The Oakland A's are sitting just a half a game behind the first-place Texas Rangers and have three more home games against the Seattle Mariners before starting a crucial seven-game road trip through Baltimore and Detroit. After taking the weekend series against the Cleveland Indians, the A's need to rack up as many wins as possible against teams they should beat.
The Mariners come to Oakland after winning two of three against Texas and are an even .500 for the second half of the season. These three games against Seattle are imperative for the A's because the Rangers open a three-game set against the Houston Astros on Monday. The Rangers are 11-2 against Houston and have a very favorable schedule the rest of the way.
All-Star Bartolo Colon was put on the 15-day disabled list over the weekend after straining his groin during a flat ground throwing session on Friday, shelving him for the time being. He struggled over his last two starts, allowing 10 runs on 14 hits (.438 average) in 6.2 innings. The 40-year-old allowed nine earned runs in his previous seven outings combined.
The injury puts in the A's in a bind after not acquiring starting pitching depth at the non-waiver trade deadline. The A's could still potentially acquire someone through the waiver deadline prior to September 1, but the pickings might be slim. In the meantime, they'll have to rely on Tommy Milone, who started in Sunday's win and allowed three runs (one earned) in 4.2 innings in a game the A's won, 7-3. His next start is likely to come in Baltimore.
The Seattle series begins on Monday when Jarrod Parker (8-6, 3.87 ERA) takes on Aaron Harang (5-10, 5.77 ERA). Parker may have turned in his best start of the season his last time out against Houston, allowing a run on eight hits while getting to the ninth inning before the A's lost in extras.
Parker has walked just four hitters in three August starts, giving him a 4.50 K:BB ratio for the month after not posting a clip better than 2.89 (June) for any other month this season. It's no coincidence his 2.66 August ERA is also his best mark since June's 2.08. The A's need Parker to step up atop the rotation with Colon out and Brett Anderson's return coming in a week, at the earliest.
Harang has a 12.75 ERA spanning his last three outings and last threw against the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing three runs in five innings in a 5-4 loss. A tight forearm forced his early exit, continuing his recent trend of being unable to pitch deep into games. He hasn't pitched seven innings since July 22 and has done so only twice since late June.
The long ball has plagued the 35-year-old right-hander this year as he's allowed 20 this year, yielding his worst rate (1.67 per nine innings) since 2008 with Cincinnati.
Southpaw Joe Saunders (10-12, 4.86 ERA) will go for the Mariners on Tuesday, taking on rookie Sonny Gray (1-1, 1.00 ERA). Saunders has struggled mightily in his last five starts, with a 7.77 ERA and 1009 OPS allowed. He threw well in one of his previous two starts against Oakland this year, allowing one run in 6.1 innings on May 12. His other appearance came April 3, when he allowed four runs in four frames.
Saunders is 15-6 in his career against the A's and has a 2.94 ERA in 10 starts at O.co Coliseum.
Gray will be making his third start in the big leagues and is coming off an outstanding performance against Houston, throwing eight shutout innings and allowing just four hits with one walk and nine strikeouts. A's manager Bob Melvin allowed him to throw 118 pitches in the start.
With Colon's absence, Gray becomes a very important player for the A's during their stretch run. The team isn't afraid to rely heavily on its young starters, but the absence of Anderson and Colon puts pressure on the entire staff to pick up the slack in their absence, or at least keep the team in contention until the veterans come back over the coming weeks.
The series ends on Wednesday when the A's send A.J. Griffin (10-8, 3.78 ERA) against Hisashi Iwakuma (11-6, 2.95 ERA). Griffin is win-less in his last three starts and earned a no-decision in Friday's win over the Indians, allowing just an unearned run over five innings despite walking five. He's walked 11 hitters in his last 10.2 innings, which is concerning considering he's allowed 28 home runs.
Iwakuma hit a rough patch following the All-Star break, going 1-4 with a 6.83 ERA and .282/.303/.632 opponents' slash line in his first five outings. But he's returned to his old self in seven appearances since, holding hitters to a 617 OPS and with a 2.89 ERA.