The Oakland Athletics came closer than they should have to getting swept by the Seattle Mariners in a four-game series at home, but they salvaged the finale and may uncovered a new starting pitching option in Drew Pomeranz in the process. The A's are still in first place in the AL West ahead of the second-place ... Mariners? Seriously? Well that is unexpected. However, Oakland no longer has the best record (20-15) in the AL; that distinction belongs to the Detroit Tigers (20-10), who have won the same number of games despite playing five fewer contests (it apparently rains, like, a lot in Michigan). The Athetics' run differential (plus-44) is no longer the best in baseball either, as the red-hot Colorado Rockies have shot up to plus-50 en route to a 22-15 record. The A's next test comes in the form of the Washington Nationals in Oakland's first taste of interleague play this year.
Fri: Tommy Milone vs. Doug Fister
Sat: Sonny Gray vs. Tanner Roark
Sun: Scott Kazmir vs. Gio Gonzalez
This is going to be a fun series. The only time the A's have ever played the Nationals was in 2005, their inaugural season; Oakland got swept out of RFK Stadium. The Nats have never played in the Coliseum, though the Montreal Expos did get swept here in 2003 -- Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson each earned wins in that series. Doug Fister is making his season debut after being acquired from the Detroit Tigers last winter and missing the first month of the year with a lat injury. Gio Gonzalez, who is still universally beloved among the A's faithful, will face his former team for the first time in the finale. Meanwhile, the A's will send two of their top starters to the hill to face a strong opponent who, if the season ended today, would be the second Wild Card in the NL.
1. Matt Williams is a familiar name in the Bay Area. What are your first impressions of him in his debut as a Major League manager? And how would you describe his managing style?
PR: He doesn't seem to like sac bunts, which is a positive with most Nationals fans. He's good at stalling with the umps while the Nationals' review-people check plays to see if they should challenge them. He's struggled getting relievers into their respective roles early, by his own admission.
From what he and Nats' GM Mike Rizzo have said since his hiring, it's fairly clear Rizzo had his eye on Williams from the start once Davey Johnson stepped aside. I worried about bringing a rookie skipper in with a team that was in the middle of a window in which it is expected to compete for division titles and more. Williams has dealt with some adversity early with a lot of injuries in the first month, and not everyone in D.C. loved him calling Bryce Harper out in the press over the whole "not hustling to first" thing, but overall I've been impressed with the way he's handled things in the first month-plus. Not sure if I could sum up his style effectively after six weeks. Ask me again in a couple months...
2. Bryce Harper (torn thumb ligament) and Ryan Zimmerman (fractured thumb) won't be in the lineup this weekend, and they are being replaced by Nate McLouth and Anthony Rendon. How are those two doing? Is Rendon living up to his top prospect pedigree? What does his future look like in the Majors? And what have you gotten out of McLouth (and Kevin Frandsen) so far?
PR: Anthony Rendon (.295/.331/.518, 10 doubles, three triples, five home runs through 148 plate appearances) is definitely looking like the player who was considered the top bat in his draft class in 2011. After dealing with a shoulder injury in his final collegiate season and an ankle injury in his first pro campaign, he was able to stay on the field all of last season, and early this year he's taken another step in his development. Good as he's been at the plate, I've really been impressed with his defense, initially at second base and now over at third (his natural position) once Zimmerman went down. Rizzo described Rendon as a Gold Glove-caliber defender at third when he drafted him, and I definitely buy it based on what we've seen so far. His future? He's pretty good at 23, going to be a fun couple of years watching him develop.
McLouth (.085/.259/.170) is obviously off to a slow start offensively in scattered plate appearances, but he and Frandsen have provided some decent defense in left field.
The fact that they're filling in for Bryce Harper might have me judging their offensive contributions more harshly, but I'll be fine with what they offer once they're back in bench roles.
3. Jayson Werth: Living up to his contract, or still overpaid? If you could go back, would you sign him again? If you cut out his first year in Washington, he's batted .311/.394/.491 from 2012-2014 (244 games, 1,022 plate appearances).
PR: Werth every penny? Sorry. Since he returned from his broken wrist in 2012 he's been every bit the player the Nationals wanted when they signed him. At $20 million this year and $21 million each of the next three, it's hard to say he's not overpaid, but the Nats gave him the deal they did to get him to come to a building team.
As you noted with the numbers above, he's definitely produced at the plate. He put together one of the most exciting at-bats in Nats' history in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS and went on a tear once he came back from a DL stint for a hamstring injury last year. He hasn't slowed down ... offensively. Defensively he may have lost a step, but he's fine in right and they can always move him to left eventually.
Would I sign him again? Yes. Once the sticker shock wore off and after the rough first season in D.C., he's been a great addition.
Jayson Werth has been worth at least 10,000 WAR, or Whiskers Above Replacement. -- Photo credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
4. Second baseman Danny Espinosa is off to a solid start in 2014, but his plate discipline is still atrocious. Was his weak 2013 a fluke, or did it provide a glimpse into his future by showing the consequences of his free-swinging ways?
PR: Danny Espinosa started strong this year, but he's shown signs that he's turning back into the struggling player he was at the plate last season when he was playing with a fractured wrist for a good deal of the time. Espinosa said it was all the wrist; he said he couldn't lift a bat with his left hand. Internet doctors (read: fans) wondered if it wasn't the torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder. Some of the power he showed when he first came up has returned this season, but he's continued to strike out at an alarming rate.
His defense at second and his role as the primary backup at short make him a valuable part of the roster. He's also affordable and relatively young. I don't think 2013 was a fluke, but I also don't think he's as bad as he was last year. If he's somewhere in between, I'm fine with him in a utility role.
5. The Doug Fister trade: A total steal from the Tigers, or a fair swap in which you gave up prospects who you miss?
PR: It all depends on how you view Robbie Ray, and how he turns out. Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski considered him the centerpiece of the deal. He's already made his MLB debut (and he was impressive) and at 22 hopefully has a long career ahead of him. The Tigers also had Drew Smyly ready and waiting to take over Fister's spot. If Fister is healthy, though, he's a perfect fit for the Nationals' rotation. He's finally making his 2014 debut tonight after dealing with elbow inflammation and a lat strain early this season. Ian Krol (as you know) was a well-regarded prospect when the Nats acquired him in the three-team Michael Morse deal, and he made a good impression in his one season in the Nationals' organization, but I think the deal was all about Ray/Fister. I was looking forward to seeing how Ray turned out. He was a late-round pick who fell because of a college commitment, but flipping him for at least two years of control of a relatively affordable Fister, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Now just hope Fister stays healthy.
6. What's closer to the real Tanner Roark -- the dominant 1.51 ERA from last year, or the pedestrian 4.17 that he's put up so far this year?
PR: Honestly, I still don't know who the real Tanner Roark is. He claims he turned things around in 2012 when he finally got over a mental block and just started pitching. It's hard to argue with his results since then. But is he the pitcher he was in six minor league seasons (just over 4.00 ERA) or the pitcher he was when he came up last year? It's easy to say it was just a matter of him not being well-known and surprising some people when he came up, and now that he's a little more established, opposing hitters have a book on him. But he has great command when he's on and he has put together some strong starts again this season. When he's struggled, it's been because he was up in the zone, but when he's sharp, he's just as impressive as he was when he first came up last summer.
I'm interested in seeing how he performs in the fifth spot in the rotation now that Fister is back. Still don't know who the real Roark is.
7. Who would you rather have pitching a must-win game: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, or Jordan Zimmermann? Why? And has Gio become a big fan favorite like he was in Oakland?
PR: How can you not love Gio? He's definitely a fan favorite in D.C. His 2012 campaign was huge and the role he played in getting a Washington-based team to the postseason for the first time since 1933 definitely endeared him to baseball fans in the nation's capital. My initial reaction is just to say "Strasburg" reflexively when you ask about a must-win game though, as much as I like Gonzalez and as awed as I am by Zimmermann's talent and approach.
I'm sticking with Strasburg though. First thought, best thought, as Allen Ginsberg and Kerouac used to say.
Strasburg is tremendously talented and though everyone's wondering if he's as good as he was hyped up to be, I think he's shown signs of being every bit as talented as was projected. After he was rushed up, Tommy John cost him over a year at a critical time in his development, and he underwent a second elbow surgery this past winter. I don't think we've seen the best of him yet, and I want to see what he can do in a must-win situation. So I'd give him the ball.
8. Who would you rather have in your bullpen: Jerry Blevins or Fernando Abad? Is there anything that we don't yet know about Abad that might burst our bubble on how much we love him so far? And has Blevins let his wonderful personality and sense of humor shine through to Washington's fans?
PR: I'm happy to see Abad get off to a good start. I wasn't sure what to make of him when he first came to the Nationals because it was hard to judge him based on his numbers with the Astros considering the kind of teams they were fielding behind him. I was really impressed with his velocity last season, though he struggled with his command at times. Certainly surprised by the start he's off to this season. I'm much more comfortable with Blevins on the mound though. Unfortunately haven't seen Abad much this season (by which I mean I haven't seen him at all), so I don't know if he's taken another step, but Blevins has been a solid addition to the bullpen that really lacked lefties last year. His personality came through from the moment the trade was announced and he took a selfie with a homemade Nats uniform.
9. Blake Treinen (sent to the Nats in the John Jaso trade) is in the Majors and pitching great. Is he for real, and will he stick around on the 25-man roster all season?
PR: Treinen was up early working out of the pen, and he came up to make an emergency start this week, but he was quickly sent back to Triple-A so he could get on a regular schedule as a starter after bouncing around early this season. Lot of chatter that he's destined to be a bullpen arm in the majors with his plus fastball (97 down in the zone, it's a bowling ball as the Nats' skipper Matt Williams has described it). He's still working on the secondary stuff though, so I think that's why everyone thinks bullpen arm. He turns 26 at the end of June. I think he'll be back up at some point, but unless the starters have issues, I think his near-future is in the pen, where he can definitely make a difference with his arsenal.
10. Which trade with Oakland would you take back if you could: Gio Gonzalez for Milone/Norris/Peacock/Cole, Michael Morse for the return of A.J. Cole, or the two-move combo of Blevins and John Wooten for Abad and Billy Burns?
PR: I choose option D, none of the above. Is that okay? No? (Editor's note: Yes, that's totally OK.) If I had to pick one, I guess the Abad move based on what he's done early this season, but I'm fine with that deal since he probably would have started the season at Triple-A with the Nationals, who went with Ross Detwiler and Blevins as their two lefties in the pen coming out of Spring Training. Still like the Gio trade, especially after the Nationals ended up getting Cole back. Cole turned it around again after struggling in the A's system and was the No. 2 prospect in the organization on just about every prospect list this winter, behind only Lucas Giolito. Personally, I wish the Nationals could have kept Cole and Derek Norris out of the Gonzalez deal, just because I followed both closely coming up and wanted to see Norris develop. He's definitely a player I still keep an eye on and I'm happy he's producing and has been embraced by A's fans. Milone and Peacock were late picks who the Nationals developed and flipped for the top-of-the-rotation arm they needed. I'm fine with that.
Thank you, Patrick, for participating in the Q&A!
The series starts tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 10:05 p.m., Milone vs. Fister. Fister? Barely knew her. Nailed it. John Jaso is leading off with Coco out of the lineup, and he's the DH with Norris catching and Cespedes back in left field. Another former Athletic, Scott Hairston, is starting in left for the Nats.