Per usual at this point in the season, trade discussions dominate the Internet and airwaves. And since the A's are contenders once again, precedent says Billy Beane will orchestrate a move to help put his team in the best shape possible for a World Series win. Or, like 2012, he could make a minor adjustment akin to the acquisition of George Kottaras.
The easiest thing to do is to look up and down the roster and find holes based on players' individual numbers. What's lost in this type of evaluation is the type of production a team gets from a certain position, especially for teams utilizing platoons.
The A's have become the classic platooning team, finding players that hit well against pitchers from one side of the mound and loading the lineup in one side of the box to utilize their strengths, day-to-day. That line of thinking has helped the team to become the sixth-highest scoring team in baseball and fourth in the American League.
Any argument saying the Athletics need to improve their offense with players outside the organization might be ignoring the fact Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick are hitting .218 and .225, with .300 and .289 on-base clips, respectively.
Coming under fire has been the middle infield, or particularly the second base, where the combination of Jed Lowrie, Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales have received the lion's share of time. Lowrie has been one of Oakland's most consistent bats throughout the season, compiling a .306/.378/.420 slash line. Although his home run output of four might be might be disappointing, he's made up for it by hitting 21 doubles in just 74 games. His spot in the lineup is safe, as long as his offense continues to tip the scale against his poor range in the field. (It should be noted is lengthy injury history is always a concern.)
That leaves Rosales (.195/.272/.333) and Sogard (.272/.342/.347) playing opposite Lowrie up the middle depending on the opponent's starting pitcher. Sogard has gotten the starts against right-handers, hitting .287/.352/.364 against them, getting on base well above the American League Average of .319. As for Rosales, who has struggled at the plate since returning from his intercostal injury, is performing better in a platoon role than his overall numbers indicate.
Against left-handed pitching, Rosales is hitting .257/.342/.414 while AL shortstops as a whole are .250/.303/.358. Even while he's viewed as a below-replacement level player because of his poor numbers, he's better than the average AL shortstop when he gets in the lineup against left-handed starters.
As a whole, the Athletics (thanks in large part to Bob Melvin's button pushing) have received outstanding production from the middle of the infield with their current group, despite the misconceptions. With the platoon system in place, second basemen have gone .275/.348/.344, hitting and getting on-base well above the AL average of .259/.319/.376 at the position.
And that's the key. With 25 roster spots and only nine positions on the field, the managers' job is to utilize his pieces to maximize output from each position. Are there players that represent upgrades potentially available on the trade market? Sure. But for an organization like Oakland's that isn't gushing with major league talent in the minor leagues, there's no sense in dealing valuable pieces for short-term upgrades when the needed production is already there.
On to the Cardinals (48-30), who represent the toughest test the A's have faced all season. They are coming in losers of four of five thanks to a three-game sweep at the hands of the Rangers (who are suddenly red-hot after last week's four-game set with Oakland). There might not be a more balanced team than St. Louis. The NL Central leaders – tied with Pittsburgh – are third in baseball in both scoring and earned runs allowed, thanks to a front office that continues to add valuable pieces from within its own organization. The club's young pitching staff has been a staple so far in 2013.
The series kicks off Friday night with the outstanding match up of young versus old when 40-year-old Bartolo Colon (10-2, 2.93 ERA) takes on Shelby Miller (8-5, 2.35). Colon was earned wins in seven-straight starts, combining for a 1.41 ERA and 572 OPS against. In short, he's been nothing short of a revelation for the A's and has been a huge asset to a team in need of leadership atop the starting rotation. A good start against baseball's best team would help elevate his argument for starting in the All-Star game.
Miller has also been very good, but is coming off arguably his worst start of the season, having allowed four runs in 5.2 innings against the Rangers. He allowed two home runs to Nelson Cruz and A.J. Pierzynski, tying his season-high. Miller throws hard and features a very good curveball.
Saturday afternoon's game is another quality matchup of right-handers when ace Adam Wainwright (10-5, 2.31) and Jarrod Parker (6-6, 4.27) take the hill. Wainwright already has three complete games and a 159 ERA+. But what stands out most is his 10.60 K:BB ratio (106 strikeouts, 10 walks). His 4.0 WAR is the best in the National League. If he keeps this up, there's a great chance he wins his first Cy Young.
The A's are 7-2 in Parker's last nine starts. He's had a 2.59 ERA over that span, allowing just 38 hits in 62.2 innings, good for a .180 average against. He's also pitched into at least the sixth inning in each of those starts, reaching at least the seventh in seven times. In his last start in Seattle, the A's lost with Parker on the mound for the first time in almost a month when Kendrys Morales his a three-run walk-off homer in the tenth inning.
The series concludes Sunday, when Tommy Milone (6-7, 4.06) and Jake Westbrook (4-2, 2.21) square off. Milone has been up and down all season, struggling to string together more than two good starts in a row. Although the A's won, Milone couldn't get out of the fifth inning against the Reds Tuesday, yielding three runs on six hits in 4.2. He struggled with his command, walking four reds before the bullpen came in and shut out Cincinnati over the remaining 4.1 frames.
Westbrook is having a career year at age 35 despite allowing exactly as many walks as strikeouts. However, he missed time from May 8 to June 14 with elbow inflammation. In three starts since returning from the disabled list, he's gone 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA. Westbrook has the classic four-pitch repertoire including a split finger fastball, and has succeeded in large part because of his 62.6 percent ground ball rate.