The Oakland A's left for their two-city, six-game road trip feeling great. They held one of the best records in baseball, thanks to an offense scoring runs at a high rate while compiling an 818 OPS. A week later, the club returns home after a 1-5 trip where the team hit well enough, but allowed more than five runs per game against the Rays and Red Sox.
The season will be full of ups and downs. The sample size is far too small to make any judgments on the team. But Oakland is 2-7 against teams outside the American League West. Another non-divisional foe is on deck, with the Baltimore Orioles coming in for a four-game set.
Baltimore famously made the playoffs last season after finishing a ridiculous 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra innings. They clinched one of the two Wild Card spots by three games.
While those close-game numbers are still accumulating, the Orioles come to Oakland with a 12-9 record and are again in the hunt for a return berth to the postseason. They have Chris Davis and Adam Jones to thank. Davis and Jones are hitting .356/.437/.740 and .345/.367/.540, respectively. Davis is tied for third in baseball with 22 RBIs, but has slowed down some after netting an incredible 17 RBI in his first five games.
Behind baseball's sixth-highest scoring lineup, the Orioles are getting significant contributions from their bullpen. The O's relievers' ERA is exactly half of the starters' number (2.44 versus 4.88) and they are allowing a 573 OPS to hitters. Oddly enough, the A's and Orioles' starters have the same ERA and one hundredth difference in bullpen ERA.
The A's come in licking their wounds after the road trip that could have ended on a much higher note had they completed a comeback win in the series finale in Boston. Down a run in the ninth, Jed Lowrie believed he had roped a double down the right-field line, only to have it called foul. Replays were inconclusive, but both Lowrie and A's manager Bob Melvin believed the ball hit the line causing chalk to fly.
Instead of having the tying run on second base with Josh Donaldson – looking for his third hit in the game – coming to the plate, the A's lost when Lowrie struck-out to end the game.
Oakland is continuing to look for more production for its starting pitching staff. Home is a welcomed site for the group that has underperformed after being the team's stalwart unit in 2012.
Jarrod Parker (0-3, 7.50 ERA) will be looking for his first win of the season after an encouraging outing in Tampa Bay, where he threw a season-best 6.1 innings and allowed just one run with five punch outs. The A's are hoping his early-season struggles are behind him and he is rounding into form.
Parker will take on Jason Hammel (2-1, 4.74 ERA), who is coming off a 113-pitch outing where he got the no-decision after throwing six, four-run innings.
The metrics on Hammel indicate he's benefited from a good deal of luck to start the year, despite his 4.74 ERA. He's allowing an outlier level of fly balls this season – which might actually help him in Oakland – and a line-drive rate that's significantly lower than his career clip, leading to a BABIP of .237. But the right-hander has a plus fastball and a four-pitch repertoire, although he throws mostly fastballs and sliders.
Wei-Yin Chen (1-2, 3.38 ERA) has easily been the Orioles' best starter this season. He's continuing the trend of allowing less hits than innings thrown, but he's striking out hitters at less than a 12 percent rate, leading to a 1.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Chen is coming off his best start of the young season. He threw six innings and allowed three hits and one run to get the win over the Dodgers.
Chen will take on Tommy Milone (3-1, 4.26 ERA) who will have to avoid the big inning early in games. The sample is small, but the left-hander is allowing an 896 OPS in the game's first three innings and a 513 OPS in innings four through six. Milone won his only career start against Baltimore last year, allowing one earned run on six hits in 6.1 innings.
In Game 3, A.J. Griffin (2-1, 4.50 ERA) will toe the hill after having the worst start of his career at Fenway Park. Being a fly-ball pitcher didn't bode well to begin with at Fenway, but he wound up being responsible for seven earned runs in just four-plus innings. The start doubled his ERA. Griffin has been considerably better at home in his brief career than on the road, allowing just a 594 OPS compared to a 713 mark on the road. He'll benefit from never having faced anyone in the Orioles lineup at the major league level.
Griffin will oppose Chris Tillman (0-1, 5.23 ERA), who is coming off a solid start where he allowed one run in 6.2 innings to Los Angeles. The right-hander is walking hitters at a very poor rate and is struggling in high leverage situations. But despite Tillman's struggles, Baltimore is 2-2 in his starts.
Coming into the season, not many would have believed Bartolo Colon (3-0, 2.42 ERA) would be the A's best starter. He has an outstanding OPS+ of 161 having walked just one hitter in 26 innings pitched. The right-hander has benefited from two starts against the Astros, but he has allowed just one run in his last 13 innings. He's throwing strikes at a 71 percent clip. Colon earned a complete game shutout in his last start, the A's rain-shortened win over Boston on Tuesday.
Colon will face Miguel Gonzalez (2-1, 4.13 ERA), who is just the second O's starter to perform better than the league average so far this year. With a 102 OPS+, Gonzalez has already allowed four homers and walked 12 hitters in 24 innings. That makes him a good matchup for the A's, although his rough start might be a blip on the radar after his solid rookie season in 2012 when he went 9-4 by allowing just 92 hits in 105.1 innings. The righty throws four pitches, including a split-finger fastball.