Going into the series,the Oakland A's own a half-game lead in the Wild Card standings over the Los Angeles Angels and have an opportunity to distance themselves from their division rival when the two teams face off for three games this week.
But the Angels come to Oakland Monday knowing that they are more talented team, having come into this season with World Series expectations. Having lost four of its last five, the Angels have the opportunity to overtake the A’s in the standings before returning home to play six games against the sub-.500 Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians.
The Detroit Tigers, winners of four-straight, jumped ahead of the Angels over the weekend and are tied with Oakland for the fourth-best record in the American league at 58-50.
The A’s are 5-4 against the Angels this season, despite being outscored 24-23 in their nine games. Overall, the Angels have a plus-49 run differential while the A’s are plus-28.
Mike Scioscia’s club has rounded out into one of the best offensive lineups in baseball, ranking fifth in OPS and home runs per game. Their Achilles heal has been their bullpen, which ranks 11th in the AL with a 3.78 ERA and has converted just 62 percent of its save opportunities. In their last four defeats, a different reliever has taken the loss in each game.
But since becoming the closer in late-May, right-hander Ernesto Frieri has provided stability to the closer role by converting 13-of-14 save attempts. The right-hander was acquired by in a trade with the Padres that sent Donn Roach and Alexi Amarista to San Diego.
Frieri throws mostly fastballs, averaging nearly 94, while mixing in a hard slier and curveball. His strikeout rate is off the charts at 14.6 per nine innings, but he’s also walking 5.2-per nine clip.
One of the biggest stories throughout baseball has been the sudden emergence of the 21-year-old Mike Trout. After appearing in 40 games last season and putting up a pedestrian slash line of .220/.281/.390, Trout has put himself in the MVP discussion with his .346/.407/.597 line in 2012. He has scored 86 runs in 86 games, making him one of the most electrifying rookies baseball has ever seen.
His impact has been made outside of the batter’s box as well. He has stolen 33 bases and has only been caught three times. He has been almost a constant on the highlight reels for the plays he makes defensively and has put together a 17.8 UZR in center field.
All that has given Trout the highest WAR in baseball at 6.7, almost a full win better than the Pirates Andrew McCutchen, who is second at 5.9.
But perhaps the most impressive thing Trout has done this season has made the acquisition of the game’s best hitter over the last decade second-rate news. Albert Pujols has come out of his early season slump and has resumed the form the Angels he had when they inked the first baseman to a 10-year, $240 million deal in the offseason.
Pujols had a miserable April by anyone’s standards, but has improved his numbers in each month as the season has gone on. His OPS was 570 and he improved it 800 in May, 977 in June, 1071 in July and through five games in August, he is at a 1385 clip.
The A’s are coming off a disappointing weekend in which they lost two games to the Blue Jays they felt they should have won. The schedule did not afford them the luxury of an off day which could hurt the A’s after the team played 26 innings combined between Friday and Saturday’s games.
Oakland made roster moves over the weekend in an attempt to keep its bullpen fresh. They called up relievers Evan Scribner and Pedro Figueroa to take the place of outfielder Michael Taylor and starter A.J. Griffin, who was placed on the disabled list. The moves give the A’s eight bullpen arms, but thins their bench for late-game situations. They only have four outfielders on the active roster after carrying five for the majority of the season. Infielder Eric Sogard is the best pinch-running option off the bench should he be needed.
Monday’s game features a fantastic pitching matchup of Jered Weaver (14-1, 2.29 ERA) and Jarrod Parker (7-5, 3.44 ERA). Weaver comes into the game tied for the lead in the AL in wins while possessing the best ERA in baseball.
The tall right-hander has won his last eight starts, including six in July, and hasn’t lost since May 13. He has made two starts against the A’s in 2012, going 1-0 with a 0.61 ERA, allowing just eight hits in 14.2 innings while striking out 10.
Parker has struggled in four of his last five starts and will be looking to pick up his first victory since July 21. He faced Weaver back on May 23 but picked up the no-decision after allowing a run in seven innings with eight punch-outs. Oakland ended up losing the game 3-1 in 11 innings.
The talented right-hander might be hitting a rookie wall after being less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery he had back in the fall of 2010. He allowed more than two runs just twice in his first 13 starts with the A’s. But in his last five outings, he’s yielded 20 runs in 29.2 frames.
Tuesday’s game will see C.J. Wilson (9-7, 3.27 ERA) throw against Bartolo Colon (8-8, 3.55 ERA). Colon has been dominant in his last two outings, combining to throw 13 shutout innings while allowing just two walks in his two wins.
The 15-year veteran went almost a month and a half between victories, but has found a grove that appears to have dispelled the notion that he could only be a first-half pitcher.
Colon was roughed up in last outing against the Halos, however, surrendering four runs on 12 hits in 6.2 innings all the way back on May 15. Given the struggles of Parker and Tom Milone of late, the A’s need Colon to continue to be a stabilizing force before Brandon McCarthy returns to the rotation on the club’s next road trip to Chicago after Thursday’s day off.
Wilson has hit a bump in the road with the Angels after signing his big free agent contract in the winter. His last win came on July 26 and he’s allowed 20 earned runs in his last 24.2 innings thrown, good for a 7.30 ERA.
But the left-hander was dominant in his May 22 start in Oakland, going eight shutout-innings while allowing just one base hit. In his last start against his former team, the Texas Rangers, Wilson was battered in 5.1 innings, allowing eight runs on 10 hits.
Wednesday afternoon’s series finale will be another intriguing matchup when newcomer Zack Greinke (0-1, 5.14 ERA) goes against rookie Dan Straily (0-0, 1.50 ERA). Straily will be making just his second major league start after impressing in his first against the Blue Jays on Friday, despite not having his best stuff.
The right-hander allowed a single run on five hits in six innings while struggling to get on top of his pitches and leaving them up in the strike zone. His five strikeouts performance was good, but not up to the level his exhibited in the minors when he led all of baseball in K’s with 175 in 138.1 frames.
Grienke will be making his third start with his new team since coming over in a deadline deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. In his first start with the Angels, he threw well, allowing two runs in seven innings. But he was the loser as his team failed to put up any runs against the Tampa Bay Ray’s staff that saw Jeremy Hellickson throw six scoreless innings.
Grienke was hit hard by Chicago in his second outing, allowing six earned runs on 10 hits in seven innings. The right-hander has struggled on the road this season. His ERA away from home is nearly two runs higher than his home mark.
Grienke won the Cy Young Award with the Kansas City Royals back in 2009 when he posted an ERA of 2.16 and allowed just 195 hits in 229.1 innings. He made his major league debut in Oakland on May 22, 2004 and has a 5-1 career record against the A’s. He’s undefeated in the Coliseum in four starts, allowing a 2.25 ERA in 28 innings with a 1.36 WHIP.