6 Keys for the Oakland A's to Dominate the Series vs. the Seattle Mariners
As the weekend approaches, the Oakland A's get set to square off against a familiar AL West division foe, the Seattle Mariners. Though the Northwesterners upgraded their roster, they're still very much beatable.
Oakland has started its season with a series against Seattle for the last four consecutive years. This year they got a slight relief from seeing Felix Hernandez on Opening Day. Unfortunately, they'll see him on Saturday.
The Mariners arrive with a perfect 3-0 record, obviously better than the Athletics' 1-2 record.
Unlike years past, the A's now must game-plan for more than just King Felix, as the Mariners made a huge offseason splash when they signed star second baseman Robinson Cano. Additionally, the team signed Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison in hopes the pair could further bolster the lineup. New closer Fernando Rodney is yet another notable signing.
The good news for A's fans is that talented pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker are both currently on the disabled list. That hypothetically should make things a bit easier.
Here are the potential matchups:
Game 1 (Thursday, April 3): Roenis Elias vs. Jesse Chavez
Game 2 (Friday, April 4): Chris Young vs. Dan Straily
Game 3 (Saturday, April 5): Felix Hernandez vs. Tommy Milone
Game 4 (Sunday, April 6): Erasmo Ramirez vs. Sonny Gray
We know how both teams have started and the matchups. So what must the A's do to dominate this series?
Start Strong with Starting Pitching
First up is Jesse Chavez.
We know what he did in spring training, pitching well enough to make the roster and slide into the No. 3 hole in the starting rotation. In case you don't know, though, check out this stat line:
5-1/2.22 ERA/6 BB/25 K (seven games)
We know exactly what the offenses of both teams should do. And we have an idea of both bullpens. So really, it comes down to Chavez as the X-factor in the first game.
His competition seems to mirror his output, too.
Roenis Elias has yet to pitch at the major league level, but his spring stat line looks like this:
3-0/2.38 ERA/10 BB/12 K (six games)
Hence, the advantage should go to the A's with Chavez as the tiebreaker, so to speak.
In Game 2, Dan Straily must outpitch Chris Young. Young hardly pitched in spring just four innings of work which saw him give up four hits but allow no runs. He has been in Major League Baseball for nine seasons, pitching for three teams. He did not pitch in MLB in 2013.
Straily's spring was a bit of a concern, as he allowed 14 hits in 13.1 innings pitched, walking more (10) than he struck out (eight). However, in 34 major league games, Straily has kept his ERA under 4.00, notably pitching very well in the last half of the 2013 season.
It's important the A's...
Go Up 2-0 to Ride Confidence into Saturday
It would be easy to say one key to dominating the Mariners is to stifle Felix Hernandez. In reality, that's a difficult task—one that likely won't happen.
But going up 2-0 before Saturday's matchup could do wonders for the A's.
The momentum would shift into Oakland's favor. The two wins—while they wouldn't stifle Hernandez—would put an end to the Mariners' hot start quickly. Though teams typically take it one game at a time, taking the first two games of a series is a confidence boost, even if the third pitcher in line is a perennial Cy Young candidate and he faces Oakland's fifth (really seventh) option in Tommy Milone. It also causes that pitcher to start with just that much more stress on the line.
It sounds silly, but anything a team can do to make Hernandez uncomfortable is worth doing. Start him in a hole if you can.
And while we're talking about the King, the A's must also...
Be Patient and Take Advantage of the Few Opportunities Provided
Felix Hernandez is a strikeout machine. You're not going to get many chances to score against him, so when those opportunities present themselves, the A's must capitalize.
That means taking as many pitches as possible—no wild hacks at pitches out of the strike zone, and jump on his mistakes. Not just at the plate, either. The A's must take advantage once they get on base, too. They can't afford silly baserunning errors.
If they can be patient, get a few walks here and a few hits there, all they have to do is score two or three runs to win. That's all you're going to get from King Felix.
That, of course, assumes Oakland's pitching can keep Seattle's lineup at bay, something the Los Angeles Angels' pitching staff was unable to do. The Mariners enter the series averaging about 8.5 runs per game. So that brings us to the next point...
Pitch Around Robinson Cano and Attack Everyone Else Aggressively
Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are no slouches, yet the Mariners knocked Weaver out in 6.1 innings and knocked Wilson around in 5.2 innings.
How on earth can guys like Jesse Chavez, Tommy Milone and Dan Straily be expected to pitch better than the two at the top of the Angels' rotation? The common denominator for Weaver and Wilson is total pitches. In few innings, they each threw a ton of pitches.
The A's have support from a terrific bullpen, though.
Starters must not give Robinson Cano anything to hit and then go right after everyone else. Make those non-Cano hitters put balls into play and let the All-Star defense behind them do the rest of the work. And if things go south, the bullpen has the ability to contain the damage. A's manager Bob Melvin can easily turn to them quickly if needed.
So far we've talked a ton about pitching, but the A's also need...
Potential All-Stars Must Hit Like They Belong in the Midsummer Classic
Two guys: Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson.
Before the second game of the doubleheader on April 2, Cespedes was hitting .222. After that game, he brought his average up to .273. He's the superstar of the team, so it's paramount that he continues to turn a bad spring around and catapult himself toward the club's stats leaderboard.
Then there's Donaldson. He's struggling a bit, hitting just .143.
Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss are hitting very well so far. But to really put it to the Mariners, the team needs more than two guys to carry the load. Especially considering that Cano is hitting .500, Justin Smoak is at .417 and Dustin Ackley is hitting .364.
Besides, when the hitters hit, the pitchers have less burden on their shoulders. That's obvious, but for this particular group of pitchers, it'd be more beneficial to give them a lead to work with to calm the nerves.
And then, of course, Oakland must...
The A's must finish each individual game strong and the series as a whole.
In two of the first three games, the Athletics' pitching staff held strong until the ninth. Sonny Gray pitched wonderfully, and the bullpen held his shutout. Then closer Jim Johnson allowed runs in the ninth and took the loss. In Game 2 of the April 2 doubleheader, the A's entered the ninth inning with a lead, only to watch Johnson blow it and take another loss.
He's already being booed by fans.
Johnson and Melvin must right this ship ASAP. Whether that means turning to a combination of Evan Scribner, Dan Otero, Sean Doolittle then Luke Gregerson in close games—temporarily until Johnson adapts—and saving the closer for larger leads, then so be it. The A's can't afford to keep letting games slip away in the ninth at this rate.
Then, in the fourth game of the series, Gray must pitch like an ace. This isn't something he can't do. (Side note: it would have been great to see him match up against Felix Hernandez on April 5, but the rainout ruined that one.)
If Gray continues to do his thing, Jesse Chavez and Dan Straily win their pitching battles and the offense sneaks one out against King Felix—it's asking quite a bit— the A's can win their first series of 2014 and potentially sweep the Mariners out of first place.