After a rough start to the month, the Oakland A’s are finishing May strong having won 11 of 13 entering this weekend’s series against the visiting Chicago White Sox.
After losing a two-of-three against the division-leading Texas Rangers May 13 through 15, Oakland has looked the part of a playoff team from a season ago, handling business against the Kansas City Royals, Rangers and San Francisco Giants. Their run has trimmed Texas’ lead on the division from seven to three.
The A’s were able to take three of four over San Francisco, while continuing to get solid contributions from starters and timely hitting, with the exception of Thursday’s loss to Barry Zito. The A's had a few chances to get to their former ace – who allowed six walks and just three hits in six frames.
Heading into this weekend’s home set against Chicago, the A’s should have their full deck of position players with Josh Reddick returning to action after getting placed on the disabled list to let his right wrist injury completely heal.
Reddick had tried to play through the injury initially suffered in early April when he jammed the wrist into the wall in Houston, but admitted that he was unable to turn on pitches like he had in the past, which showed in his .162/.275/.235 slash line over the 22 games he played with the injury.
Luke Montz was optioned to make room for Reddick. Montz received limited at-bats in his time with the A's. The catcher and first baseman compiled a 593 OPS, getting five hits and a walk in 30 plate appearances.
The White Sox are coming in at 24-27, having a minus-29 run differential. Robin Ventura’s club is close to the bottom at most major offensive categories, while ranking in the middle of the pack in most pitching stats. The staff has proven tough to hit, allowing a .237 average against, good for third in baseball.
Chicago has struggled offensively with the exception of Alex Rios, who is the only player carrying his weight according to the metrics. The outfielder is hitting .284/.344/.508 with 10 homers and eight stolen bases, but the team’s 671 OPS is still third-worst in the majors. Their club is coming off a three-game sweep of the Cubs and is 5-6 over its last 11.
Friday night’s first game will see Bartolo Colon (5-2, 3.82 ERA) and Dylan Axelrod start, as the A’s veteran right-hander will look to push his mini-streak of quality starts to four.
Colon has a 2.25 ERA in his last three outings over 20 innings, having thrown 68 percent strikes, leading to just three walks. That tiny walk rate is actually way up after walking one in his first seven starts. In his career against Chicago, he’s 10-8 with a 4.06 ERA, having allowed 143 hits in 142 innings.
Axelrod is in his third major league season and will be making just his 21st start. He has a career 4.52 ERA in 127.1 innings, with a WHIP of nearly 1.40. The righty has yet to pitch against Oakland, but he has won his last three starts, despite allowing eight runs in 16 2/3 frames. He’s gotten nearly seven runs of support from his offense in those three appearances.
Saturday’s match-up will feature Jose Quintana (3-2, 3.75 ERA) and Dan Straily (3-2, 5.08 ERA). Quintana had the bad luck in his last start of going against the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija, who threw a complete-game two-hitter en route to the 7-0 win.
The lefty gets the exact same number of fly balls and grounders, throwing a slightly above-average fastball while mixing in a cutter, curve and change up. His best pitch is his curveball.
Quintana is an interesting matchup for the A’s, who love to platoon split as much as much possible. Quintana is actually significantly better against right-handed hitters, leaving manager Bob Melvin to decide whether or not he wants to stick with a right-handed dominant lineup against the southpaw.
Straily has put together the best back-to-back starts of his young career, allowing just one earned run over his last 13 frames. He’s regained his explosive stuff which seemed to have eluded him in the early going, allowing hitters a .136/.156/.136 slash line in those two outings.
The timing for Straily’s emergence couldn’t be better for the A's, who are still awaiting the word on Brett Anderson’s stress fracture in his foot – the prognosis of which should come over the next couple of weeks.
Sunday’s game will feature Jarrod Parker (3-6, 5.40 ERA) and Chris Sale (5-2, 2.53 ERA), in a rematch of Parker’s big league debut with the A’s in 2012. Parker got the no-decision in a game that went extra innings in which Oakland eventually won dramatically in the 14th.
After Chicago took the lead in the top of the inning, Yoenis Cespedes left the ballpark off Hector Santiago to tie it back up, and then three consecutive singles culminated in Kila Ka’aihue’s game-winning hit that scored Seth Smith, giving the A’s a 5-4 win.
Sale continues to grow as one of the toughest young lefties in all of baseball, featuring a plus fastball, hard slider and quality changeup. His low-three-quarter release from the first base side of the rubber has led to just a 35 percent fly ball rate and a .192/.251/.306 slash line from opposing hitters.
Parker is working on four-straight quality outings where he’s gone 3-1 with a 2.96 ERA. In his previous seven starts, he was 2-5 with a 7.34 mark, allowing hitters a 1008 OPS. It’s no coincidence the A’s have turned things around at about the time of his drastic improvement.