 87 percent fastballs this year, he must pinpoint all of his pitches because of his inability to keep hitters off balance. He’s only walked 1.33 hitters per nine innings, meaning he’s stayed in the strike zone, but hasn’t been able to avoid bats at all lately.
He’ll take on Royals right-hander Felipe Paulino (2-1, 2.03) who’s only given up runs in two of his five starts. Originally a free-agent signee of the Houston Astros in 2001, Paulino was traded to Colorado for shortstop Clint Barmes and then purchased by Kansas City on May 26 of last season.
Paulino features power stuff, averaging better than 95 MPH on his fastball, while featuring a hard slider, curveball and change up. He had the best season of his career in 2011, allowing a 1.372 WHIP, down from a career-worst 2.045 in 18 relief appearances with the Rockies in 2010. This season, his numbers are even better, but the 270-pounder might have a hard time sustaining that success having not thrown more than 139.1 innings in any season of his career.
The Royals will send Luke Hochevar (3-5, 6.19 ERA) in Saturday’s tilt. The righty has been awfully inconsistent throughout his career and that has continued in 2012. A former No. 1 overall pick in 2006, Hochevar's career-ERA sits at just 5.36, having yielded an average of 9.7 hits per nine frames in the big leagues.
Hochevar’s appeal as a prospect stemmed from his plus stuff and wide array of pitches. He throws five, including a fastball averaging better than 92, a slider, cutter, curve and changeup. But he’s been unable to consistently get hitters out, allowing 62 hits in 52.1 innings.
Although the A's haven't made anything official yet, all signs point to McCarthy coming off the DL to oppose Hochevar on Saturday. The tall right-hander earned his keep as the staff ace prior to injuring his shoulder in a bullpen session after making a start in Texas on May 17. He’s won his last three decisions, having allowed just seven runs in his last 26 innings, good for a 2.42 ERA.
The A'cs are in desperate need of McCarthy’s stabilizing influence on the team’s rotation. With the struggles of Graham Godfrey and Tyson Ross – both have been optioned to Triple-A Sacramento this week – the A's will have a hard time being successful without its best starting pitcher. McCarthy’s injury history with his throwing shoulder is very concerning, but it appears he should be good to go for Saturday.
Kansas City has yet to announce a starter for Sunday’s contest, but the A’s will send young lefty Tommy Milone (6-4, 3.64) to toe the rubber. Milone has been outstanding at home this season, but isn’t quite the same on the road. He’s given up just four runs in 36.2 innings in Oakland, but has a 7.16 ERA everywhere else.
He’ll face a Kansas City club that has the eighth-best batting average in baseball at .261 and the 13th-best OPS, 722. Billy Butler, who has hit 11 home runs and driven in 35, leads the team with an 873 OPS. Former top prospect Mike Moustakas is second on the team with an OPS of 820, but has a team-best 2.3 WAR, thanks to his outstanding glove at third base.