Oakland outscored arguably the best offense in baseball, 23-8, en route to winning three of the four games versus Texas. But the Rangers are now in a rough patch after a stellar April, having lost eight of their last 12. Their lead has shrunk to just four games over the Los Angeles Angels.
Yoenis Cespedes suffered an injury to his hamstring while rounding second base in Thursday's win. He was contributing heavily to the A's lineup, riding a six-at-bat hitting streak before being taken out of the game after his first plate appearance. Since coming off the disabled list June 1, the slugging rookie was 10-for-26 (.384) and one of the few bright spots in the clubs lineup.
For now, Cespedes is listed as day-to-day, but should he be forced to take another trip to the DL, the A's will have an interesting decision to make. They could call up Michael Taylor, who has had an outstanding year at the plate for Triple-A Sacramento. Taylor is hitting .327/.424/.480 with three home runs and 10 stolen bags.
Taylor has attributed some of his struggles over the last few seasons to trying to hit for too much power. His 6'5" frame says he should hit a good share of home runs, but the Stanford alum has seen better numbers while working on staying in the middle of the field and hitting solid line drives. He goes into extended slumps when he tries to get lift on balls he hits. But this season, Taylor has ditched his attempt to try to hit home runs and has instead worked on pitch recognition and approach.
His three home runs might not be ideal for a corner outfield position, but Taylor's currently in the midst of his productive season since coming to the A's organization before the 2010 season.
Another option to replace Cespedes could be Daric Barton, who fell out of favor with his struggles recently and was demoted to Triple-A Sacramento after struggling while splitting time with recently released Kila Ka'aihue. Barton was hitting just .198/.325/.283 with the A's in limited duty and became the logical candidate for a demotion when the club needed to reinstate Brandon McCarthy from the disabled list last weekend in Kansas City. The other candidate, Collin Cowgill, was simply hitting too well at the time to be demoted.
The A's brought up Brandon Moss from Triple-A Sacramento earlier this week to take over first base duties with Ka'aihue DFA'd and Barton down in Triple-A. Moss had been primarily an outfielder with the River Cats, but had 13 starts at first base. If Barton was recalled, it's likely Moss would see time back in the outfield or at designated hitter with Barton being the best defensive option at the position in the organization.
On Friday, Oakland begins its second interleague series of the season. The A's went to San Francisco and lost two of three to the cross-Bay rival Giants. This time, the club travels to its spring training location in Phoenix to take on the Diamondbacks.
Arizona has a relatively young roster with some very intriguing players. Justin Upton is one of the most talented outfielders in all of baseball and he made his debut in the big leagues as a 19-year-old super prospect. He's off to a slow start this year, hitting just .243/.340/.365 with five home runs and eight stolen bags. But his numbers in 2011 made him a National League MVP candidate, when he hit 31 home runs and stole 21 bases.
Another player with star potential is first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The 24-year-old made his debut in the big leagues last year, jumping straight from Double-A. His impact was felt immediately by hitting eight home runs in 177 plate appearances, with a slash line of .250/.333/.474. This year, he has improved his OPS to 872 while sharing time at first base with Lyle Overbay. His .193 average in April contributed heavily to the need to split at-bats with the left-handed hitting Overbay, but he got hot in May (.314) and even hotter in June (.450 with three home runs). He'll likely get the majority of starts at first base and force Overbay to defensive replacement duty in later innings.
Friday's series opener will feature a pair of promising, young starting pitchers. Arizona will send Daniel Hudson (2-1, 4.65) against Tommy Milone (6-5, 3.53). Milone's home and away splits have been well documented, but remain a very important discussion point to his first full season in the big leagues. At home, he's 4-1 with a 0.98 ERA. On the road, he's 2-4 with a 6.23 ERA. The O.Co Coliseum is a very good place to pitch, but not enough to explain such a disparity in the numbers. It's likely those numbers will even out as the season progresses.
But more than two months into the season, the A's should expect to see better performances from the 25-year-old on the road. Chase Field is a good place to hit, so it will be important for Milone to have a good outing to help build confidence for road starts going forward.
Hudson missed the latter portion of April and most of May with an impingement in his throwing shoulder. He has made two starts since being reinstated from the DL and has allowed four earned runs on 11 hits in 13 innings (2.77 ERA). He was acquired by the D-Backs in the trade that sent Edwin Jackson to the White Sox in 2010.
Hudson has a power arm with a fastball averaging better than 93 MPH, a hard slider and changeup. He went 16-12 last year in 222 innings, proving to be a valuable piece of the rotation going forward.
Saturday night's game two of the series will be a must-watch for those trying to decide whether or not the A's made the right move in trading Trevor Cahill (3-5, 3.45) for Jarrod Parker (2-2, 2.40). The two will face off, marking it the first time both pitchers take on their former clubs.
Cahill made his debut with the A's as a 21-year-old in 2009 who hadn't pitched above Double-A. The sinker-baller had his best season in the majors in 2010, when he went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA. But some attribute those numbers to luck with an abnormally low BABIP of .236 and FIP of 4.19. What helped that case was Cahill's next season, when his ERA dropped to 4.16 while his FIP stayed virtually the same. He struggled with his control, seeing an increase in his walk numbers.
It's likely the drop in Cahill's production worried the A's, who jumped at the chance to get a starter as talented as Parker in the offseason. That swap also brought over Ryan Cook, who has been the team's best reliever in 2012.
Cahill's walk numbers are up even more this season, averaging 3.71 (up from 3.55) per nine innings for his new NL club. He's lost three of his last four decisions, but is coming off a complete game shutout of the Padres, where he allowed just six hits and three walks with five punch-outs.
Parker hasn't allowed a run in his last two outings while only allowing one in his start against the Angels May 23. Since yielding six runs in two innings to the Giants with an upset stomach May 18, the right-hander has an ERA of just 0.43 with 18 strikeouts in his last 21 innings.
There is slight concern with Parker's control, however. He has walked less than four in just four of his eight starts. But if he keeps allowing runs at his current minuscule clip, the A's will not have any problem penciling him in every fifth day.
Sunday's series finale will feature Arizona's veteran lefty Joe Saunders (3-4, 3.65) against left-hander Travis Blackley (0-1, 3.45). Blackley has done well since being thrown into the rotation when Graham Godfrey struggled in his return to Oakland from Sacramento back in mid-May, considering he was acquired as a long-reliever off waivers.
He will be looking to rebound after lasting just 4.2 innings and allowing five runs on seven hits against the Rangers on Tuesday. He only allowed one run combined over his previous two outings – one relief appearance against the Angels going 3.2 innings allowing three hits, and a start in Minnesota where he allowed a run in five innings.
Blackley fits the "crafty lefty" mold with a fastball averaging around 90 and three off-speed pitches. The 29-year-old Australian holds an important role in the club's rotation for the time being. It's unlikely the club looks at Blackley as a permanent solution as a starter. It's more likely he's a placeholder until the club feels comfortable enough with Tyson Ross to stick him back in the rotation after he struggled to find consistency earlier in the year before getting demoted to Sacramento.
Conversely, the A's could be waiting to see what becomes of Brad Peacock, who projects to be a major league starter at some point over the next two seasons, but still needs more refinement in the minors while working on a fourth pitch: a cutter/slider hybrid.
Saunders was acquired by Arizona when the team traded Dan Haren to the Angels before the deadline in 2010. The left-hander has a long history against the A's after being a former division rival, making 18 starts and going 12-4 with a 3.44 ERA against them. In his six years in Anaheim, Saunders had an ERA of 4.29 but he has since improved that number to 3.81 in his three years in the National League.
This season, Saunders has abandoned his slider and has stuck to his curveball and changeup as secondary pitches off his 89 MPH fastball. The slider was a pitched he struggled with throughout his career, consistently having a negative pitch value throughout his career, according to Fangraphs.