The Oakland Athletics wrapped up their 10-game homestand by winning five of seven against the Rays and Twins, for a total record of 6-4. Now, they head to Kansas City for a re-match against the Royals, who took two of three in Oakland at the beginning of August. In a terrifying turn of events, the Twins then dealt outfielder Josh Willingham to the Royals; we just saw the Compliant Pork for four games against Minnesota (including his eighth home run in 18 career games against the A's), and now we get to see him for four more. I mean, I like you, Josh, but I wish you weren't here right now because you're really good and you always destroy A's pitching.
These are the expected pitching matchups for the series:
Mon: Sonny Gray vs. Yordano Ventura
Tue: Jon Lester vs. Jeremy Guthrie
Wed: Scott Kazmir vs. Jason Vargas
Thu: Jeff Samardzija vs. James Shields
Sonny vs. Yordano is a fantastic matchup of young star pitchers; more about Ventura in the Q&A. Guthrie dominated the A's for six shutout innings in his start in Oakland, and Shields went the distance in his own shutout performance while allowing only four hits. Vargas tossed four perfect innings in his start before falling apart and getting smashed. The Royals enter the series on a seven-game winning streak, and have won 10 of their last 11 contests.
1. I've always thought of Alcides Escobar as a glove-first shortstop, and he certainly hits like one (88 OPS+ this year, 76 for his career). However, the advanced metrics aren't impressed -- DRS says he's been roughly average over the last three years, and his last three seasons of UZR average out to slightly negative. Are the numbers missing something that makes him a plus defender?
MR: The defensive metrics for Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Eric Hosmer have long been a source of debate. Moustakas rates very well to borderline excellent defensively by the metrics, which doesn't quite pass the eye test. Escobar on the other hand, LOOKS fantastic, but doesn't rate well in the metrics. Hosmer also looks good at times, but does make a lot of silly gaffes and rates meh, but ... GOLD GLOVE! My long-running theory was that Moustakas' overly positive rating and Escobar's underwhelming rating had something to do with the Royals not shifting them properly. I don't know if there are metrics now that can tease that out, but that's my theory. Escobar certainly still looks fantastic.
2. On the other hand, outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson both receive monster praise from the defensive metrics. Which one do you think is better with the glove, especially in center field? And which one is the better player overall, offense and base running included?
MR: Lorenzo Cain is an amazing wizard with the glove and is one of the best ballhawks in all of baseball right now. For years the Royals have wanted someone who could roam the spacious Kauffman Stadium center field the way Amos Otis and Willie Wilson used to do, and Cain is a worthy successor. Dyson is easily the fastest guy on the team and one of the fastest men in the league. Early in his career he took poor routes to the ball and used his speed to make up for the mistakes. It looks like he has really improved his routes, however, and he's up there in defense as well. Dyson hasn't played regularly enough for me to say he's as good or better than Cain (and he should play; he's an upgrade over Nori Aoki and really a better option than any of the rumored trade options they were looking at), so I'll still give Cain the edge.
Offensively, Cain is the better hitter, although Dyson's ability to get on base is underrated. Dyson is also a difference-maker with his legs, although a lot of that has come as a pinch-runner. I suspect the team is afraid Dyson will be exposed as an everyday player, and they may be right about that. Dyson's lack of any kind of power hurts his case, while Cain can put one in the gaps and even over the fence on occasion. Cain is also no slouch on the bases, so Lorenzo gets the nod.
3. The Royals added Raul Ibanez. He had a .523 OPS with the Angels, and he's at .619 with Kansas City. Good signing for a cheap power bat off the bench, or just Dayton being Dayton? And ... Ibanez is coming off the bench, right?
MR: It's Dayton being Dayton. I don't blame him for trying to sift through trash, but its unbelievable they've stuck with Raul this long. Even worse, they've let him play the field with hilarious results.
He has had to DH more regularly with Eric Hosmer out and Billy Butler playing first base, but he doesn't appear to be getting any younger. They said they liked his ability to fill in at LF/1B/DH and his veteran presence, but I have to think if they make an August trade like I suspect they will, Ibanez will either be let go soon or placed in a mayonnaise jar in the locker room so his presence can continue to emanate throughout the clubhouse.
4. This will be A's fans' first look at 23-year-old Yordano Ventura, who has a 3.47 ERA (117 ERA+) this year in 21 starts and one relief appearance. What is his scouting report?
MR: He throws the ball very, very hard.
Ventura's strikeouts had been trending downward going into the All-Star break, which may or may not be by design, but he has bounced back with 22 strikeouts over his last three starts. Even during his strikeout decline, his velocity continued to be in the upper-90s -- even triple-digits at times. His curveball is his best secondary offering, and I believe that is the pitch that is not inducing missed bats as much as it used to. Ventura will also mix in a two-seamer and a change-up, although there is some debate on the efficacy of his change-up.
Ventura's command seemed a bit off last week against Arizona, yet he still turned in a terrific performance. Last year was his career high in innings pitched in his professional career at 149, and he's already at 127 this year, so fatigue may soon become an issue with his small frame.
5. Can you please write us a haiku or a limerick about manager Ned Yost?
Ned Yost is a manager that's
Always looking to add some more bats
When Moore didn't provide
At the deadline, Ned sighed,
"I guess I'll DH Erik Kratz!"
Thank you, Max, for participating in the Q&A!
The series starts tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 5:10 p.m., Gray vs. Ventura. Willingham is not in the lineup for the opener, but Josh Reddick is batting second for the A's.