By losing all three games in the weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Oakland A's euphoric start hit a sobering turn. Now, the team heads to Boston, where an emotional Red Sox team awaits them after last week's string of events. Oakland is still tied with Texas and the Red Sox for the American League lead in wins with 12.
In no way is one three-game sweep in April any real cause for concern, but Oakland has to be mindful about the top of its rotation. Mainly Brett Anderson, who left his start on Friday in Tampa early with an ankle issue and earned his third loss on the young season.
Anderson is still less than two years removed from his Tommy John surgery. Although he hasn't reported any arms issues, players often struggle with consistency within the first two-plus seasons of the operation. The left-hander was outstanding in late 2012 when rejoining the rotation, but there's a chance he could be dealing with some fatigue from his reconstructed elbow while it still builds strength. Add that to array of ailments ranging from his hand to his ankle, and it's not terribly surprising to see him off to a slow start.
Anderson threw a side session over the weekend in Tampa and reportedly came out feeling fine. But the A's took an extra precaution by scratching Dan Straily from his start with Triple-A Sacramento on Sunday, making him available for the Boston series should the club decide to skip Anderson's start. Straily is now scheduled to start for the River Cats on Monday, making it likely that Anderson will go on turn.
It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for Oakland to run with a six-man rotation to afford their young arms some extra time between outings – assuming Anderson doesn't need a trip to the disabled list. Jarrod Parker had by far his best outing of the season over the weekend, but could certainly benefit from an extra day between starts. All of the A's rookie starters from a year ago set new career marks in innings pitched last season.
If Straily did join the rotation as the sixth man, then rookie Nate Freiman might be the odd man out.
The A's made a move to acquire outfielder Casper Wells from Toronto in exchange for cash Monday morning. At first glance, Wells comes to the A's as a bench player with the versatility to play all three outfield positions. He's clearly a better fit as a fifth outfielder than Michael Taylor, who is limited to the corners and needs more consistent at-bats to be effective.
It's been a rough go for Taylor, who can't catch a break with his current organization. There's nothing for him to prove in the minors and he hasn't been able to get the at-bats to get comfortable in the major leagues. Taylor has been a constant tinkerer – to his detriment in some cases – and has always needed a lot of plate appearances to iron things out. When he has, he's been as good an outfielder as any prospect in the minor leagues. But he has never received any consistent playing time in the big leagues. The numbers currently dictate there's no room at the top in Oakland, unless a more serious injury hits to one of the team's core outfielders.
It's almost surprising Taylor hasn't been moved to a situation that would warrant more major league exposure, like the Astros, for example. Given his level of production in the minors, the A's could garner a decent prospect in return at a position of need while opening up time for some of the other outfielders at Triple-A Sacramento, like Connor Crumbliss.
The A's remain tied for first place in the West with the Rangers, but the Angels could be feeling a major jolt of momentum after sweeping the Tigers over the weekend after Detroit won two of three in Oakland the week prior.
Despite losing two of three to Kansas City over the weekend, the Red Sox have gotten off to a great start in 2013. Their re-tooled lineup has them hovering in the upper third in baseball in terms of offensive production, while their pitching has allowed a third-best 2.83 ERA so far. The starting rotation has allowed a 652 OPS on the season.
Monday night's series opener will have the A's most consistent starter, A.J. Griffin (2-0, 2.25 ERA), take on Felix Doubront (1-0, 4.50 ERA). Oakland has won every game that Griffin has started and he's only pitched once against Astros, which should be noted. His best outing came on the road against the Angels, when he allowed one run in eight innings, with just five hits, on April 11.
The key for Griffin in Boston will be to keep flyballs in the park, especially to right-handed hitters with the Green Monster looming in left field. But current Red Sox hitters are just 4-for-23 against the right-hander.
Doubront has made just two starts this year and is coming off his first win of the year throwing five innings in Cleveland, allowing two runs while striking out seven. The left-hander's high volume of strikeouts early (currently 11.7 per nine innings) and bloated .429 BABIP cause a significant imbalance between his FIP and ERA. He's easier to face in Fenway than on the road, which is pretty typical for lefties, but struggles when on the ropes.
In high-leverage situations, Doubront has allowed hitters a 929 OPS throughout his career. That means it will be important for the A's to work the count and let his high walk rate take affect.
Alfredo Aceves (1-0, 6.28 ERA) toes the slab in Tuesday's game two, squaring off against Bartolo Colon (2-0, 3.32 ERA). Aceves is making the transition to the starting rotation after making 120 relief appearances over the last two seasons. He's replacing the injured John Lackey.
Aceves started the season in the bullpen, surrendering five earned runs in 4.1 innings over two appearances. Since joining the rotation April 11, hitters have a 1014 OPS against him in two starts.
Throwing almost exclusively fastballs, Colon has benefited from two starts against Houston, giving him his two wins. But his best outing may have come against the Tigers, where he went seven innings and struck out five, allowing three runs in a game the A's ultimately won.
What's been troublesome about Colon's last two starts is his groundball ratio. When he's throwing well, teams are beating his various fastballs into the ground. In his last two outings, however, he's allowed 27 fly balls to 14 grounders, which could be problematic if that trend continues in Boston.
The series finale will likely feature Anderson (1-3, 5.95 ERA) and Lester (3-0, 1.73 ERA), assuming Anderson is healthy and it's not Straily. Anderson has allowed 11 runs in his last 6.2 innings and hasn't had the explosive stuff he's noted for. It wouldn't come as a surprise to see his start pushed back to the weekend series against the Orioles.
If it is Straily, he comes in having allowed just two earned runs over the last 12.2 innings with 16 strikeouts with Triple-A Sacramento. And he would be fresh, getting seven days between starts.
Lester has been the ace many projected him to be when he first broke the rotation full time in 2008, leading his team with a 1.73 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. He has hitters making contact with balls outside the strike zone at the highest rate of his career leading to weaker contact.