The A's come into the series having won eight of nine with a team ERA of just 2.48, much better than the 4.35 mark they had prior. In the three-game sweep of Houston, the offense tallied 23 on 35 hits and hit five homers.
First baseman Nate Freiman had one of his better games of the season in Sunday's game, registering a pair of extra-base hits – including a homer – and driving in three runs. He also scored twice.
The 6'8" first baseman has been an interesting find so far for the A's. He was a Rule 5 player picked up by Houston from San Diego, who tried to trade for him outright by putting him on waivers, but he didn't clear. Now, he must stay on Oakland's roster all year or be offered back to the Padres.
In a limited sample, Freiman has been outstanding against left-handed pitching, and figures to get at-bats against southpaws as long as he's able to maintain productivity. He's hitting .342/.422/.605 in 45 plate appearances with two home runs against left-handers. But against righties, he's hitless in 15 at-bats. The Giants are slated to start three left-handers in the next four days against the A's.
Freiman will be an interesting case going forward due to being a single-use player. Considering the A's affection for roster versatility, he doesn't fit the mold because he's limited to playing first base (or DH) and struggles against right-handers. Oakland's brass will have to juggle his potential long-term value to the organization with almost every roster move going forward because he doesn't have the option of getting demoted to the minors.
Monday's matinee will feature Dan Straily (2-2, 5.73 ERA) and Madison Bumgarner (4-2, 2.89). Straily is coming off perhaps the best outing of his career, when he threw seven shutout innings, allowed just two hits and struck out five Rangers in their home ballpark.
When the right-hander was with Sacramento earlier in the season, he admitted his stuff wasn't nearly as explosive as it was in 2012, when he led the minor leagues in strikeouts. But in his outing in Texas, it appeared to be back as he looks to go into seventh inning for just the second time all season. The A's will be relying heavily on Straily as long as Brett Anderson is working his way back from a stress fracture in his foot.
Anderson's foot will be reevaluated in a few weeks. There's a chance he might need surgery, which would likely end his season. Otherwise, the team's ace might be looking at return in late-July or August. Anderson missed the majority of 2012 while returning from "Tommy John" surgery, but came back late in the season to pitch effectively, including a six-inning, two-hit performance in a 1-0 nothing win against Detroit in the division series.
Bumgarner is off to a great start and has been the Giants' best starting pitcher to date. In his last start, the lefty allowed a run on four hits over seven frames against the Nationals. He got the no-decision in the 2-1 loss.
The 23-year-old has increased his changeup usage this season, helping him get more swings and missed on pitches outside the strike zone – a number that has gone from 31 percent to 35 percent. Take away his May 17 start in Colorado when he allowed seven earned in 4 2/3 innings, his ERA lowers from 2.89 to 2.07.
Tuesday night's contest will feature Mike Kickham (0-0, no ERA) and Jarrod Parker (2-6, 5.76). Kickham – a lefty – will be making his first major league start and replaces the injured Ryan Vogelsong who fractured his hand while swinging at a pitch. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 21.
Kickham was drafted in the sixth round in 2010 and had a very good year with Double-A Richmond in 2012, but got off to a terrible start with Triple-A Fresno before settling down and having a good May. In April, he posted a 7.94 ERA in in five starts and improved that clip to 1.72 this month.
Parker has lowered his ERA from 8.10 to 5.76 over his last five outings and looking for his third-straight quality start. He got the loss in Texas his last time out, but he only received one run of support from the A's offense.