A's Look To Keep Swinging In Anaheim

Many pundits have pegged the Los Angeles Angels as the team that will unseat the Oakland A's as the AL West champions in 2013. The A's get their first regular season look at their Southern California rivals this week in a three-game set. Which team will flash championship form?

The Oakland A's are typically a slow-starting team, so it's awfully unlike them to put up prodigious power numbers this early in the season. But thanks to an improved and maturing roster, the A's have slugged themselves into the lead in the American League West.

Oakland heads to Southern California to take on the star-studded Los Angeles Angels Tuesday with a five-game winning streak on the line, thanks to a lineup that leads the AL in almost every important offensive category.

The season is only a week old and the A's benefited greatly from playing three games against the lowly Houston Astros. But considering the way the team hit to start 2012, A's manager Bob Melvin and his staff have to be encouraged about the offense early on.

Aside from the small-sample role reversal going on between the A's and Angels, the focus in Anaheim will be on the health of Josh Reddick's right wrist. Reddick sprained that wrist while going for a foul ball late in Sunday's win over Houston with the game well in hand. He is said to be day-to-day, but could miss the series as the A's will likely take caution with the injury so early in the season.

Club executives took notice of Reddick's all-out style of play in the offseason and did relatively well to insulate themselves from an outfield injury when they acquired Chris Young in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Young is a starter in a bench-player's costume with his new team, and he will have an opportunity to get extended at-bats after starting out the year hitting .308/.500/.846 with a pair of homers in four appearances.

When it's not Young in right – or at designated hitter – it will likely be Seth Smith replacing Reddick. Smith is also off to a nice start in 2013. He has four hits in 13 at-bats in limited duty and has been used as a designated hitter in three of his four games.

The A's come into the series atop the AL in runs (38), doubles (16) and homers (12). The Angels, with a lineup packed with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo, find themselves in the middle of the pack offensively, but project to be right at the top of each category by year's end.

The Angels spent their winter revamping a pitching staff that let down their offense and ranked No. 24 in WAR in 2012. Their starting rotation is 60 percent new, with Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton joining perennial A's-killer Jered Weaver and Oakland public enemy C.J. Wilson.

Hanson joins the fray as a former top-prospect who has been hampered by injuries. He has seen velocity drops that worried his original team, the Atlanta Braves, enough to trade the 26-year-old for the modest price of reliever Jordan Walden. Vargas came from Seattle in a one-for-one trade for Kendrys Morales, who was deemed expendable with the emergence of Trumbo. Blanton, the former A's starter, arrived via free agency, signing a two-year, $15 million deal with an option for 2015.

The Achilles heal for last year's Angels team was the bullpen that blew 22 saves and converted just 63 percent of opportunities. The Angels ended up finishing five games behind the division-winning A's and could have easily squashed Oakland's title hopes had their bullpen performed at an average level.

Chris Davis might have won the AL Player of the Week award for his incredible RBI output, but Jed Lowrie's name had to have been in the discussion after his first week with his new team. The A's new shortstop hit .500 with four doubles and three homers in the first seven games while displaying the upside club executives saw from the former Red Sox and Astros player.

It's a very small sample, but it would appear Lowrie is becoming a big upgrade offensively at shortstop, a position where the A's got minimal contributions last season. While he won't hit the 69 homers he's on pace for, Lowrie could reach 20, a number the A's would be very pleased with. Lowrie will need to he stay healthy, which he hasn't done well throughout his six-year career. Lowrie's per-162 game numbers level out to about 17 homers, but he's never played more than 97 games in a season.

Tuesday's first game will see Jarrod Parker (0-1, 7.20 ERA) take on Wilson (0-0, 4.50 ERA). Parker will be working on six days' rest after throwing a career-high in innings last season as a rookie, giving him plenty of time to reflect on his poor outing against Seattle to start the season.

The right-hander didn't have good command in the 7-1 loss, but he will have a chance to redeem himself against a club he threw well against in 2012. Parker went just 1-2 versus the Angels, but allowed less hits than innings pitched while compiling 5.25 strikeouts for every walk against the Angels' potent lineup. For whatever reason, that number was up significantly from his 2.22 clip for the year.

Wilson's three earned runs allowed in his first start came on a Brandon Phillips' homer en route to his first loss. The southpaw walked four hitters in his five innings, emblematic of last season when he struggled with his walk rate. In 2012, Wilson struggled with blisters on his throwing hand and elbow issues that led to surgery in October.

After signing Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million deal prior to last season, the Angels were expecting a starter that would provide a WAR of better than 4.0, which is where he was in his final two seasons in Texas. With better health and an improved bullpen, Wilson should fare better in 2013 and will look to start his run of consistency against a familiar foe in the A's.

On Wednesday, Blanton will, for the first time, take on the organization that drafted him in the first round. The right-hander signed an expensive contract and will be asked to eat innings in the back-end of the rotation. He dealt with an elbow impingement that caused him to miss significant time in 2011 for the first time his in his career, but came back to log 191 innings last year between the Phillies and Dodgers. Dating back to his time with the A's, Blanton has a very solid 2.61 ERA and 652 OPS against at Angels Stadium.

Tommy Milone (1-0, 2.57 ERA) will toe the slab for Oakland. He will be making his first road start of the season after pitching well in his season-opener against Seattle at home. Milone allowed two first-inning homers, but come back to throw six-straight shutout innings where he allowed just two hits.

The lefty made three starts against the Angels in 2012, finishing 2-1 with a 4.80 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. The Angels right-handed-heavy lineup matches up well with Milone, who allowed 15 homers and 30 doubles to right-handed hitters last year. Milone's hefty home and road splits evened out during the season after the discrepancy was enormous to start the year, so he will be looking to get off to a good start on the road.

A.J. Griffin (1-0, 3.00 ERA) will get the nod on getaway day, taking on Vargas (0-0, 1.59 ERA) who had good success against the A's as a Mariner. Vargas made six starts against Oakland last year, allowing just 26 hits in 41.1 innings. The left-hander will be facing a much different lineup, but shouldn't lack in confidence, especially while making his first home start as an Angel. Vargas is from Apple Valley and went to Long Beach State.

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