Battle For First Place In Weekend Series

Can Cespedes power the A's struggling offense?

With first place in the AL West very much on the line, the Oakland A's welcome the suddenly red-hot Texas Rangers to town for a pivotal three-game set. Chris Biderman previews the series.

With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, the Oakland A's find themselves 3.5 games up on the second-place Texas Rangers, who come to town for a pivotal three-game weekend set in Oakland starting on Friday.

A's general manager Billy Beane stuck to his proverbial guns at the non-waiver deadline, keeping his big league roster almost entirely intact while adding a useful piece in Alberto Callaspo. Callaspo brings the versatility of a switch hitter that should be a nice platoon opposite Eric Sogard at second base. Callaspo can also spell Josh Donaldson at third.

Acquiring Callaspo cost Oakland Grant Green, a projectable hitter but not a projectable fielder. Green should be a viable offensive option at some point soon, but it wasn't clear where Green fit into the A's line-up from a defensive perspective, as he was still learning the ropes at second base.

Going forward, losing Green doesn't appear to hurt Oakland given the way they feel about Sogard, Donaldson and their future in the outfield. Those are the positions where Green could have potentially competed for at-bats, so the A's did what they felt was prudent in converting the asset into something of more value to a team in contention for a World Series.

What the A's didn't do at the deadline was address the pitching staff, either in the rotation or the bullpen. Defining those needs is less cut and dry, but given the lack of depth and question marks going forward, adding an arm to the rotation or a left-handed specialist to the bullpen would have upgraded the status quo, especially considering the splashy moves made by the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and the Rangers to upgrade for the pennant chase.

By not addressing the starting rotation, the A's don't appear concerned about a potential suspension for Bartolo Colon for alleged involvement in the Biogenesis case. There also seems to be confidence in Brett Anderson's ability to return with a fresh arm after missing the majority of the season with the stress fracture in his foot. With Sonny Gray waiting in the wings in Sacramento's rotation, Oakland elected to forgo adding any potential insurance policies to the starting rotation.

Not adding a lefty specialist also appears to be a vote of confidence for Jerry Blevins, despite his .302/.365/.476 slash line against left-handed hitters on the year – which is discernibly different from his .229/.288/.357 line for his career.

The passage of the non-waiver deadline doesn't mean the A's are done adding pieces. They could still find players through waiver trades until rosters expand in September, although a useful arm is far more difficult to attain.

The Rangers come to Oakland having won four straight, including three wins over the Angels all coming on walk-off home runs. Since July 10, the Rangers are 7-11 but still find themselves just 3.5 games behind Oakland for first place.

The series starts Friday night when the A's send Tommy Milone (9-8, 4.10 ERA) against right-hander Alexi Ogando (4-3, 3.05 ERA). Milone is coming off a good outing against the Angels when he threw seven innings of one-run ball. His only blemish was a home run allowed to Josh Hamilton while he earned his ninth win of the year. Per usual, Milone's home and road splits are slanted towards the O.Co Coliseum, where he's taken advantage of the spacious surroundings.

In his last start against the Rangers on June 19 in Texas, Milone allowed six runs in 5.1 innings and earned his seventh loss. He's still looking for first career win against the Rangers, who have a 753 team OPS against him in four starts.

Ogando is making just his third start since coming off the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. After missing more than a month and a half, the hard-throwing right-hander has allowed four runs in 9.2 frames with a .300/.333/.375 opponents' slash line. He beat the A's on May 15 by allowing two runs on four hits over six innings. It will be just his second start in Oakland where he has a career 4.15 ERA and 1.46 WHIP over nine appearances – eight of which came as a reliever.

Saturday afternoon's contest will have the newly acquired Matt Garza (1-0, 1.88 ERA) go against Jarrod Parker (6-6, 4.07 ERA). Since joining Texas on July 22, Garza has allowed just three runs on 10 hits in 14.1 innings with 11 strikeouts. He threw an eight-inning, one-run gem in Oakland to help the Cubs stave off a sweep back on July 3, which could have gone a long way toward the Rangers wanting his services.

Garza has pitched very well at O.Co in his career, allowing just 12 hits in 21.1 frames and a .158/.256/.250 slash line in three starts.

Parker's season has been tough to figure out. He's already allowed 16 home runs in 21 starts after yielding just 11 in 29 starts last year. But he's thrown well against the Rangers, allowing a 574 OPS and .191 opponents average.

In Parker's last start against the Angels, Los Angeles scored six times in five innings, marking Parker's worst start since April. The last time he threw against the Rangers, he allowed two runs on three hits in seven innings in June 18's win.

The series wraps up Sunday when A.J. Griffin (10-7, 3.90 ERA) and Derek Holland (8-6, 3.18 ERA) square off. Griffin's trick-or-treat season continues as he's allowed 11 earned runs over his last three starts (5.40 ERA) against the struggling Angels, Astros and Blue Jays.

The soft-tossing right-hander has allowed a .214/.233/.357 slash line and struck out 13 to just one walk against the Rangers in two starts this year. Griffin's 26 homers allowed still leads the majors, but he's only given up nine in Oakland.

Holland is coming off a start against the Yankees when he allowed four runs on eight hits in six innings, earning the no-decision in the team's 14-11 win. In eight career starts in Oakland, Holland is 2-2 with a 3.46 ERA and allowed a 747 OPS.

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