The Oakland Athletics have hit the fun part of the season. This is that time, during the dog days of summer, when the also-rans have given up on their seasons and contenders can cut through them like butter. And boy, do the A's have some also-rans on the schedule right now. They just finished taking two of three from the Astros, and now they get six more games against Texas and Houston before moving on to play the last-place teams in the other two divisions. This is the time for the A's to make their move toward sealing the division.
These are the expected pitching matchups for the series:
Fri: Jason Hammel vs. Jerome Williams
Sat: Sonny Gray vs. Nick Tepesch
Sun: Scott Kazmir vs. Miles Mikolas
If you told a Rangers fan in March that these three pitchers would be starting in this series, he or she would have either cried, fainted, or both. Williams was dropped by the Astros two weeks ago, and now he's starting for Texas; this will be his first start of the season, and his first game for the Rangers. Tepesch is supposed to be their Tommy Milone, the extra guy who steps in when someone else is hurt or struggling; he's currently their No. 2. Mikolas is a right-hander who you will learn more about in the Q&A. Respectively, their ERA+ numbers are 66, 83, and 96, and that 96 (by Mikolas) is in only four starts. This is exactly why the A's went out and got Shark and Hammel. Even if you already have five good pitchers, things can always go wrong quickly.
1. It's no secret that this season has been a disaster for the Rangers, who somehow have the worst record in baseball. Almost everything has gone wrong, but that's not news anymore. What's something unexpected or cool that has gone right for Texas this year?
AJM: Things that have gone right, huh? Well, the minor leagues have been a positive -- Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson have all taken big steps forward. Yu Darvish is awesome. Rougned Odor has come to the majors as a 20-year-old and kept his head above water. Ummmm ... hmmmm ... Robinson Chirinos looks like he can be a decent part-time catcher. That's probably it, I think.
2. Now that you've seen a bit of both of them in the Majors, which middle infielder do you think goes on to have a better career -- Jurickson Profar or Rougned Odor?
AJM: That's a tough call. Odor is a true second baseman, a guy who gets raves for his makeup from those around the game, who plays with the proverbial chip on his shoulder. I think a reasonable comp for him is Michael Young ... a guy who will be a .300 hitter with some pop, won't walk much, will be a solid defender at 2B, and who will have a lengthy career as a grinder who never gives up an at-bat. Profar is someone who I felt had a ceiling of someone like Larkin or Trammell, but guys who miss entire seasons at his age have a scary profile. I'd probably go with Odor, but really, its a coin-flip at this point.
3. The Rangers are in an interesting situation. The season is lost, but there is still plenty of hope for 2015 with several stars in the lineup and a rotation led by Yu Darvish. Do you think the team will sell off some pieces at the deadline, or mostly stand pat and make another run with this group next year?
AJM: I think they are sellers, but by all accounts, they see 2014 as an injury-plagued aberration, and are expecting to contend in 2015. Neal Cotts is a free agent after the season, so he almost certainly will be dealt. Alex Rios could be dealt, but they've got a reasonable team option for 2015 on him, and dealing him opens up a hole in right field. Michael Choice could have made trading Rios an easier decision, but his disastrous 2014 campaign means it would be problematic to rely on him for 2015. But guys like Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus are almost certainly staying put, and the Rangers will look to fill a couple of holes in the offseason and try again in 2015.
4. Who takes over as the closer now that Joakim Soria is gone? And what did you get in return for him from the Tigers?
AJM: Neftali Feliz is getting the first shot at replacing Soria. His stuff still isn't all the way back after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012, but there's no other obvious candidate; besides, with a last place team, it doesn't really matter who closes, does it? As far as the return for Soria, he, like Rios, has a reasonable option for 2015, but the Rangers have had luck finding relievers on the cheap, and so they were more willing to part with him if they got a quality return back. And in Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel, they got two quality pitching prospects, one who is a couple of years away and profiles as a potential mid-rotation starter, one who could contribute in the immediate future as a setup man.
5. Who is Miles Mikolas (Sun starter), and what is his scouting report?
AJM: Miles Mikolas is an interesting story, a guy most famous for eating a lizard on a bet:
He was sent with Jaff Decker by the Padres to the Pirates this offseason for someone named Alex Dickerson, then the Pirates sent him to Texas for minor league first baseman Chris McGuiness. Mikolas was a reliever most of his pro career, but Texas started using him as a starter in Triple-A a couple of months ago, and he got brought up when the Rangers got sick of the Joe Saunders Experience and wanted to replace him in the rotation. He's a strike-thrower, someone who will attack the zone, but who gets in trouble with strikes that can be too hittable. I'd compare him to someone like Josh Lindblom, who you guys got from us as part of the Craig Gentry deal. He's out of options after this year, so I think the Rangers are auditioning him for a potential swingman/long relief role in 2015.
6. Nick Martinez (pushed back, no longer starting Sunday) was forced to skip Triple-A so that he could help out in Texas' rotation this year, and so far he has a 4.73 ERA (86 ERA+). Is he someone who could be better with proper development in the minors, or was he rushed because the team sees him as only a stopgap, organizational filler kind of guy?
AJM: Martinez is a guy with a mid-rotation ceiling, and I think he was brought up and thrust into the mix when he was because the Rangers feel he's the type of pitcher who can handle the mental side of being put into this situation without it overwhelming him and ruining him. He was a second baseman in college -- he was drafted out of Fordham in 2011, and has only been a full-time pitcher for three years now -- so its a credit to him he's done as well as he has, given the original plan was for him to start the season in Double-A and maybe see the PCL before the season is out.
7. Can you please write us a haiku or limerick about the injurious Rangers season in general?
Prince Fielder nekkid
In the Body Issue mag,
Highlight of his year.
Thank you, Adam, for participating in the Q&A!
The series starts tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 5:05 p.m., Hammel vs. Williams. I keep checking to see if it's really Jerome Williams, rather than some hot prospect I haven't heard of yet, but it really is him. Most importantly, Donnie Murphy, who has hit three of his four homers this year against the A's, is not in the lineup. Praise the lord.