Despite the having lost two of the first three series of the young season, the Oakland A's find themselves ahead of the one of the incumbent favorites in the American League standings. But that could all change this week.
Going into their four-game set in Anaheim on Monday night, the A's are 4-6, a half game ahead of the last-place Los Angeles Angels (3-6). A sense of normalcy is still eluding Oakland as the club has yet to use a fifth starter and carries an extra position player on the roster.
As expected, manager Bob Melvin announced Sunday that Tyson Ross will get the call up from Triple-A to start Tuesday, meaning the team is going to have to let go of a position player or work with a six-man bullpen for the time being. The latter is unlikely, making first baseman Kila Ka'aihue and outfielder Collin Cowgill the presumed candidates to be removed from the roster to make room for Ross.
Given the small sample size of the new season, it's tough to make decisions solely based on statistics. But it's also tough to ignore a player who has made the most of his opportunity. Ka'aihue is that player. The first basemen is 6-for-12 in limited duty after collecting three hits in Sunday's loss to Seattle. The left-handed hitter's success might be easier to ignore if the team was hitting well. But after Sunday, the A's are averaging just 2.5 runs per game and hitting .200 as a team.
Ka'aihue has struggled defensively, however, making it tough to start him over Daric Barton, who is above-average with the glove. Sunday's loss was another example of the team's defensive struggles thus far, making it tough justify sacrificing Barton's defense. If Oakland is determined to keep Ka'aihue in the lineup, he could get some at-bats as a designated hitter. Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes have shared that role thus far. Given the team's lack of offensive punch, a shakeup could be in order.
Cowgill is one of Melvin's favorite players on the roster, providing lots of versatility and energy off the bench. He can play all three outfield positions and is a good pinch-running option in close games. Cowgill has yet to get a hit this year in his four at-bats, but he has walked three times.
Monday's game in Anaheim features both teams' aces with Brandon McCarthy taking on Jered Weaver. McCarthy (0-1, 2.50 ERA) has yet to replicate his first start in Japan, his best of the season, and is looking to sharpen up after allowing 13 hits in 11 innings during his last two starts. The right-hander has struggled during his career against the Halos, going 1-2 with a .312 average against and 1.52 WHIP. He's winless in Angels Stadium, and the Angels have hit .365 against him while he has posted an ERA of 6.00.
The two teams are known for playing each other tightly, despite Oakland's struggles in recent years. Weaver (1-0, 3.21 ERA) is just 6-7 against his Northern California rivals, but has a very good ERA of 2.85, allowing hitters a .232 average. Weaver throws a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. His hard slider is his go-to off-speed pitch, with an average velocity just above 81 MPH.
The Long Beach State alum is coming off a no-decision in Minnesota, where he allowed five runs in six innings. On April 6 in Anaheim, he threw eight-scoreless innings against the Royals in a 5-0 victory.
Ross makes his major league season debut on Tuesday, when goes up against former A's right-hander Dan Haren. Ross made two starts for Triple-A Sacramento earlier this season, allowing 10 hits in nine innings combined with four strikeouts. River Cats manager Darren Bush said he thought Ross threw better than his numbers indicated. The hard-throwing right-hander is looking to return to form after an injury shortened his 2011 season.
Haren (0-1, 6.97 ERA) struggled in his first two outings, allowing 20 hits in 10.1 innings combined. But hitters have batted just .229 against him at Angels Stadium in his career, however, making the light-hitting A's a candidate to help the former All-Star return to form. In his career against Oakland, Haren is 2-2 with a 3.79 ERA. Haren features a fastball, curveball and hard-breaking splitter.
Former Angel Bartolo Colons goes in game three against Ervin Santana on Wednesday. Santana (0-2, 7.71) has gotten off to a slow start in 2012, allowing 10 earned runs in 11.2 innings. The hard-throwing righty has struggled with his control, throwing nearly 45 percent of his pitches for balls and falling behind in the count.
Colon (2-1, 3.72) is hoping he can string together a pair of very good outings. All three of the 15-year veteran's starts this year have come against the Mariners. He sandwiched two outstanding efforts around a subpar one in Oakland on April 7. When he's been on, he's pounded the strike zone with two different fastballs while mixing in very few off-speed pitches.
Colon is returning to the place where he won the Cy Young Award in 2005. For his career, Colon is 28-22 with a 4.40 ERA in Anaheim.
Thursday's series finale features two talented lefties in Tom Milone and C.J. Wilson. Wilson signed a 5-year, $77.5 million free-agent contract during the off-season after playing for Texas his previous seven seasons. Wilson made his disdain for A's fans public last season with disparaging remarks about the attendance at the Coliseum in August. He also criticized the mound. But he'll be throwing in his native Southern California, where he's 5-5 with a 3.57 ERA and .247 average against at Angels Stadium lifetime.
Milone made his A's debut on April 9 by throwing eight shutout innings in a win over Kansas City. In his second start against Seattle, the strike-throwing southpaw allowed four runs in six innings Saturday in Seattle. Milone has four pitches at his disposal, including a cutter, curveball and changeup.
The Angels are far too talented up and down their roster to continue the subpar play that's earned them last place thus far. They are still looking for their first series win of the season and are coming back from a six-game road trip where they lost 4-of-6 in Minnesota and New York.
The team is hitting just .258/.306/.387 with a 693 OPS thus far but will surely turn things around. Albert Pujols is hitting just .243/.300/.324 and his nine homerless games marks the longest he's gone into a season without hitting a homer in his career.
The Halos are a sleeping giant that has gotten off to a poor start to the year. Oakland has also gotten off to a lackluster start, but its talent level doesn't come close to that of its American League West rival. It will be a good test and opportunity to build early-season confidence on the road for the A's, who are playing like the team most expected them to be early on.
The A's will have a conventional 25-man roster for the first time on Tuesday. Then roles will become more clearly defined making it easier for players to develop a routine and find their comfort levels.