Gone are the days in which teams would play their entire interleague schedules all at once at the same time. Now they are spread throughout the season, as there must always be an interleague series going on at all times with an odd number of teams in each league. However, the A's are gearing up for their second straight bout against the NL East, having just split a pair in New York against the Mets. In case you were wondering, Oakland still has the best record in the Majors at 48-30, but Milwaukee is getting close again; the Brewers are just a half-game back despite having an extra win (49-32).
These are the expected pitching matchups for the series:
Fri: Jesse Chavez vs. Anthony DeSclafani
Sat: Sonny Gray vs. Nathan Eovaldi
Sun: Tommy Milone vs. Andrew Heaney
Don't pretend like you've heard of any of those pitchers. I'm not even 100 percent sure I spelled DeSclafani right. I can definitively say that he and Eovaldi are right-handed and Heaney is left-handed, because Baseball-Reference has never lied to me and because I once saw a picture of Eovaldi (a few minutes ago on Fish Stripes). You may have heard of Heaney if you're a prospect hawk (No. 30 overall prospect entering the season), and you might recognize Eovaldi's name from the Hanley Ramirez trade from the Dodgers last year. But that DeSclafani guy is definitely made up and not a real person. He's just the guy who plays Billy the Marlin, but without the mascot costume. Meanwhile, Chavez starts the opener after throwing seven shutout innings against Boston in his last outing, and Gray gets the nod after being pushed back this week for some extra rest.
1. The Marlins were active on the free agent market last winter in an attempt to fill some holes in their lineup, and the results seem to have been positive. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Garrett Jones, and third baseman Casey McGehee are posting above-average batting lines, though shortstop Rafael Furcal has been bad and injured. Were these smart short-term moves to plug holes, or are there youngsters being blocked by the veterans? And which ones do you think can sustain their current success throughout this season and beyond?
SG: The Marlins tried exclusively using the talent they had in their system last season, and while that experience has helped several young players thus far this year, Miami didn't want to head in that direction again. Signing Saltalamacchia, McGehee, and Jones has proven to be valuable.
Obviously, as his .309/.373/.389 line suggests, McGehee has been the most significant addition. He has protected Giancarlo Stanton well, and teams have reconsidered walking Stanton with McGehee hitting well behind him. Although he has added power to the lineup, Saltalamacchia has been a great addition behind the plate for Miami's young pitching staff.
Miami has limited depth at first base, which made Jones a valuable signing. Jones has at times had difficulty offensively, but for the most part has played first well. The Marlins have a very crowded outfield. Saltalamacchia may be blocking the path for J.T. Realmuto, who was up while Salty was on the DL, but after trading away third base prospect Matt Dominguez, the Marlins' infield depth is limited, with Colin Moran (third baseman) working his way through the system. Rafael Furcal has been inconsistent, and Derek Dietrich, with the exception of a few defensive miscues, has been solid at second base.
Most of the signings are to fill temporary holes, but the veteran additions aren't preventing prospects from getting playing time. McGehee may slow down a bit, but Saltalamacchia and Jones should be consistent.
2. On the other hand, the outfield is young and amazing. We all know about 24-year-old superstar Giancarlo Stanton, but he is now joined by 22-year-old Christian Yelich and 23-year-old Marcell Ozuna, who have both been above-average hitters with sterling defensive metrics. What do you see in the future for Yelich and Ozuna? Will either or both develop into stars?
SG: Giancarlo Stanton is by far the Marlins' most well-known player, let alone outfielder, but not many know about Marcell Ozuna or Christian Yelich.
Yelich is currently on the 15-day DL, but before that was solid as the Marlins' starting left fielder. He also hit in the leadoff spot and was solid offensively, and projects to be an efficient No. 2 hitter moving forward. If the Marlins have an "under-the-radar" All Star candidate, in my opinion, it would be Ozuna. He has driven in 45 runs in 77 games, and in Yelich's absence, has a right fielder's arm in left field.
You asked about blocking opportunities in the first question, but it is most applicable here. Jake Marisnick is now playing center field, and playing well. Upon Yelich's return, it will be interesting to see what the Marlins do. Moving forward, Stanton, assuming he stays with Miami long-term, may explore first base to give Ozuna, Marisnick, and Yelich opportunities. Yelich and Ozuna have the talent to put together solid major league careers.
Marcell Ozuna, the best Marlins player you've never heard of. -- Photo credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
3. Jeff Baker has been something of a Holy Grail for Athletics Nation over the years, as many have advocated that Oakland sign him as a platoon player off the bench. However, he is sporting a .595 OPS so far this season. Is he just being used wrong (i.e., against right-handed pitchers), is this his mid-30s decline, or is it just a fluke?
SG: The Marlins have yet to figure out how to use Jeff Baker. He was signed to be a utility infielder, but many thought he would platoon with Jones at first base. While he does get an occasional spot start, the Marlins haven't fully utilized him. He has been respectable in pinch-hitting situations, and may be better suited as a starter. Not sure age is incredibly significant in this particular case.
4. The A's will face three unfamiliar pitchers this weekend. On Friday, it will be 24-year-old Anthony DeSclafani, who I have genuinely never heard of. Can you please give us a scouting report on the right-hander?
SG: The Marlins had Randy Wolf and Jacob Turner in the rotation, but decided Andrew Heaney and DeSclafani would be better options.
DeSclafani, a graduate of the University of the Florida, has posted a 7.59 ERA and 4.97 FIP in 21⅓ innings pitched this season. He features a solid fastball and a plus changeup with a developing slider.
5. On Saturday, it will be Nathan Eovaldi, who was acquired from the Dodgers in the Hanley Ramirez trade. Eovaldi was quietly solid last year (114 ERA+) and has backed that up this season by cutting his walk rate from 3.4 per nine innings to 1.5 per nine. That's not good for Oakland, as the A's rely on working counts and drawing walks. Has he made any changes that have improved his control? And what do you see as his ceiling?
SG: Nathan Eovaldi has been a bit of a project for the Marlins. While he arguably has the best arm on the staff, Henderson Alvarez has proven to be the most consistent.
Eovaldi has refined his delivery a bit, but it is the velocity on his fastball that allows him to get ahead in counts. Control of his slider tends to dictate whether or not he will be successful. Eovaldi has had trouble throwing strikes of late, so if the A's remain patient, they should get some good pitches to hit if they can get deep in counts. He did, though, pitch well in his last outing against the Phillies (6⅓ IP, no runs).
6. On Sunday, we'll see Andrew Heaney (No. 9 overall pick in 2012), who was rated the No. 30 prospect in baseball by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus before the season (and No. 29 by MLB.com). With two starts under his belt, how is he looking in his first Major League trial? And what (stuff, velocity, other) made him such a highly rated prospect?
SG: Andrew Heaney, aside from a deceptive delivery, features quality "stuff." He may not overpower a lineup on a game-to-game basis, but the delivery makes up for that. The fastball is solid, and he has a nice changeup (really tough on lefties) and plus slider.
Heaney has had two very different starts to begin his major league career. He pitched well (with the exception of one pitch to David Wright) against the Mets in his debut, but gave up five runs in his last start against Philadelphia. With Heaney, a consistent delivery is everything. If he goes through the motions properly, he will likely be more successful.
7. Steve Cishek has been dominant as Miami's closer -- 1.93 ERA, 43 strikeouts, and nine walks in 32⅔ innings. What other key arms should A's fans look out for in the Marlins' bullpen?
SG: Steve Cishek has pitched well as Miami's closer, and has done such a notable job that at one point Peter Gammons said he could be quietly traded.
Getting the ball to Cishek has been the problem. Bryan Morris, acquired from the Pirates for a draft pick, has been Miami's most consistent relief option. The Marlins lack a lefty specialist, but if necessary, Mike Dunn would be the guy. A.J. Ramos either has great control or has near to none, and the Marlins are still figuring out how to factor Kevin Gregg into the equation. Chris Hatcher, a former catcher, has pitched well of late and can be a long man or go an inning, depending on the situation.
8. Owner Jeffrey Loria: better than people think, or as terrible of an owner/person as his national reputation in the media?
SG: Every Marlins fan has their take on Jeffrey Loria, and some even refuse to buy tickets from the box office and revert to resale sites so that he doesn't directly profit. To evaluate the situation fairly, Loria spent money in 2012, and it didn't immediately work. The Marlins could have given it another season, but that trade with Toronto has shaped the core of their major league roster.
Up to this point, Loria has been quiet, most recently saying he would be willing to spend money at the trade deadline if the Marlins are still in contention. Miami has always had one of the league's lower payrolls, and while that didn't change, the progress of the team has. Loria has let his baseball operations department do its job, and is not as involved in baseball decisions, which has evidently been beneficial (he at one time made roster decisions).
To answer your question, is the attitude today as bad as it was after 2012, no, but he may not be as bad as the media makes him seem, especially this year.
9. Can you please write us a haiku (or a limerick) about the home run sculpture beyond the left field fence?
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
Giancarlo Stanton next to me.
Water, lights, and fish galore,
Plenty of territory for you to explore.
I am the symbol of Loria's intent, so please honor thee.
Thank you, Scott, for participating in the Q&A!
The series starts this afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 p.m., Chavez vs.
Billy the Marlin DeSclafani. It's weird, as an A's fan, laughing about another team having unknown players, and yet here we are. However, the Marlins are 39-40, so they aren't a pushover this year even without injured ace Jose Fernandez. This is a team to be taken seriously, both now and in the near future.