Memorial Day A Stumbling Block For A's

Earlier this decade, the Oakland A's were known as a second half team notorious for surges in August that would lead to playoff berths. Lately, the team has found a way to be pretty competitive up to Memorial Day, then things have fallen apart.

Over the last three seasons, including 2012, Oakland has come into Memorial Day Weekend above or around the .500 mark, only to see their season dwindle away with Memorial Day being the usual tipping point. In 2010, the A's were 28-24 through May and went on to a 10-17 record in June they couldn't recover from. Still, that team finished at 81-81.

In 2011, the A's headed into the third month of the year at 27-29, but fell apart in June once again, going 9-17 in the month. That team underwent a managerial change when it fired Bob Geren and inked Bob Melvin to become the new skipper.

Now, Oakland has lost eight of 10, including six-straight, and is appearing poised for yet another collapse at this stage of the season. The A's record was as high as 18-16 on May 12, but is currently at its low-watermark for the year at 22-27. They've been surpassed by the Los Angeles Angels for second place in the division after LA struggled out of the gates.

But unlike previous seasons, the A's appear to have reinforcements in the wings. Manny Ramirez and Yoenis Cespedes are currently playing for Triple-A Sacramento, and could potentially boost an offense that has the lowest team OPS in the majors at 622. Ramirez has yet to play for Oakland this season after serving a 50-game suspension, but he is eligible to return to the big leagues on Wednesday.

On Monday, the A's issued a statement that Ramirez would not be joining the team that day, and his situation will be evaluated on a day-by-day basis.

Since Cespedes last suited up on May 6, the club has struggled mightily without one of its top power threats, going 7-13 in his absence. He was still taking his lumps in his first go-around in the big leagues, but he was still one of the team's more productive players with a 753 OPS. Hitting behind Josh Reddick in the cleanup spot, Cespedes gave Oakland a formidable power threat in the middle of the lineup.

Cespedes played left field and hit second in his rehab debut with Triple-A Sacramento on Monday. Manager Darren Bush said he wasn't sure if there was anything to having the natural center fielder play in left, aside from keeping his running down after being sidelined for three weeks. But Cespedes struggled on plays where he had to run a long way. With a spacious center field in Oakland, perhaps the team's brass is thinking about returning Coco Crisp to center, where he's been the majority of his career, exhibiting great range.

Ending the season-long losing streak of six-games sooner rather than later is paramount if the A's hope to remain competitive for the entire summer. Playing in Minnesota and Kansas City over the next five days allows the A's an opportunity to regain some momentum before they kick off an important four-game set with the Texas Rangers next Monday in Oakland.

The A's snatched defeat from the jaws of victory Monday when they blew a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning in the series-opening game in Minnesota. Ryan Cook allowed two runs to the Twins, ending his 23-inning streak without allowing a run to start the year, and giving the home team the 5-4 win.

It was a crushing blow to the A's, who not only saw their best reliever fail to help secure the win, but also extended the bad feeling the team had after getting swept over the weekend at home by the New York Yankees.

When the team looks to rebound Tuesday, it will be sending rookie Jarrod Parker to the hill, who has become one of the team's most consistent starting pitchers with Brandon McCarthy on the disabled list nursing a shoulder injury.

Parker (1-2, 3.37) hasn't earned a win since May 1, but is coming off of his best outing of the season last week against the Angels. In seven innings, the right-hander allowed just an earned run on five hits while striking out eight, a career-high.

Since making his first start with the A's since being acquired in the Trevor Cahill deal in the offseason, Parker has only allowed more than two runs in an outing once. He lasted just two frames May 18 in San Francisco when he surrendered six earned runs, but had been dealing with stomach issues that day.

He'll take on Cole De Vries (0-1, 5.40 ERA), who will be making just his second major league start. In his first go May 24 in Chicago, the right-hander allowed three runs in give innings while striking out four. The St. Louis Park, Minn. native will be making his first home start for the team he grew up watching.

De Vries is a five-pitch pitcher, throwing a cutter with the usual assortment, with a fastball averaging 90 MPH in his first start. Originally signed by the Twins as an amateur free agent in 2006, De Vries' numbers in the minor leagues never jumped off the page. He has a career 13-28 record between Double-A and Triple-A, where he allowed 413 hits in 366 innings.

In Wednesday's series finale before Thursday's off day, the Twins will send Francisco Liriano (0-5, 8.47 ERA) against Tyson Ross (2-5 5.79 ERA). Liriano has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, only topping the 190-inning plateau once (2010).

The left-hander had Tommy John surgery in November of 2006 and hasn't appeared to be the same pitcher since. That year, Liriano was one of the hottest pitchers in the American League, posting a 2.16 ERA, yielding just 89 hits in 121 innings. He went on to miss all of 2007, threw just 76 innings in 2008, and failed to find a semblance of consistency over the next three plus seasons.

Wednesday's start will be the first for Liriano since May 7. He's made five relief appearances since, where he's had a 721 OPS against after a dreadful 1024 in six games as a starter. He still has plus stuff, with a fastball above 92 with a heavy change up and slider, but has struggled with his control, allowing nearly seven walks per nine innings.

Ross will look to bounce back with a quality start after allowing 11 hits in just 4.1 innings in his last start against the Yankees. The right-hander has been on the hook for a loss for five of his last seven outings. He has struggled away from Oakland with a 7.11 ERA and .364 average against.

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