The six-week mark in the season is right around the corner, which means it will soon be time for the A’s to evaluate the team and its chances to compete for the rest of the year. The placeholders that the A’s went out and signed this offseason have been a bit of a mixed bag, and the time to start wondering if some of those struggling veterans are on the hot seat is now. Jed Lowrie and especially Yonder Alonso have exceeded even the most optimistic expectations fans had of them, while guys like Matt Joyce and Trevor Plouffe have been either unlucky or just plain bad in the early going. Bruce Maxwell may have already worked himself onto the roster for good after Phegley’s injury created an opening, and the Franklin Barreto’s and Matt Chapman’s of the Sounds won’t be needing all too much longer before its time to see what they can offer at the big league level.
Even after taking two of three from Detroit, the standings in the division have not changed:
· Houston: 21-11
· Anaheim: 16-17
· Seattle: 15-17
· Oakland: 14-17
· Texas: 13-19
In this upcoming three game series, the A’s have a shot to leapfrog two teams in the standings and re-establish their second place spot in the division. After two straight exhilarating walk-off wins off of Francisco Rodriguez, the A’s will seek to sustain their momentum against the team that brought K-Rod unto the big leagues, the Angels. Since the Angels last swept the A’s in Anaheim, the team went back to its usual self, going 4-5 in the week-plus since. The Trout-aided offense has been about average in the month of May, allowing the Angels to score enough each game to keep things competitive while still not overwhelming to its opposition, but the injury riddled pitching staff is finally showing its cracks as the Angels have the worst team-ERA in the American League over the last couple weeks.
Andrelton Simmons isn’t just the best defensive player in all of baseball anymore. After five seasons of slightly below average offense, which could always easily be forgiven thanks to his elite glove work, Simmons has been changing his approach at the plate. Due to the fact that there were just some strikes that he could never square up and would get himself out on, Simmons is swinging less than ever before, and is focusing more on making better contact on pitches he knows he can drive. He now rarely chases after offspeed pitches and almost appears to be looking fastball each pitch. In the last week, a bit of a lull has sent his wRC+ back down to league average at 100, but an Andrelton Simmons with even a league average bat is an impact player.
Danny Espinosa ruined a quarter of the opening weekend of baseball for the A’s, and has since been mired in awfulness. The second baseman has an OPS of just .486 and has had just six total hits go for extra bases despite being in the lineup almost every day. Hitting was never supposed to be Espinosa’s calling card, and he still plays just fine defense up the middle, but Espinosa currently couldn’t hit water from the side of a boat.
Monday, 5/8 @ 7:05: Graveman (2-2) vs Nolasco (2-2) on NBSCSA, MLB.tv
Tuesday, 5/9 @ 7:05: Cotton (3-3) vs Meyer (0-1) on NBSCSA, MLB.tv
Wednesday, 5/10 @ 12:35: Triggs (4-2) vs Chavez (2-4) on NBSCSA, MLB.tv
How the A’s Win the Series
When the A’s and Angels play each other, both teams rightfully expect to win and it can be quite frustrating to lose, since the teams are rather evenly matched, even if the two teams took entirely opposite paths to get where they are today. Like for so many baseball games throughout the year, success in this series will come down to pitching, pitching, pitching. Monday night’s game will be a rematch of the opening night matchup, a matchup that saw Kendall Graveman emerge as the victor over Nolasco after throwing six innings of two run ball to go along with seven strikeouts. If Graveman can continue his evolution from "Fourth Starter at best" to his showing as a #2 or #3 man this year, he should have the better stuff and the A’s should have the advantage.
Tuesday’s game will be a battle of young starters with lots of potential who have also struggled in the early going. After Cotton lit up the A’s minors and dazzled in the majors last year, he has struggled more with his control this year and has had some pretty underwhelming starts. Alex Meyer is a tall, lanky lefty with top-half of the rotation potential but atrocious control issues and problems staying on the field have led to the former top prospect only making about ten starts by the time he turned 27 years old with an ugly ERA over six at the top level. Both starters will be looking to prove themselves on Tuesday. If the A’s lineup practices patience and Cotton continues to find his control that made him so dominant in the second half of last year, the A’s will be able to win this game, too.
The final game of this three game series will be between two former journeyman relievers who were given shots to start with the A’s and then thrived in their new roles. However, since leaving Oakland, Chavez has struggled to find the same success and has underwhelmed in his non-green uniforms, whereas one could argue that Triggs has been punching above his weight unsustainably while taking over Chavez’s former role on the A’s. Sustainable or not, though, Triggs has been the A’s best starting pitcher on the year so far, and Chavez has been the Angels worst starting pitcher on the year so far, and so the advantage in this final matchup should also go to the A’s.
All the games are winnable, but baseball cares little for odds, and so, as per usual when playing the Angels, anything can happen. At the same time, not coming away from this series without at least two out of three games won would be a disappointment.
If the A’s sweep the series, they would be back at .500 and very well could be in second place once more.
(Trout expects to play in Oakland)