Series Preview: Oakland A's v. Angels of Anaheim

The Oakland A's visit the Angels of Anaheim in a three-game set this weekend. Oakland sits one game behind the Angels in the AL West and can post its first winning road-trip with a series victory over the Angels.

Who: Oakland A's (8-8, W-1) vs. Angels of Anaheim (9-7, W-2)
Where: Angels Stadium, Anaheim, CA
When: April 22-24, 2005

Series Overview: The A's and Angels meet for the second straight weekend. Last weekend, the A's squeaked out two one-run victories to take the series, 2-1. Oakland is 2-2 so far on their three-team, seven-game road-trip. The Angels are 3-1 thus far in their home-stand. The A's are coming off of a series split with the Mariners that saw them drop a frustrating game on Wednesday, 7-6, but rally to win a well-pitched ballgame, 3-0, on Thursday. The Angels swept their two-game series with Cleveland, thanks to a late rally on Thursday that gave the Angels an extra-inning victory.

The A's pitching has been the story for them thus far this season, as the Oakland pitching staff has been performing at a very high level despite losing Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder in off-season trades. The staff has a 3.57 ERA through 16 games and three of the A's five starters have ERAs under 2.50 (Rich Harden, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton). Harden has been one of the American League's best pitchers so far this season, as he has allowed only one run in 20.1 innings pitched. The Angels' pitching staff has been impressive, as well, posting a 4.04 ERA through 16 games. After a slow start last season, ace Bartolo Colon has gotten off to a fast beginning to his 2005 campaign, posting a 3-1 record and a 2.60 ERA through four starts.

Both the A's and the Angels are off to disappointing starts on the offensive side of the ball. However, each team has their share of hot hitters going into the series. For Oakland, Mark Kotsay, Mark Ellis and Marco Scutaro have been carrying what has otherwise been a tepid A's offense so far this season. The Angels are being lead, not surprisingly, by Vladimir Guerrero and Garrett Anderson. Steve Finely is off to a slow start to his first season with the Angels, but he is a notoriously streaky hitter and could get going at any moment. The same could be said for the A's Eric Chavez, who is off to one of his typically slow starts and seems due for a breakthrough game at the plate.

Game One: Kirk Saarloos (1-1, 6.75 ERA) vs. John Lackey (1-1, 8.22 ERA)

Game One features a rematch of last Sunday's contest in Oakland. Neither Saarloos nor Lackey were particularly effective in that game, which was eventually won by Oakland, 7-6. Saarloos allowed a first inning, two-run homerun to Guerrero and coughed up five earned runs and six hits over five-plus innings pitched. He was saved from the loss, however, when Marco Scutaro hit a two-run homerun in the bottom of the fifth to give the A's a 7-6 advantage that they would never relinquish. Rookie Huston Street got the win in that game, his first as a major leaguer. Oakland lefty specialist Ricardo Rincon allowed two of Saarloos' runs to score when he coughed up a three-run homer to Garrett Anderson in the top of the sixth inning. Anderson has owned Rincon throughout his career, so look for one of the A's right-handed relievers to get the call against Anderson late in games.

Saarloos has struggled since his opening week gem against the Baltimore Orioles. He has had trouble getting ahead of hitters in his last two starts and has been elevating his pitches. Saarloos is a groundball specialist, so if the Angels are hitting a lot of fly-balls early, it isn't a good sign for the A's right-hander. The Cal State Fullerton alum relies on his control of the corners and his ability to change speeds to keep the hitters off-balance.

Angels starter John Lackey is the opposite of Saarloos. He is an old-fashioned hard-thrower who relies on his stuff to get hitters out. He has struggled this season, allowing no fewer than four runs in any of his first three starts. Lackey has walked eight in 15.1 innings pitched and has allowed two homeruns. The Texas native has a 3-1 career record against the A's, but has a 4.57 ERA. Scutaro is the only current A's player to have homered off of Lackey, but a number of the Oakland hitters have good career numbers against him. Erubiel Durazo is 6-15 (.400) with two doubles, Eric Chavez is 7-18 (.385), Mark Kotsay is 5-13 (.385) with a double, and Mark Ellis is 5-14 (.357) with three doubles.

Game Two: Dan Haren (1-1, 2.37 ERA) vs. Paul Byrd (1-2, 4.71 ERA)

Saturday evening's match-up pits A's young starter Dan Haren against the veteran Paul Byrd. Byrd is returning to the American League after two injury-filled seasons in the National League with the Atlanta Braves. The off-speed specialist had Tommy John surgery in 2003 and pitched only in the second half of the season in 2004. He has had limited experience facing Oakland, although he did make one famous start against them in 2002. On September 5, 2002, Byrd was on the hill for the Kansas City Royals when the A's were striving to win their 20th straight game. Byrd lasted only one inning in that game, allowing six runs on six hits. He would not get the loss in that game, as Oakland would blow an 11-0 lead before winning on a dramatic homerun by Scott Hatteberg in the bottom of the 9th. Many of the A's involved with that game are no longer with the team, but a number of Oakland's current hitters have good numbers against Byrd. Mark Kotsay is a sizzling 5-8 with a double and a homer lifetime off of Byrd. Bobby Kielty has two career homers in 13 at-bats and Jason Kendall has two doubles, two triples and a homer against Byrd lifetime.

Dan Haren is seeing most of the Angels' line-up for the first time. He has faced Orlando Cabrera and Vladimir Guerrero three times each (both when they were with Montreal) and has squared off with Steve Finely once. Only Guerrero has a hit (a single) off of Haren. The hard-throwing righty has pitched well in his debut season against the American League thus far. He has allowed only 11 hits in 19 innings, although he has walked 11 batters. He has struck out 16. The A's will be looking for Haren to work deep into the game, as the Oakland bullpen has been beset by nagging injuries. Both Kiko Calero and Juan Cruz have been unavailable for much of the week due to various ailments.

Game Three: Joe Blanton (0-1, 2.04 ERA) vs. Kelvim Escobar (NR)

Rookie Joe Blanton makes his fourth major league start on Sunday in the series finale. The big right-hander has been magnificent in his previous three starts, posting a 0.98 WHIP over 17.2 innings pitched. He has allowed only 12 hits in 17.2 innings pitched. Blanton was fantastic in his last outing, but was hung with the loss when the A's defense failed him in the bottom of the 7th of a 0-0 game. Eric Chavez booted what could have been an inning-ending double-play ball with the bases loaded and one out, allowing a run to score. Blanton ended up allowing two runs (one earned) in 6.2 innings against the Rangers in that outing, a game the A's would lose, 3-0. Blanton has been very effective working the corners in his first three starts. He has worked quickly, inducing hitters to swing early in the count. He has yet to strike out many batters, but he has kept runners off the bases by getting a lot of lazy fly-balls and pop-ups.

Blanton made two relief appearances against the Angels at the end of last season, allowing five runs in six innings pitched. Four of those runs came on a grand slam by Alfredo Amezaga, who is no longer with the Angels. Blanton has been bitten a few times by the homerun ball during his brief major league career, having allowed three homers in 25.2 career innings. This trend goes against his minor league career, where he allowed only 21 homers in 366 innings pitched (0.52 HR/9 ratio). Only Guerrero and Anderson have hits off of Blanton in his brief career.

Kelvim Escobar will be making his season debut on Sunday after missing the first three weeks with arm troubles. Escobar was arguably the Angels' best starting pitcher last season and they are looking forward to having him back in the rotation, as spot starter Kevin Gregg has struggled in Escobar's stead. Escobar made six starts against Oakland last season, going 1-3 with a 6.00 ERA. He was inconsistent against the A's, sometimes dominating and sometimes getting hit around. Escobar was the starter in the game that the Angels won during the last weekend of the 2004 season to clinch the AL West. He left losing that game, but was eventually given a no-decision when the Angels rallied against the Oakland bullpen. Escobar went only four innings in his last rehab start and is expected to be on a pitch count on Sunday as he builds up his arm strength. Mark Kotsay is 6-14 (.429) lifetime against Escobar and Eric Byrnes has three extra-bases hits off of the Angels' righty, including a homerun, in only 15 career at-bats.

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