For the first time since 2002, the Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers squared off in a regular-season series. Additionally, the last time the Brew Crew played host to the A’s was in 1997, at the old County Stadium—as a member of the American League. Current A’s special assistant Phil Garner was the manager of the Brewers back then. Jeromy Burnitz mashed 27 home runs for Milwaukee that season—the last time Mark McGwire was in green and gold.
That was practically a generation ago in baseball years.
The two teams reacquainted themselves this week with the 21st century version of each other. With the Brewers now residing in the National League Central, this week’s series was an interleague game that featured Oakland pitchers batting in Milwaukee for the first time since the inception of the designated hitter. History in the making, for sure.
Though no exchanges of What have you been up to? were made, there was some obvious relearning of the opposition. The A’s faced former NL MVP Ryan Braun for the first time; while the Brewers got to see what all the hype was about regarding an Oakland team that came out of nowhere last season to snag the AL West crown. In a matchup of unfamiliar faces, many things were going to be discovered.
Here are five takeaways from Oakland’s road series against the Milwaukee Brewers.
What stands out first and foremost is the latest appearance by Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle. For most of the season, the lefty setup man has been on point, wheeling and dealing with uber-efficency and consistency. However, his recent performance has him mired smack-dab in the middle of a horrid slump, which was extended by his last outing this week against the Brewers.
In Tuesday’s contest, Doolittle was called on to protect a three-run lead in the eighth inning. All three batters he faced reached base, and each of them ended up scoring a run—though the last one was not on his watch. Still, Milwaukee did tie the score and ultimately won the game in extra innings.
Counting Tuesday, Doolittle has given up seven runs in his past three outings covering a mere 2.1 innings. His ERA has skyrocketed from an anemic 0.78 to a healthy 3.20 in that span. Once regarded as an early All-Star candidate for the starless Oakland A’s, Doolittle has done little recently to turn that notion into a reality.
Athletics manager Bob Melvin is not yet worried. All players go through rough patches. Fortunately, Tuesday’s meltdown was the first time in three weeks the A’s lost a game in which Doolittle pitched. So it’s safe to say that his latest performances aren’t entirely hurting the team.
Still, the nature of middle relievers means bad outings are magnified. A setup man’s ERA can multiply fourfold in a week. Melvin emphasized that he might place Doolittle in less pressurized situations to help alleviate some of the tension. Hopefully this bad streak is just a small bump in the road, and Doolittle will be back to doing a lot of good for the back end of the bullpen.
For down there’s an up. While Sean Doolittle is stuck at the nadir of effectiveness, A’s slugger Yoenis Cespedes is heating up at the plate. The outfielder has had a tepid start to this season—slow given the lofty expectations placed based on his natural talent and ability. But this series in Milwaukee may have helped awaken his offensive production.
Must be something about the Miller Park high life.
The Cuban Missile finished the three-game set with six hits in 14 at-bats, two home runs, four runs batted in and four runs scored. He has hit safely in 15 of his last 17 games, raising his batting average from .196 to .239 along the way. More importantly is his all-around productivity. When he’s seeing the ball well, he comes up big in moments that matter most: In those past 17 games, Cespedes has driven in 14 runs. With third baseman Josh Donaldson putting up All-Star-caliber numbers, it’s vital to the A’s offense that Cespedes catch fire and reach base to set up run-scoring opportunities.
Everyone knows how important Cespedes is to the team’s overall success: Oakland’s record with him in the lineup is 32-15 this season. Now that he appears to be healthy again, the offense as a whole can regain its footing and accelerate at full speed.
Who knew that good ol’ Milwaukee brings out the best in a player.
One of the highlights from this series against the Brewers was witnessing the hitting prowess of A’s starting pitcher Tommy Milone. He's apparently as good at the dish as he is on the hill. Though by most reports, his ability at the plate is not altogether surprising.
A’s pitchers have not been too productive at the plate in recent seasons. Last year, Oakland’s hurlers went a combined 1-for-20: The lone base hit was produced by none other than Milone. In 2011, pitchers did worse, going hitless in 18 at-bats. In 2010, a collective 1-for-16. The last time an A’s starting pitcher recorded more than one base hit—on offense—for an entire season was back in 2009 by a guy named Edgar Gonzalez. Not Gio. Edgar.
Thus, coming into Milwaukee, expectations of A’s pitchers at the plate are not very high. But Milone helped his own cause and then some, muscling two base hits in Monday’s 10-2 A’s victory. He finished the game 2-for-4 with two runs scored and one run driven in.
Fortunately for Milone, Oakland has two more series this season in National League ballparks—at the Pittsburgh Pirates in July and against the Cincinnati Reds in August. Hopefully, Milone will be pitching in one or both of those series. And hopefully he’ll be hitting those series, too. If not as the starting pitcher then maybe as a pinch hitter.
Oakland’s starting staff may not be tearing it up offensively, but on the mound they are certainly hitting their stride. After a tough stretch spanning late April and early May, the starting unit is churning out impressive outing after impressive outing, matching the lofty expectations placed upon them this past offseason.
This three-game series against the Brewers was a prime example of how awesome Oakland’s starting pitchers can be. In Monday’s opener, lefty Tommy Milone gave up two runs on five hits in seven innings, throwing an ultra-efficient 85 pitches along the way. Tuesday’s starter A.J. Griffin was even better, throwing seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits and one walk. Oakland lost, however, 4-3. In Wednesday’s rubber game, veteran righty Bartolo Colon also threw seven innings, allowing only one earned run in the process. Three games, three A’s starters going seven innings.
The three consecutive quality starts ran Oakland’s streak to six in a row; with nine quality starts in the past 11 games. The Athletics’ 36 quality starts this season rank second in the American League. Though that statistic alone is somewhat misleading (A’s starters have a 4.24 ERA), the recent stretch has helped the team claw its way back into second place in the AL West, a game and a half behind the Texas Rangers.
Pitching is Oakland’s bread and butter, and it all starts with the starters. Right now, the starting rotation is on a roll. The Athletics’ formula for success is quality starts. Quality starts beget quality wins beget quality winning streaks. Another long streak is right around the corner.
One of the major lessons learned from the Oakland-Milwaukee series is that of Biogenesis of America, the Miami-area clinic that assumedly connected nearly 20 MLB players with performance-enhancing drugs. According to an ESPN.com article published on Wednesday, MLB is investigating the veracity and level of these a relationships with Biogenesis of America, ready to lay down the law with player suspensions of up to 100 games, depending on the player.
Two of those players were in fact featured in the Oakland Athletics-Milwaukee Brewers series. A’s righty Bartolo Colon who started Wednesday’s game for Oakland was mentioned as a potential client of Biogenesis of America; and Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun was also key name in the report.
Colon has served an important role as Oakland’s fifth starter, posting a 7-2 record and a 3.14 ERA. He served a 50-game suspension for testing positive for PEDs last season. Meanwhile, Braun, the 2011 NL MVP, is Milwaukee’s best player, and has a .292 batting average with nine home runs and 35 RBI this season. The five-time Silver Slugger Award winner had tested positive for elevated testosterone levels, but appealed successfully against a potential suspension.
Both are very important players for their respective teams, and future suspensions to each of them would be damaging for their ball clubs. Despite the cloud of controversy on Wednesday, Colon pitched an impressive game, going seven innings while allowing one earned run. Braun sat out Wednesday’s contest, but Brewers manager Ron Roenicke insisted it was because his left fielder was nursing a right thumb injury—not because of the swirling rumors of suspensions.
Whatever happens in the future, we’ll have to wait and see. But both the Oakland A’s and the Milwaukee Brewers will be hit hard if something does happen to their star players. Guess we’ll stay tuned.
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