The Cleveland Indians (65-56) travel to Oakland (68-52) to take on the A's to begin a huge three-game series on Friday that has important playoff implications. The Oakland A's currently hold the second wild-card spot but only lead the Indians by 3.5 games in the wild-card race.
Both teams come into the series scuffling a bit as the Indians are 3-7 and the A's are 4-6 in the last 10 games, with the Indians having won their last two and the A's having lost two of their last three contests.
Here I will examine what to look for on offense, defense and with the pitching staffs. Let's start by looking at the season series and at who's hot and who's not coming into this big set.
The Indians swept the A's in early May in Cleveland, the only meeting between the two teams so far in the season. The highlight of the series was the sterling 7.2 shutout-inning performance by Zach McAllister in Game 2 en route to a 1-0 Tribe win.
This type of low-scoring game could be a preview to the upcoming series, as Oakland wins with pitching, and the Indians have their ace, Justin Masterson, pitching the first game of the series. Let's see who's hot and who's not for both teams starting with the A's.
Note: August stats will be used to determine who's hot and who's not.
Josh Reddick: 40 AB, .225/.354/.600, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 9 R
Josh Donaldson: 42 AB, .286/.400/.452, 1 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 8 R
Ryan Cook: 6 G, 6.0 IP, 2-0, 1.50 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, .100 BAA (batting average against)
It's got to be a little concerning for the Indians that the Athletics' best offensive player so far this year has been Donaldson (.296/.376/.483, 17 HR, 64 RBI), and he's among the hottest hitters on the team.
Reddick (.215/.301/.377, 10 HR, 46 RBI) has had a horrible year so far, but he's having a power surge right now. His five home runs in August came in two straight against Toronto on Aug. 9 and Aug. 10.
Also interesting to note is that there are no hot starters (other than Jarrod Parker, who isn't starting in this series), and starting pitching is the strength of the A's. Who's struggling right now on the A's?
Dan Straily: 2 GS, 11.1 IP, 0-1, 2.38 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .286 BAA
Bartolo Colon: 2 GS, 6.2 IP, 0-2, 13.50 ERA, 2.70 WHIP, .438 BAA
Jed Lowrie: 47 AB, .213/.260/.362, 1 HR, 4 2B, 6 RBI, 7 R
Straily and Colon go in Games 2 and 3, respectively, in this series. The Indians are fortunate to miss Parker, who is 3-0 with a 3.26 ERA over his last 10 starts, and get a struggling Colon who is otherwise having a great season (14-5, 2.97 ERA, 1.19 ERA).
Who is performing well for the Indians this month, and who is struggling?
Mark Rzepczynski: 7 G, 7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, .091 BAA
Yan Gomes: 9 G, 28 AB, .429/.515/.607, 1 HR, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 5 R
Ryan Raburn: 8 G, 23 AB, .261/.346/.696, 3 HR, 1 2B, 7 RBI, 4 R
It could be a little worrisome for the Tribe that their hottest offensive players are super-subs Gomes and Raburn.
Nick Swisher: 14 G, 54 AB, .167/.237/.297, 1 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 3 R, 11 K
Carlos Santana: 13 G, 49 AB, .163/.226/.327, 2 HR, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 6 R, 10 K
Asdrubal Cabrera: 13 G, 46 AB, .130/.163/.283, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 R, 11 K,
Ubaldo Jimenez: 2 GS, 10.1 IP, 0-2, 3.48 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, .318 BAA
Whereas it is a little concerning that the super-subs are the hottest Indians in August, it should be very alarming that the three players the Indians rely on the most for offense are really scuffling.
It also doesn't bode well for the Indians that Jimenez is struggling so mightily in August, and he starts Game 2 of this series.
Now let's take a closer look at the offenses, pitching and defense for each team.
The A's rank eighth in the AL in runs scored (533) and 10th in home runs (123). They aren't a team that is going to manufacture runs as they rank 12th in stolen bases (56) and are dead last in the league in sacrifice hits (14). They are, however, a patient hitting team, ranking second in the AL in walks.
The key for the Indians will be to keep Donaldson, Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes (19 home runs), Brandon Moss (18), Chris Young (10) and Coco Crisp (10) in the ballpark. The A's are a predominantly fly-ball hitting team as they rank first in the AL in fly balls hit.
The Indians rank fourth in the AL in runs scored (560) and are tied for sixth in home runs (127). Cleveland runs a lot more than the A's, ranking fifth in the AL with 30 more stolen bases (86). They lean toward sacrificing (18) a little more than the A's as well.
Bottom line for the Indians: Cabrera, Swisher and Santana need to wake up and deliver for the Indians. If they do, the Indians lineup becomes very potent alongside the very consistent Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley.
For the season, the A's starters rank fourth in the AL in ERA at 3.89, third in BAA (.248) and third in WHIP (1.22). The August numbers have stayed pretty consistent to the yearly marks.
The work of Game 3 starter Colon and Game 2 Straily in August has already been detailed. Game 1 starter A.J. Griffin has been average in August (2 G, 2 GS, 3.65 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, .208 BAA).
For the year, the bullpen is second in ERA (2.93), second in BAA (.227) and first in WHIP (1.15). This unit is led by closer Grant Balfour, who has 30 saves on the year, but Cook, Sean Doolittle and Jerry Blevins have also been stalwarts in the pen.
The staff has the ability to shut down a struggling Indians offense. If they do, the A's will win the series.
The Tribe comes into this series with a starting staff that ranks ninth on the season in the AL in ERA (4.09), fifth in BAA (.252) and tied for eighth in WHIP (1.34). Game 2's starter Ubaldo Jimenez's struggles have already been outlined.
Indians ace Justin Masterson has struggled in August (3 GS, 18 IP, 1-1, 5.00 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, .264 BAA) and goes in Game 1. Scott Kazmir has also not pitched as well in August (2 GS, 9 IP, 1-1, 5.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .235 BAA), got roughed up in his last outing versus the Angels and was yanked from his last start because of a dead arm.
Cleveland's bullpen has been spotty this season. The relievers rank ninth in the AL in ERA (3.91), seventh in BAA (.237) and are tied for 10th in WHIP (1.33).
In August, the staff's ERA has risen to 4.16 and it's BAA is .250.
Masterson needs to come out and dominate like he can in Game 1, Jimenez needs to give the team some quality innings and the team hopes for Kazmir to regain the success he had been having prior to his last start.
Defense (Both Teams)
Neither team dazzles you with their defensive prowess. Both are close in the yearly stats. The Indians rank fifth in most errors committed (80), and the A's are right behind them with 74.
In August, the Indians have committed 12 errors in 14 games, including four in one game against the Angels, and the A's made 11 in 12 games. Going back a little further, the Tribe blew games against Minnesota and Seattle in July, largely due to defensive miscues.
Both teams need to tighten up defensively in this series in order to avoid giving the other squad extra outs.
This should be an interesting series because both teams are struggling a little at this time. You have a very good pitching staff (A's) pitted against a good offensive team that has been struggling. The Indians are, however, coming off a nine-run, 12-hit barrage in their last game against the Twins.
As previously discussed, A.J. Griffin has been beatable lately, Straily is scuffling and Colon has been awful in August. If these hurlers had been pitching up to their standards lately, I would give a decided advantage to the A's for their starters, but they haven't, so that advantage seems to be neutralized.
On the other side, the Indians staff has been struggling also, and the A's offense is inconsistent.
Both defenses have been pretty awful lately, and this could swing the tide one way or another.
I see Masterson winning Game 1, but I don't have much faith in Ubaldo for Game 2, so I would give the A's that one. I think Kazmir will regain his form and best a struggling Colon in Game 3.
Indians win series two games to one.
Thanks for reading! I welcome any comments you may have.