Preview of Games Three and Four of the Series
September's schedule includes numerous challenges for the up-start Oakland A's, who are looking for their first postseason berth since 2006. For a young team, a premium is placed on confidence and momentum. The struggling Cleveland Indians are providing just that for A's as they head into the season's final month.
Oakland's pitching staff has shutout the Tribe in the first two games of the four-game series. Cleveland has averaged just over three runs a game during their awful stretch through August where the club has gone 5-21. With the A's losing an effective starting pitcher in Bartolo Colon, they couldn't have asked for a better team to play four-straight games against before the club returns home for a pair of important series against the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels.
Coming into Wednesday's action, the A's are tied with Baltimore in the Wild Card standings with the two teams leading the Rays by a game and a half.
On Wednesday the versatile Travis Blackley (4-3, 3.52 ERA) gets the nod for Oakland, taking the place of Colon. Tyson Ross took Colon's place last week, but he struggled in his outing against Tampa Bay and was optioned back to Triple-A Sacramento to begin working out of the bullpen to become a possible option for the A's in September.
Blackley has been one of the many surprise contributors for the A's, who have made their living off productivity from unsuspected places in 2012. Originally claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants, Blackley's value has been his ability to keep his team in ball games while eating up valuable innings. His numbers are better out of the bullpen, but his 4.04 ERA in 11 starts has helped the A's out in major way.
The left-hander's last appearance came in relief on August 20 against the Twins. Although the A's lost 7-2, Blackley came into the game with just one out in the fourth inning, but managed to finish off the game allowing a single run on five hits after Brandon McCarthy struggled. That gives Blackley nine days of rest after he threw just 69 pitches.
Blackley will take on rookie Corey Kluber (0-2, 5.32 ERA) who will be making just his sixth major league start. The right-hander started against the A's when the Indians were visiting Oakland earlier this month, allowing four runs in five innings, including a two-run homer by Yoenis Cespedes.
Kluber is coming off a solid outing against a vaunted Yankees offense. He allowed the Bronx Bombers to score just once in his five innings of work while accumulating six strikeouts. The 26-year-old has good stuff, with a fastball averaging above 93, but he has a tendency to allow too many fly balls. Walks have also been an issue, with an average of more than 3.5 per nine innings in his starts with Cleveland this year.
The A's will send Jarrod Parker (8-7, 3.52 ERA) to the hill in Thursday's series finale. He will face off against Just Masterson (10-11, 4.60 ERA) in a rematch of the A's 7-0 win on August 19.
Parker was outstanding two starts ago against the Indians when he tossed eight shutout innings to rebound after three-straight losses. He wasn't quite as good against Tampa Bay (allowing three runs in six innings), but threw well enough to keep the A's in the game and allow them to come back and win with a run in the seventh and two in the eighth after the Rays had taken a 3-2 lead in the fifth.
The right-hander was outstanding to kick off his major league career with the A's, but he saw a decline in his numbers in July and to start August, which could have caused by fatigue. But he's shown better command of the edges of the strike zone lately and will be an important player for the A's during the stretch run.
Masterson got lit up in Oakland the last time the two young hurlers squared off. Coco Crisp – who will return to the lineup for Wednesday's game after missing Tuesday's game with a sore foot caused by fouling a ball off his foot on Monday – had three hits in the game, including a three-run homer off Masterson. Brandon Moss also homered in that game, and is coming off a solid performance on Tuesday when he went 2-for-5 with his 14th long ball of the season.
The Original Article
The Oakland A's recent series win over their Wild Card rival, the Tampa Bay Rays, has put them in a great position heading into this week's four-game tilt with the Cleveland Indians. The A's come into the series tied for the second Wild Card position with Baltimore – who have four games against the first-place Chicago White Sox. The Rays, meanwhile, take on the team with the American League's best record, the Texas Rangers.
If last weekend's sweep over the Tribe in Oakland is any indication of what's to come, then the A's have to be licking their chops at the chance to ground in the standings before returning home to take on the decidedly different looking Boston Red Sox.
Oakland has rebounded after a lull during their six-game road trip to Chicago and Kansas City earlier in the month to take eight of their last 10 games and improve to 12 games above the .500 mark. They haven't reached that mark since finishing 2006 at 93-69 while riding Frank Thomas' monster year into the postseason.
Since leaving Oakland last Sunday, the Tribe has continued to reel. They were swept by the Seattle Mariners and then lost two of three to the New York Yankees at home. Cleveland is looking to unhook the anchor that has continued to pull them down to the depths of the AL standings. Once a contender in the AL Central, the Indians are 11-31 in the second half and have lost 23-of-28.
Less than a week removed from the news of Bartolo Colon's suspension, the A's pitching situation remains very fluid and provides an interesting dilemma before rosters expand September 1, this upcoming Saturday.
A's manager Bob Melvin announced Monday that Travis Blackley would get the start Wednesday after Tyson Ross struggled in his start in Tampa Bay on Thursday. Ross was sent down to Sacramento after that start and has been moved to the bullpen in what is likely a permanent switch for the right-hander. The use of Blackley as the starter on Wednesday makes in likely Brandon McCarthy will get the start in the series finale on regular rest, although no announcement has been made.
Third base continues to be a topic of discussion for the A's as well with Brandon Inge set to return from his shoulder injury soon. Josh Donaldson cooled off against the Rays after getting five hits in 11 at-bats in the prior series against the Twins. But a good showing in Cleveland could force the A's to find ways to keep him in the lineup when Inge returns.
One possibility is putting Inge at second base, where he made six appearances with the Tigers earlier this year. Second base is a position the A's have struggled to get much production from this year. Another is to allow Donaldson to assume the backup catching duties and also get at-bats as a designated hitter. Regardless, it will be a tough juggle considering what Inge has meant to the chemistry of the team since arriving in late-April. He's been one of the team's most clutch hitters – with a 1018 OPS with runners in scoring position – despite relatively poor number across the board.
In Monday's first game, the pitching match-up will feature Brett Anderson's (1-0, 1.29) second start since returning from Tommy John surgery. After looking good in his first outing against the Twins, Anderson was afforded an extra day's rest with the team's off-day on Sunday. He allowed just one run on four hits in seven innings in his first start. Anderson had six strikeouts without registering a walk.
It was only one start, but it appears Anderson's pitching habits have changed in a pretty sizable way since injuring his elbow in 2011. Instead of relying heavily on his slider, he incorporated more curveballs (by more than doubling the ratio he threw them in his last start as opposed to 2011) while cutting down his slider usage by more than 10 percent. The rest of his pitch selection was on par with previous seasons, but it's clear that the lefty's hard slider is likely to be used more sparingly – at least until he regains complete strength in his elbow.
Anderson will take on Roberto Hernandez (0-2, 6.75 ERA) who has had a roller coaster career with the Indians. The 31-year-old right-hander will be making his third start in 2012 after allowing a combined nine earned runs over his 12 innings since being promoted from Triple-A Columbus. He missed the first four months of the season after he was arrested in the Dominican Republic for identity fraud. He was formally known as Fausto Carmona.
Hernandez' best season came in 2007 when he posted a 3.06 ERA in 32 starts for the Tribe, but he saw that number balloon up to a 5.44 ERA and a 6.32 ERA over the next two years before putting together an All-Star season in 2010.
Zach McAllister (5-4, 3.50) gets the nod for the Indians in Tuesday's second game. It will be a rematch of August 17's 6-4 loss to Tom Milone (10-9, 3.87 ERA). McAllister threw well in his most recent start against the Mariners, but didn't get enough support from his offense or his bullpen to keep the team from losing. He allowed a run on just three hits in six innings.
Milone got the no decision in the previous match-up against Cleveland. In his last start, he was able to put together his first good outing in four starts when he threw eight innings of two-hit ball against Minnesota to give him his 10th win of the season. The A's hope Milone's last start is a sign that he has turned a corner from his previous 24 innings, in which he had a 7.50 ERA.