A's Hoping To Continue Strong April Start

After a quick six-game homestand, the Oakland A's are on the road again, this time with their first East Coast swing of the season. The A's start their trip in Tampa, where they take on the always dangerous Rays, who are looking to shake off a slow start to what many anticipated being a playoff season. Chris Biderman previews the series.

The Oakland A's (12-4) couldn't have asked for a better start to their season. The team has flipped the script on last year's miserable offensive struggles and finds itself with the most wins in the American League. The offensive output has been enormous, as the A's 96 runs are 20 more than the Tigers, who are second in the AL in scoring.

Oakland has benefited from playing nine games against the struggling Angels and Astros - and has taken advantage by winning each one. But in seven home games against the Mariners and Tigers, the A's are 3-4.

For now, the A's offense has been able to stave off the notion of a small sample size – despite the usual measurables – because it has continued a torrid run that dates back to last June, when the A's suddenly became one of the most dangerous offensive teams in baseball.

Oakland has scored runs using both their power and their legs. The team is third in the AL in homers with 20 and first in the league in team slugging percentage with a .464 mark. Their 40 doubles lead baseball. The A's also led baseball in stolen bases with 15 and they have been caught just three times.

But as the offensive numbers start to level out, so could the A's record. Oakland currently has four players with an OPS above 1000 (Seth Smith, Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie and Derek Norris) and those players figure to fall back to their career-averages at some point. At the same time, the A's normal three-four hitters (Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes) have struggled to start the year and Cespedes is on the DL. Their production is likely to increase as the season goes on, which should help fight against a total regression by the A's offense as a unit.

The A's offense has masked a deficiencies with the team's starting pitching this season. Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker, the club's top-two starters, have earned each of the team's four losses. Considering the expectations coming in, their struggles are a bit alarming. Anderson didn't appear healthy in his last start, as his velocity was down and his command was erratic. He gave up three homers and admitted his signature slider was the worst it's ever been, en route to allowing seven runs to the Tigers. It should be noted that it was Anderson's first start after bruising the thumb on his pitching hand in Houston. Anderson had pitched well in his first two starts before the Detroit outing.

Parker's struggles are of concern on a different level. He appears healthy, but is having command issues that have been bad enough that they could warrant a demotion to the minors if he can't turn things around. The right-hander showed the ability to hit his spots consistently in stretches last year and he was expected to take the next step in his progression this season. His presence atop the rotation was supposed to ease the loss of Brandon McCarthy. So far, however, he has averaged over six walks per nine innings and has a 10.80 ERA.

Anderson and Parker are slated to pitch the first two games of the series against Tampa Bay, taking on Alex Cobb (1-1, 1.93 ERA) and Jeremy Hellickson (0-1, 4.91 ERA), respectively.

The Rays come into the series at a disappointing 5-10, good for last in the AL East. They're 2-8 in their last 10 games and have struggled offensively, scoring a little more than three runs a game while having an AL-worst 640 team OPS.

No one seems to be panicking yet in Tampa, however, as the club always seems to find plenty of pitching and has to be encouraged by the start of left-hander Matt Moore and the health of superstar Evan Longoria. Most still expect the Rays to be in the thick of the AL East race as the season closes.

The Rays have experienced similar struggles to the A's atop their rotation, as left-handed ace David Price is has a 6.26 ERA and a miserable 62 ERA+. Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto Carmona), set to go in the series' final game on Sunday, hasn't fared much better. The right-hander has a 5.79 ERA.

Hernandez will take on Tommy Milone (3-0, 3.86 ERA) in game three of the series. Milone has had two strong starts and one shaky one this season, but he has received plenty of run support and has a win in each outing. He is the first A's pitcher to post three wins this early in the season since Dave Stewart. Milone has been throwing strikes, as usual, this season and carries a 15:4 K:BB in 18.2 innings. He allowed two homeruns in his first inning of work this season, but he hasn't allowed one since.

Normally a team strength, the Rays have had trouble at the back-end of their bullpen, as well, especially in the ninth inning. In save situations for the Rays, opposing hitters have a 1132 OPS and closer Fernando Rodney, so good last season, has 7.36 ERA and 1.90 WHIP to start the year.

The A's bullpen has had its ups-and-downs this season already, as well. A's relievers have a combined 2.24 ERA, but they have allowed four homeruns in 52.1 innings, including three to the Astros in the last two games. The A's have had to use their relievers on average more than three innings per game. Given how reliant they were on their bullpen last season, it is worth keeping an eye on their work totals throughout the year.

A's Notes:

- Brandon Moss will return from paternity leave for the A's, who in turn demoted Shane Peterson back to Triple-A Sacramento. Peterson went 1-for-7 in his two games, notching a walk and an RBI. He also made a spectacular diving play on Tuesday that starter A.J. Griffin tabbed the play of that game.

- Right-hander Arnold Leon, a member of the A's 40-man roster, has been placed on the seven-day disabled list for the Midland Rockhounds with a blister on his throwing hand. Leon has been replaced in the rotation by right-hander Sean Murphy, who received the promotion from High-A Stockton.

- Utilityman Adam Rosales is nearing his return from the disabled list. He is currently on a rehab assignment with the High-A Stockton Ports and is 4-for-8 with a double and a strike-out. Rosales has missed the first two-plus weeks of the season with a strained intercostal muscle. He suffered the injury during the final week of spring training.

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