We start a four-game series with the Oakland A’s tonight.
The A’s are 21-22 sitting fourth in the AL West. They are just off a series win against the Red Sox.
The A’s are about league average in scoring runs (4.53 runs per game, 8th in the AL), which isn’t that bad considering the park they play in. They are 11th in runs allowed per game, one spot worse than us (4.88).
I sent off questions to Alex Hall of Athletic’s Nation (just last night, I’m impressed he got back to me so quickly).
Let’s start by asking about a couple of old friends. What’s going on with Sean Nolin, Franklin Barreto and Kendall Graveman?
Kendall Graveman started for the A’s on Opening Day! But now he’s in Triple-A, which is quite a turnaround. He had a rough April so he’s off in the minors getting sorted out, but he’ll surely be back. He recently beat the Yankees in a spot start, so it hasn’t been all bad. Overall these last few years he’s been a decent producer when healthy, but he hasn’t yet reached 190 innings in a season.
Franklin Barreto remains a big part of Oakland’s near-future. He made it up to Triple-A and even debuted in the bigs last summer, hitting a walk-off homer on July 4. He’s striking out a bit too much in Triple-A, but he’s hitting well despite that and at age 22 he’s still got plenty of room to improve. Jed Lowrie is a free agent after the season, if he’s not traded first, so Barreto appears to be the heir apparent at second base -- he’s already pretty much made the move over from shortstop anyway.
Still a bad trade, but Barreto has the chance to remove a lot of the sting if he can pan out into a star.
You have a couple of other old friends, who didn’t come over in the Donaldson trade. How are Brett Anderson and Liam Hendriks doing?
Brett Anderson arrived in late March as a minor league free agent, so, things weren’t going so hot for him at the time. However, he dominated Triple-A while waiting for a spot to open up in the A’s thin rotation, which didn’t take long. Now he’s back in the bigs! He’s only been good once in three starts so far, but Oakland has tried worse and more hopeless options in the recent past. On the bright side, he’s stayed healthy for two full months since signing, which is longer than usual.
Liam Hendriks is an enigma. He strikes out tons of batters, doesn’t walk many, and mostly keeps the ball in the park, and somehow he still consistently gives up runs. His Oakland career includes a sparkling 3.19 FIP but a meh 4.10 ERA. That doesn’t matter right now, though, because he’s on the DL after having a cyst removed from his hip so you won’t see him in this series anyway.
Can you give us a scouting report on the starting pitchers we were likely to see?
Andrew Triggs is fun to watch. He doesn’t throw hard, but he comes at you from a sidearm angle and his pitches loop and dart all over the place. When he’s commanding well he can fool hitters and rack up strikeouts, but he’s susceptible to leaving up some hangers on a bad day. The former reliever doesn’t go that deep into games and hasn’t reached 100 pitches yet this year, but he’s capable of breezing through six efficient innings in that time.
The jury is still out on Brett Anderson. He was good once, OK once, and bad once. He’ll probably be one of those three things in his next start.
Sean Manaea is having a breakout season, highlighted by his no-hitter against the Red Sox. He’s cooled off in May, but overall he’s looking like the top-of-the-rotation arm we hoped he’d turn into. He only throws about 93 mph now after being a power pitcher as a prospect, but his command of his entire arsenal has vastly improved.
Daniel Mengden is finally establishing himself as an MLB starter after a couple years of injuries and inconsistency. Four of his last six outings have been quality starts, and he’s only walked five batters all year (7.2 K/BB). He has a wide arsenal of pitches to choose from, and his fastball can get up as high as 96. You’ll recognize him from his sweet mustache and long, old-timey, over-the-head windup.
So any chance the A’s get a new ballpark in the next few years?
The company line is that they expect to open a new privately financed park in Oakland in 2023. We’ll see! There’s new leadership in charge these last couple years, and so far Athletics Nation likes and has tentative faith in them. Right now they’re in the process of negotiating to outright purchase one or more of their potential stadium sites (including the current Coliseum complex) in order to ensure that they’ll have somewhere to build, which is a big and tangible step forward in their stated commitment to staying in Oakland. But the bottom line is that they haven’t yet settled on a location, much less started building anything.
A few years ago we had a very emotional moment when fan favorite John McDonald, coming back from being with his dying father, hit a home run in his first at bat back. You had a very similar moment with Stephen Piscotty. Can you tell us about it?
Everyone is rooting hard for Piscotty. His story was already touching, with a trade sending him home to the Bay Area to be with his ailing mother, and his homer in his first game back from the bereavement list was the perfect conclusion. He was fighting back tears as he crossed the plate, as was just about anyone watching.
What are your hopes for the A’s this year? You are in a similar spot to the Jays, in a division with two strong favorites in the Astros and Angels, any hope of sneaking into a wild card spot? Or are you looking to the future?
Personally, I just want to finish the season at .500 or better and not in last place. A surprise Wild Card would be nice, and it’s not impossible they could get hot and achieve that, but for now I have my sights set on 2019 and beyond. The thing most likely to hold them back this year is their rotation, which has already suffered several injuries and doesn’t have much margin left for anything else to go wrong (note: something else will always go wrong). The lineup is pretty good already, but its younger components are still maturing and there are several more top prospects on the way in the next 12 months to replace some outgoing veterans. They aren’t serious contenders yet, but they’re headed in the right direction and could get there over the next couple years.
Who is your favorite A to watch?
Matt Chapman is a treasure and the baseball world will know all about him soon enough. He’s got power at the plate, but his true wizardry takes place on defense at third base. He’s got everything from range to reflexes to an unreal throwing arm, and he’s going to lock down the Gold Glove award for the foreseeable future -- last year he was runner-up for the Fielding Bible award despite playing only half the season. He’s game-changing on that side of the ball in a way that’s hard to fully understand until you watch him. If his bat stays league-average then he’s a 5 WAR player, and if he can take a step forward and cut his strikeout rate then I kid you not he has the chance to be even better than Josh Donaldson.