Based on numbers alone, it was hard to figure out how a light hitting team like the Oakland A's could maintain a record around .500 for the first six weeks of the season. Eventually, with some injuries to key players, the law of averages caught back up to them. Maintaining that type of pace without improving in the hitting department has since proven impossible.
The club came into the season with the “no one believes in us, but us”-slogan. But that notion – along with the team’s confidence – has taken a serious hit lately, with the team is coming off a 1-5 road trip against two teams in the bottom of the standings in the American League Central; Minnesota and Kansas City.
Worse, the A’s have been shutout in three of their last four games and 11 times overall this season.
Oakland was lucky enough to see one of its biggest bats return to the lineup over the weekend in Kansas City. Since returning Friday, Yoenis Cespedes is 3-for-13 (.231) with all three of his hits coming in the team’s nine-run performance Saturday. The Cuban defector has since moved to left field, with the club believing that its best defensive outfield has Coco Crisp in center with Cespedes being forced to adjust to left.
Cespedes has had trouble reading line drives in his direction while being forced to deal with slicing action on balls hit my lefties and hooking off the bat of right-handers. Balls fly straighter to center and are much easier to read.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the team handles the centerfield situation. Crisp’s struggles at the plate might make him tougher to trade than anticipated, but he might a player that benefits from a change of scenery and runs into a sudden hot streak, much like Brandon Inge did when he first joined the A’s.
Speaking of Inge, he is just 2-for-18 since rejoining the club after spending time on the 15-day DL with a groin issue. Just prior to the injury, the third baseman was enjoying a five game stretch in which he hit four home runs and drove in 16 for his new club. Now, Inge has fell back into a cold streak that’s congruent with all the struggles of other members of the left side of the infield.
Shortstop Cliff Pennington is currently in the worst rut of his career, having not gotten a hit since May 22, going 0-for-28 with just two walks during that span. His double-play partner Jemile Weeks has been a bright spot for the team’s struggling lineup, having a nine-game hitting streak snapped Sunday, in which he hit .371. But he was unable to avoid the injury bug and sustained a hip injury in Saturday’s win.
Weeks has had hip injuries throughout his minor league career, which is likely a major concern for the A's. He came into the season as a franchise player, and was the only asset the team deemed “untradeable” in an offseason that saw the shipment of three former all-stars in trades.
But Weeks was back on the lineup card on Monday after officially being day-to-day. For a team struggling as much as the A’s are, they can ill afford to lose a player with as much talent as Weeks.
As for the first-place Rangers, they too come to Oakland scuffling, having lost four of their last five games against the Mariners and Angels at home. Texas is just 2-4 against AL West teams on the road in the early going, but must be welcoming a series against the struggling A's.
The A's are last in baseball in virtually every offensive measurable, while the Rangers are first in average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.
To kick off the series Monday, the A’s send rookie hurler Jarrod Parker (1-2, 2.88 ERA) to face Scott Feldman (0-3, 4.50). Parker is one of the rare bright spots in what’s in danger of becoming another disappointing season in Oakland. The right-hander has put together two consecutive solid outings, combining to give up just an earned run with 12 strikeouts in 13 innings.
He’s still walking more hitters than he would like, at a rate of nearly five per nine innings. He’s fared much better at the O.Co Coliseum than on the road, with an ERA of 2.08 compared to 4.30 on the road.
Feldman started the season in the bullpen but was moved to the starting rotation when flame-thrower Neftali Feliz hit the DL. He’s lost three-straight starts and has yet to last past the fifth inning. Making the transition from the bullpen to the rotation can be tough on a pitcher, which appears to the reason behind his struggles.
But Feldman has four pitches in his arsenal, including a fastball averaging nearly 91 MPH, with a cutter, curveball and a rare split-finger fastball. In his career, he’s allowed 42 hits in 36.1 innings with a 7.18 ERA in Oakland.
Tuesday night will feature a pair of lefties with Travis Blackley (0-0, 0.82 ERA) taking on Derek Holland (4-4, 5.11 ERA). Holland, a notoriously funny guy, is coming off one of his worst outings, when he allowed eight runs in 1.2 innings against the Mariners, raising his ERA for the season by more than a run.
But Holland has pitched better than his numbers would indicate, with a 4.13 FIP and 0.9 WAR so far in 2012 after winning 16 games last year. He has plus stuff, including a hard fastball averaging over 93 MPH this year. He’s been far better on the road than at home, having allowed just 18 hits in 25.1 innings, compared to 40 in 36.1 in Arlington, Texas.
Blackley has been a solid pickup for the A’s after the club acquired him off waivers from San Francisco May 15. He made three appearances in relief, before being moved to the starting rotation. The move was made when he came into to relieve a struggling Graham Godfrey, by going 3.2 innings allowing just one earned run. Tuesday’s game will be just his second start after he threw five innings in Minnesota and allowed just an earned run in the club’s losing effort.
With Tyson Ross and Godfrey back in Sacramento to figure some things out, Blackley is an important player for the A’s going forward. The team has struggled to find a consistent No. 5 starter so far this year, and it appears that Brad Peacock isn’t quite ready to make the jump to the major leagues, so Blackley has a big opportunity with Oakland.
The A's will send Bartolo Colon (4-6, 4.34 ERA) to the hill Wednesday to take on former A Colby Lewis (4-4, 3.50 ERA). Colon has lost four of his last five decisions, and has struggled to keep hitters off balance with his limited pitch repertoire.
Colon has used his slider at the lowest rate since 2003, throwing it just 8.6 percent of the time, while throwing his fastball over 87 percent of the time. Colon has paid for not having pinpoint control in his starts by getting knocked around to the tune of 44 hits in last 27 innings pitched.
Lewis is coming off back-to-back 200 inning seasons, having gone 30-27 since the start of 2010. His style is a steep contrast from Colon, throwing around 54 percent fastballs and 23 percent sliders this year. He’s been very solid against the Athletics throughout his career, allowing hitters just a .215 average in 16 starts with a 3.23 ERA against his former club.
The Rangers will send Japanese sensation Yu Darvish (7-3, 3.34 ERA) against Brandon McCarthy (4-3, 2.95 ERA) in Thursday’s series finale. McCarthy came off the DL to pitch six innings against the Royals and get the win after his club put up an incredibly rare nine-run showing. That made the right-hander unbeaten in his last five starts where he’s earned four wins.
Aside from hurting his shoulder, McCarthy has been the staff ace in every sense since late-April, having allowed 30 hits in his last 32 innings with a 2.53 ERA. The right-hander pitched for the Rangers for three seasons, struggling with a 13-15 record and 4.68 ERA. Since then, he’s discovered his cutter, which is virtually the same velocity as his regular fastball, and lowered his era to 3.22 in 234 innings with the Athletics. But he’s struggled against his former team, going 1-4 with a 4.35 ERA in eight starts.
Darvish has thrown at least six different pitches this season en route to his seven wins, tied for fourth in baseball. At 6’5”, Darvish has the ideal build to be successful and a repeatable delivery. His fastball comes in the low-to-mid 90s, while also featuring a cutter, changeup, slider, curveball and split-finger. He threw very well his lone start against the A’s back on May 11, going 7.2 innings allowing just four hits with seven strikeouts in his club’s 4-1 win.
The Rangers’ bullpen has been outstanding in 2012, allowing just 122 hits in 155.1 innings and a 2.78 ERA. They have five relievers with ERA below three, including Joe Nathan, who underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2010. This year, Nathan has 11 saves in 23 appearances, and has struck out 27 batters in 22.2 innings.