Oakland A's come to town, for a four game series, tied with the Rangers for first place in the AL West. They are 64-49. They have been in a little slump since we saw them last week in Oakland. They were 62-43 when we started that series. So, including the games with us, they are 2-6 in their last 8 games. It shows that losing a series with the Blue Jays can throw a team into a slump.
Esmil Rogers starts the game tonight. He got our only loss against in Oakland and gave up 10 hits in each of his two California starts and gave up 15 runs (13 earned) in 9.1 innings. Mark Buehrle starts tomorrow, he threw 7 shutout innings against the A's, last week, then gave up 5 runs in 6 innings against the Angels. R.A, Dickey starts Sunday, he was good in his start against the A's but his teammates had trouble with pop flies that afternoon, he only allowed 1 run in 7.2 innings against the Angels. Josh Johnson starts the last game of the series and is coming off his first decent start since June, going 5 scoreless innings against the Mariners.
Alex Hall from Athletics Nation and I exchanged questions going into the series. Here is his half.
Bartolo Colon wasn't one of the ones suspended in the Biogenesis mess. Were you surprised he wasn't? What's the secret to his success this year?
I was not surprised that Colon wasn't suspended, and I think that MLB made the right call. It seemed overwhelmingly likely that the substance for which Colon was on the Biogenesis list was the same substance for which he was suspended last season, so penalizing him again would have been a case of double jeopardy. That seems to be the conclusion that MLB drew.
As for his success this year, that seems to be a matter of simply throwing strikes. He throws almost exclusively fastballs (85% of his total pitches), and he averages just a hair below 90mph on his heater (although he can reach as high as 95 when he needs to). He makes this limited arsenal work in two ways. First, he gets great movement on his fastball, which he uses to fool both left-handed and right-handed hitters. Second, he has pinpoint control, and he can locate that fastball on any corner of the plate.
I was at the games in Oakland last week, attendance seemed disappointing to me, for such a good exciting team. Is there any chance of improvement at that stadium or are they going to have to move to start drawing?
Attendance has pretty much always been a problem at the Coliseum, and the saddest part is that the disappointing turnout that you saw is actually a vast improvement over the last few years. The A's are averaging over 23,000 fans this season, compared with under 21,000 last year and 17,000-18,000 the three seasons before that. There are many factors involved in this, but the chief ones are probably the location and condition of the ballpark, the presence of the wildly popular Giants just a few miles away, the constant roster turnover that makes it hard for casual fans to identify with hometown stars, and the fact that the team was both terrible and boring for several seasons after their 2006 ALCS appearance.
As for improvement, there is really nothing that can be done to the Coliseum. It is what it is - a giant concrete mausoleum with a stupid, ugly seating structure in center field (dubbed Mount Davis after its architect, late Raiders owner Al Davis). Don't get me wrong, the Coliseum is my home and I'll always love it, but I don't begrudge casual fans who would prefer a more visually pleasing atmosphere like the one at AT&T Park. The worst part about it is that the Raiders aren't even going to use Mount Davis anymore, which means that the worst ballpark feature this side of the Marlins' spinning dolphins will sit unused by anyone, silently mocking us from its perch between the bleachers.
The A's will sell out their playoff games if they make it this year, but they won't consistently sell out regular season games until they get a new stadium (whether in Oakland, San Jose, or Mars). I will say, though, that the fans who do show up are top-notch, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. The right field bleacher crew has got to be one of the best groups of fans in all of baseball.
Can we have a scouting report on manager Bob Melvin?
After suffering through the boring Art Howe (he wasn't that bad, really), the sleepy Ken Macha, and the utterly incompetent Bob Geren, A's fans were delighted when Billy Beane finally decided to hire an actual field manager. Previous managers have been criticized for being nothing more than puppets for Beane's on-field strategies, but Melvin very clearly runs the show.
He loves to platoon complementary players (like Sogard/Callaspo, Jaso/Norris, Smith/Young), and isn't afraid to utilize those platoons mid-game by pinch-hitting as early as the 5th or 6th innings. His bullpen management is completely acceptable (including knowing when to pull his starter), as he rarely makes a pitching change that Athletics Nation disagrees with. His hitters work counts, and his third base coach (Mike Gallego) is extremely aggressive in sending runners home. When his team gets screwed by an egregiously bad call, he's not afraid to jump on the grenade and get himself ejected in support of his troops. Overall, the players seem to love him, which is the most important thing for a manager. The fact that he is the exact opposite of Bob Geren endears him to fans, because Geren may have been the worst manager in MLB history. Melvin's nickname upon his hiring was NewBob (replacing OldBob), and now he is simply BoMel.
Who is your favorite A to watch?
The short list includes Yoenis Cespedes (does everything at 110%, even when the situation doesn't warrant it), Josh Donaldson (amazing defense at third, exciting bat at the plate), Coco Crisp (few people have more fun playing baseball; he makes highlight reel catches in center and does exciting things on the basepaths, all while sporting one of the biggest smiles in sports), and Colon (his nonchalant style and goofy mannerisms have won back the hearts of many fans who felt betrayed by him after 2012). I think I'll go with Coco, though. Stolen bases, triples, diving catches...the things that he does are just more exciting than home runs, though he hits homers as well just for good measure.
Last year Yoenis Cespedes was one of the better players in baseball, this year he's hitting .226/.296/.423? Which guy is he? Why is he so having such a poor season?
If I had the answer to that, then the A's would be paying me a lot of money to coach him. Last year, he showed the ability to make rapid adjustments as the league figured out his strengths and weaknesses. He doesn't seem to be adjusting as well this year, and his biggest problems seem to be chasing breaking balls and trying to pull everything. He has the ability to use all fields, but he needs to do so more consistently in order to take the next step as a hitter. He should talk to Donaldson, who has mastered the opposite-field line drive.
How long can Josh Reddick keep his job hitting just .203? Is there someone waiting in the wings to take it?
Reddick is an absolute mystery. He was incredible in the first half of 2012, then tanked in the second half and still hasn't recovered. He hits the ball a lot better than his slash line suggests, and he's hit into an unbelievable amount of bad luck this season (.238 BABIP despite a 21% line drive rate). He hits a sharp line drive right at somebody on what seems like a daily basis. His plate discipline has improved this year, and he's making good contact, but at some point the results have to follow because strong peripherals don't show up in the W-L column.
Despite his struggles at the plate, though, Reddick stays in the lineup because he provides value in other areas. He is possibly the best right fielder on the planet, making circus catches and/or unleashing his cannon arm, and he is an elite baserunner as well (including his 19-for-20 on steals in the last two seasons). Despite his putrid slash line, Reddick has still been worth 1.3 WAR according to Fangraphs and 0.9 according to Baseball Reference. Because he can contribute so much in the field, I expect Reddick's leash to last the rest of the season; however, he's going to have to start hitting in 2014 if he wants to remain in the long-term plan.
Oakland has Michael Choice waiting in the wings. Choice hits for power and is solid in the field, but we'll have to wait and see if he can make enough contact in the Majors to find success.
How is Alberto Callaspo? Wen will he be back in the lineup? He was your only deadline move, would you like to have seen the team do more?
The word is that Callaspo's bruise was just that: a bruise. He is expected to be back in the lineup on Friday (but more likely Saturday, with the lefty Buehrle on the mound). I was happy with the acquisition, but he really represents a very marginal upgrade for Oakland. That said, though, there wasn't really anything else that I wanted to see the team do. Any available starting pitcher would have cost a top prospect who I wouldn't want to part with, and I'd rather promote Sonny Gray than trade him for an underwhelming rental or an expensive veteran. The bullpen can be re-stocked internally when needed, and the outfield, while disappointing, is full of players who are supposed to be good and are worth waiting for. The only real hole was in the middle infield, where Jed Lowrie is allergic to defense and Eric Sogard can't hit lefties. There wasn't an ace defender available for shortstop, so Beane went for a better platoon partner for Sogard (Adam Rosales was the odd man out, but he's already back in the organization after a short recon mission to Texas's clubhouse).
Who loses his job in the rotation when Brett Anderson is ready to come back? When will that be?
Right now, it appears that Tommy Milone has fallen out of favor and will probably be the first starter to get the boot. He's actually in AAA right now, but only because multiple off-days allowed the A's to roll with four starters for a couple weeks. The ideal rotation right now would probably include (in no particular order) Colon-Parker-Anderson-Griffin-Straily. If Sonny Gray forces the issue, then Straily would probably be the next one on the chopping block. Indeed, there is speculation that Gray may start in Toronto on Saturday, so maybe he'll take Milone's spot until Anderson is ready.
Anderson's timetable is still a bit of a mystery, as the A's are rightfully being overly cautious with him. He's currently throwing simulated games, and could start a rehab assignment any day now. We could see him by the end of August, but it's just impossible to say because his body is held together using rubber cement and Post-it notes and I think that he once cut himself on a pillow.
Anything else we should know about the A's?
Derek Norris is red hot right now, and Seth Smith and Chris Young are ice cold. The Doolittle/Cook/Balfour connection is rock solid in the late innings, and Dan Otero has been sneaky good so far - no walks in 20 innings this year, with a sub-2 ERA. Catcher John Jaso is out with a concussion, and Stephen Vogt is his current replacement. But most importantly, Eric Sogard, aka the Keebler Elf, aka Nerd Power, has turned himself into a legitimate Major Leaguer. He's actually been an above-average hitter this year (albeit, protected from facing lefties by Melvin's infield platoon), and his defense at 2nd is anywhere from solid to fantastic.