After a season-long slumber, the Oakland A's bats woke up in hitter-friendly Coors Field this week. During their three-game sweep over the lowly Colorado Rockies – losers of eight in a row – the A's hit .313 and averaged nearly nine runs a game. The A's are now home to kick off their first interleague series at the Coliseum on Friday when they host the San Diego Padres.
After having arguably the worst offense in baseball for more than two months, the A's scoring outburst over the last three games has to come as a huge relief to A's manager Bob Melvin and the club's management. The Rockies series represented the first time the A's had swept an opponent in 2012 and the first road sweep since September 2010.
Seth Smith, Brandon Moss and Collin Cowgill provided a much-needed lift to the lineup that entered the trip hovering just around the Mendoza line. It was no surprise Smith found a groove while getting consistent at-bats with Yoenis Cespedes out of the lineup and returning to the National League West parks where he had played well during the first five years of his career as member of the Rockies.
Smith went 10-for-19 on the six-game trip, hitting two homers and driving in seven runs. Smith's hot bat could complicate the situation in Oakland's outfield. Manny Ramirez appears to have worked out whatever issues he was having with his legs with Triple-A Sacramento and he has a .407 average and 952 OPS in June. The team hasn't said if and when Ramirez will be promoted to the big leagues, but it's safe to assume he wasn't brought out of retirement to bring a PCL Championship to Sacramento.
Ramirez is beginning to force the issue with his play, meaning someone in the A's outfield is likely going to be either demoted or released. With Smith appearing to need regular at-bats and Cowgill proving value with his bat and versatility, Jonny Gomes could be the most likely candidate to be replaced by Ramirez, unless Cespedes' balky hamstring requires a trip to the disabled list, pushing that decision back a couple of weeks.
It will be a very tough choice for the A's because Gomes is so revered in the clubhouse and still has plenty of pop in his bat. But his double on Sunday in Arizona was his first hit of June before he doubled and homered in relief of Cespedes on Wednesday in Colorado. In the past, the A's have released well-liked players hoping to get regular at-bats elsewhere. That could be the situation for Petaluma native, although releasing Gomes outright would leave Oakland on the hook for most of his salary and he is likely to have some trade value.
Then there's the curious case of Coco Crisp, who had three hits on Thursday and scored the game-tying run in the ninth on Wednesday by stealing third and avoiding a tag at the plate on a Cowgill sacrifice fly.
Crisp's .172/.234/.231 slash line has really hurt the team considering the number of at-bats he gets at the top of the lineup. But at the same time, those numbers aren't indicative of the type of player he has been throughout his career. He has a career OPS of 762 and still hasn't been thrown out attempting to steal a base in his last 32 attempts, a club record.
It's possible that Crisp is the only player on the club's roster who could have scored the way he did to tie things up Wednesday on Cowgill's shallow sac-fly that gave Michael Cuddyer's strong arm some momentum towards home. Crisp had the speed and wherewithal to avoid the tag of Wilin Rosario while still getting a hand on the plate.
Based on numbers alone, an argument can be made for Crisp being released or traded to make room for Ramirez. But his lack of production and a good arm in center field hurt his trade value, making that less likely before he brings his numbers back up. The A's might be better off waiting for an eventual hot-streak out of the veteran centerfielder and look to trade him after he improves his stock.
The Padres come to Oakland fresh off a road brooming of their own after they took three games in Seattle. But even after the sweep, the team owns the third-worst road record in the NL (9-21).
San Diego's offensive struggles mirror those of the A's. The Padres are near the bottom of baseball in OPS (665, 28th), slugging (.359, last) and average (.230, 28th). At 23-41, the team is two games behind Colorado in the cellar of the NL West.
It's a team in flux that might be in the final stages of a bidding process for new owners. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported this week that current owner John Moores has narrowed down the list of potential buyers to three and could make a decision sometime next week. There have also been rumors that the Padres are looking to deal some of their veterans, including former Stanford star Carlos Quentin.
In Friday's series opener, the A's will look to get an improved outing from Travis Blackley (0-2, 3.98), who hasn't gotten out of the fifth inning in his last two starts, both losses.
Blackley is still looking for his first win since joining the rotation May 28. His last two starts both lasted just 4.2 innings, which is less of a problem than the amount of runs he's allowed. In those 9.1 innings, the left-hander has coughed up eight earned runs and forced the bullpen into games early.
The Padres will send Anthony Bass (2-6, 4.38) to the hill, who is spending his first season in a major league rotation. The 24-year-old former fifth-round selection in 2008 has a four-pitch arsenal with a plus fastball and slider he throws nearly 22 percent of the time. He developed a cutter this season that has proven to be a very effective pitch. He's still looking to improve his changeup that he's throwing at twice the rate he did last season.
On Saturday, Padres' manager Bud Black will start Ross Ohlendorf (1-0, 3.38) for the first time in the majors this year. Ohlendorf, a former top prospect of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was granted free agency by the Boston Red Sox on June 2 after not making the major leagues. Previously, he had a 4.60 ERA in 64 starts with the Pirates before being released in December.
This year with Triple-A Pawtucket, the former fourth-round pick made 10 starts and went 4-3 with a 4.61 ERA. He struck out 37 and allowed 57 hits in 52.2 innings.
The A's haven't announced Saturday's starter, but did say it isn't likely to be Brandon McCarthy, who had another flare up in his shoulder earlier in the week that caused him to miss his start on Tuesday. Melvin is hoping the team doesn't have to put McCarthy on the DL and that he can resume his normal workload next week.
In the meantime, Tyson Ross (2-6, 5.51) was scratched from his start on Thursday with Triple-A Sacramento making him the likely candidate to get the call for Saturday. Ross has thrown well in his last two outings with the River Cats, allowing just two earned runs in his last 13 innings (1.38 ERA). His most recent start came in the thin air at Colorado Springs, where he shutout the Sky Sox over six innings, allowing six hits with six strikeouts.
Ross started off the year in Triple-A when the A's needed just four starters thanks to a bizarre April schedule. He was promoted to the big leagues once the A's moved to a five-man rotation, but he struggled to keep his pitches down and found himself getting hit hard in starts against the Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees. Ross was demoted when the A's activated Cespedes from his stint on the disabled list June 1. In 47 innings in the big leagues this season, Ross has allowed 66 hits.
In Sunday's game, the Padres will look to lefty Clayton Richard (3-7, 4.30), who is hoping to avoid his eighth loss of the season. On Tuesday, his seven-inning, one-run performance in Seattle gave him his first win since May 16. The former eight-round selection in the 2005 draft has been a victim of low run support, but he has also struggled with his fastball.
Originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox, Richard was sent to San Diego as a major chip in the Jake Peavey trade. In his four years with the Padres since, Richard has a 3.93 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. Like so many pitchers on the Padres, he benefits from the spacious dimensions at Petco Park, where he has a 2.72 ERA compared to a 5.73 ERA on the road.
The A's will counter with Bartolo Colon, who was bailed out of a poor start in Colorado when his team was able pick him up and score enough runs to win. The veteran right-hander allowed five runs on nine hits in five innings, but still picked up the win thanks to a pair of home runs from Moss, as well as homers from Brandon Inge and Cliff Pennington.