Perhaps for the first time all year, the Oakland A's looked like the team that won a division title in 2012 during their three-game sweep over the Kansas City Royals. Strong starting pitching and timely hitting helped manager Bob Melvin's club comeback to win all three games over the visiting Royals, giving Oakland its first sweep of a non-division foe.
A's pitchers allowed just five earned runs in the three games against Kansas City – a decent offensive team. Although the A's offense only plated eight runs, it did just enough to give the team some momentum heading into Texas to take on the division-leading Rangers.
Maybe the biggest development of the weekend was Yoenis Cespedes' turnaround at the plate. He had two hits Sunday, including a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning (his first in a week), after getting just four hits in his previous 10 games.
Oakland's outfield is also getting healthy. Chris Young returned to the 25-man roster on Saturday and affords the A's a legitimate everyday option while Josh Reddick remains out of action with a wrist injury. Coco Crisp, the spark plug atop the lineup, was off to a great season prior to his hamstring injury. He has just one hit in his four games since coming back from the disabled list, but a trip to Rangers Ballpark could help turn around his offensive woes.
As Josh Donaldson's sample size continues to grow, so does his case to become the A's representative at the All-Star game in New York this July. He's far-and-away the team's best WAR player (2.1) and has brought the goods both offensively and defensively.
Donaldson's transformation and maturation as a hitter has been remarkable. He's more than doubled his walk rate while cutting down on his strikeouts by more than 5 percent from 2012. His on-base clip has improved by almost 100 points, from .289 to .385. Through 44 games, he has driven in 27 runs and is only six away from last season's total of 33 he reached in 75 games.
His .349 BABIP should bring caution, but for the now the A's are hoping Donaldson can continue to infuse the lineup with energy and a well-rounded threat in the middle of the order.
The Rangers are coming off an impressive 3-1 series win over Detroit over the weekend, overcoming a three-homer performance from Miguel Cabrera on Sunday to win 11-8 and take the series.
Texas has won nine of its last 11, including two of three in Oakland last week, and they have the majors' best record at 29-15. They scored 29 runs over the four games against the Tigers. Second baseman Ian Kinsler was recently placed on the DL with a strained intercostal muscle (the same injury incurred earlier in the year by Adam Rosales) and will be replaced by top prospect Jurickson Profar.
Monday's first game will feature Bartolo Colon (3-2, 4.56 ERA) and first-time starter Josh Lindblom (0-0, no ERA). Colon hasn't been good in his last four starts, going 1-3 and allowing 17 runs in 21.1 innings. Hitters have a 904 OPS against him.
Colon is more reliant on his fastball command than anyone in the American League, and has been burned by leaving fastballs up in the zone. He no longer has the explosive stuff he did early in his career, and must stay around the knees to remain effective. He's allowed seven home runs so far and it will be a tough test to keep the Rangers in the ballpark.
Lindblom was promoted from Triple-A Round Rock to make his first major league start and replace Alexi Ogando, who was put on the disabled list with biceps tendonitis. Lindblom has thrown for the Dodgers and Phillies in a relief role, allowing just 82 hits in 100.2 major-league innings, going 4-5 with a 3.31 ERA. Lindblom has four pitches, including a plus fastball, and relies on a hard slider as his primary out-pitch.
Tuesday night's contest will feature Yu Darvish (7-1, 2.97 ERA) and Dan Straily (1-2, 7.27 ERA). Darvish might be the leading candidate for the AL Cy Young just two months into the season, allowing hitters just a .172 average and leading baseball with nearly 13 strikeouts per nine innings.
Straily will be looking to right the ship after allowing 10 earned runs over his last 9.1 innings. He is hoping to solidify his standing in the rotation as long as Brett Anderson will be out with a stress fracture in his foot. Straily's last outing came against Texas, when he allowed five runs in 4.1 in Oakland.
Wednesday's series finale will have Jarrod Parker (2-5, 6.04 ERA) take on Nick Tepesch (3-4, 3.98 ERA). Parker had his best start of the season his last time out, allowing a run in seven innings on just four hits. Parker's neck strain appears to be a thing of the past and his boost in numbers has reflected that. Parker has had success against the Rangers in his brief career, going 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in three starts.
Tepesch, a rookie, has just eight big league starts under his belt and has thrown well in his last two starts. The righty ascended to the majors quickly after being drafted in the 14th round in 2010, although his rise has been largely due to a number of injuries to the Texas' starting rotation.
Tepesch didn't face the A's in their series last week. He throws four pitches and balances his offerings well, throwing a number of cutters and changeups to go with his average fastball. He's gotten groundballs at a 58 percent rate, which bodes well any time he starts in the team's home ballpark.