After losing a series their Bay Area rivals over the weekend, the Oakland A's have hit a rough patch, losing four of their last six games. On Monday, the battered A's return to Oakland to face the struggling Los Angeles Angels.
The A's finished 3-4 on their recent seven-game stint away from the Coliseum and find themselves sitting at .500 for the season. After Friday night's 8-6 loss to the Giants, the A's were 20-20 after 40 games for the third-straight year. In 2011, the A's finished 74-81 while finishing at an even .500 in 2010.
The results of the 2010 and 2011 seasons alone indicate that Oakland is a tough team to figure out. Are they overachieving at this point in the year – or are they a young team on the rise that could surprise the baseball world as the summer unfolds? There are far too many unknowns to know after just 42 games.
Injuries could possibly play the biggest role in determining the A's success. They made it through April virtually unscathed, but have lost four important players – Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Inge and, most recently, Brandon McCarthy – since the calendar changed.
Crisp had been struggling in 2012 (.194/.260/.209), but was one of the team's most important players in 2011 when he stole 49 bases and tied for the team lead in runs with 69. Cespedes was blossoming into a consistent power threat out of the cleanup spot, protecting Josh Reddick while Reddick put up of the best numbers of his young career. Inge drove in 17 runs in just 11 games since coming over from Detroit while providing momentary stability to a position the A's were desperate to find production from.
On Sunday, McCarthy became the latest A's player to hit the 15-day DL after suffering a strain in his pitching shoulder. The staff ace had won three-straight decisions by allowing three runs in 20.2 innings. He was forced to skip a start last week against Toronto after feeling discomfort in his shoulder during a bullpen session the weekend before. After his prolonged rest, he went out and struck out 10 Detroit Tigers in seven scoreless-innings, his best outing of the year.
McCarthy has had a series of issues with his shoulder in the past, which has to be a cause for concern for the A's, given they don't have much, if any, proven depth in the starting pitching department. There are plenty of talented starting pitchers within the A's minor league system, but most are still in the developmental stages in their young careers. Graham Godfrey, the A's fourth starter when the season opened, is likely to return to the A's rotation from Triple-A Sacramento to take McCarthy's spot in the rotation for the time being.
Godfrey has thrown well since being demoted to Sacramento in April to make room for Jarrod Parker. In 29.2 innings, Godfrey has allowed four earned runs and walked just five. But he doesn't have plus stuff, giving him a small margin for error. He relies on deception, pitch variability and location. Godfrey struggled with his command in his 16 innings with the A's in April, ultimately leading to his trip to Sacramento.
McCarthy was Oakland's most consistent starter. A chance at sustaining a record close to, or above, .500 throughout the year takes a significant hit should he be forced to miss an extended period of time with his shoulder injury. Godfrey's ceiling leans more to that of a back end of the rotation starter, giving him pretty big shoes to fill in replacing the staff ace.
After Godfrey, Brad Peacock would likely be the next in line to fill a spot in the rotation. In most of his starts for Triple-A Sacramento this season, the right-hander acquired from Washington in the Gio Gonzalez trade has been very good, as his 5-1 record would indicate. But in others, he has not. In his last two outings, he's allowed nine earned runs in 12 innings, pushing his ERA to 4.17, while still having a good FIP of 3.07.
River Cats pitching coach Scott Emerson has spent time working with Peacock on consistency stemming from pregame preparation. Peacock has taken a liking to his new routine since coming to the organization, but is still lacking stabilized success at the Triple-A level before making the jump to the big leagues. At this point, it is unknown how much Peacock can help the A's down the road this season should they need to add yet another starting pitcher to the 25-man roster.
The Angles bring their struggles to Oakland from San Diego after losing two of three to the Padres over the weekend. The Angels are now 7-14 on the road this season. It's been a baffling year for manager Mike Scoscia, who has seen his bullpen and star free agent acquisition continue to fail him in the early going.
At 18-24, the Halos find themselves in last place in the American League West. The bullpen has combined to go 1-7 with a 4.02 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 1.81 strikeout-to-walk ratio, blowing six save opportunities and converting just five.
But those struggles haven't been dissected as intensely as Albert Pujols' since joining his new club in the offseason. The future Hall of Famer's slash line in almost incomprehensible (.211/.256/.313) with a career-low 569 OPS. His OPS is one of the lowest of any of the regulars in the lineup.
In Monday's series opener, the Angels will trot out Jerome Williams (4-1, 3.86 ERA), who has done well as his club's fifth starter. He has walked just 11 hitters in 46.2 innings and has lasted 6.2 innings or longer in each of his starts except his first back on April 15. He has struggled away from Anaheim in his two starts, however, allowing hitters a .323 average and 1041 OPS. Williams was in the A's system as recently as 2009, appearing in 27 games for the River Cats before Oakland decided not to tender him a contract and he signed with the Angels.
Williams will take on southpaw Tom Milone (5-3, 4.09 ERA), who is a different pitcher on his home mound. He has only allowed 11 hits in his 23 innings thrown at the Coliseum, while he's given up 33 in 27.2 on the road. He has allowed just one earned run at home. Milone made a start in Anaheim on April 19, allowing two runs in 5.0 innings on seven hits. That was one of Pujols' good games at the plate – he hit two doubles against Milone.
The A's still haven't announced the starter for game two, but all signs point to Godfrey after he was lifted just 3.2 innings into his last start with Sacramento on Friday. He only faced 12 batters, meaning he should be good to go on just three day's rest. Before being optioned to Sacramento April 21, Godfrey was 0-3 with a 5.06 ERA and 1.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio with Oakland.
The Angels will start C.J. Wilson (4-4, 3.35 ERA) in game two of the series. The lefty signed a five-year, $77.5 million contract to return to his native Southern California and pitch for the Angels after spending the first seven years of his career with the Texas Rangers.
Wilson has five pitches, including a plus fastball and cutter. In past years, he used his slider far more frequently than in 2012. This year, he's throwing changeups 10 percent of the time after throwing them at just a 6.7 percent rate last year. He has struggled of late, combining to throw just 9.2 innings in his last three starts while giving up seven earned runs. Making a return start in Texas for the first time, Wilson lasted just a third of inning, allowing four runs and three hits before being lifted after a nearly two-hour rain delay was deemed too long by Scioscia to send him back out.
Famous for voicing his displeasure with pitching in the Coliseum, Wilson owns a career 4-6 mark against the A's and a 3.30 ERA at the Coliseum.
Wednesday's series finale will feature Jarrod Parker (1-2, 3.90 ERA) and Angels' ace Jared Weaver (6-1, 2.80 ERA). Parker is coming off his worst start as a major leaguer on Friday, when he allowed six earned runs in just two innings. He is winless in his last three outings, allowing 10 runs in 14.2 innings. The leading indicator in Parker's effectiveness has been his walk rate. In his first 13 innings, he walked just three. In his last 14.2, he has walked 13.
Parker has the stuff to become a top of the rotation pitcher – maybe even an ace – should he improve his command. He has plus stuff, two different fastballs and two put-away quality put-away pitches. But for him to hold a place in the A's rotation he'll need to figure out a way to command all of them.
Weaver could be a Cy Young candidate in the early going, having earned wins in six of his nine starts, including a no-hitter against the Twins on May 2. Despite being just 7-7 against the A's in his career, Weaver has a 2.71 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. But he hasn't been nearly as effective on the road as at home this season, allowing 16 earned runs and 30 hits in 28.1 innings.
Despite his 6'7" frame, Weaver isn't the power pitcher he appears to be, at least not with his fastball. His fastball comes in at just above 88 MPH on average this season, but he is throwing a heavy slider at better than 81. He is throwing less curveballs than in years past, while increasing the use of his changeup up to 15 percent of his pitches.