Oakland Athletics: 5 Things Learned During Series vs. Minnesota Twins
The Oakland Athletics went on the road for their first away series this season against the Minnesota Twins. It was an interesting series for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact the three-game set spanned four days—on purpose.
Then again, Oakland has had its fair share of unexpected scheduling conflicts over the first two weeks, so a planned day off after the Twins’ season opener shouldn’t be that big of an oddity.
Not to mention that all three games were during the day, an interesting quirk for fans following out west who were just getting to the office pouring their first cups of Joe.
The abnormal schedule, however, did not make the Athletics groggy. In fact, in general, the A’s were quite alert during this series, as Oakland’s perked-up offense scored 21 runs. The A’s ended their four-day stay in Minneapolis with a three-game sweep of the Twins and a place atop the American League West standings.
Here’s what we learned from the Oakland Athletics’ sweep of the Minnesota Twins.
Starting Pitching Rules. Duh!
The Oakland A’s starting pitching is their best asset. This isn't brand-new information their starting pitching is one of the best assets in all of the AL. However, every now and again, it’s nice to re-learn how incredibly good Oakland’s starting rotation really is.
After all, let’s not forget less than four weeks ago, the A’s were seemingly crippled by the injury news surrounding starting pitchers Jarrod Parker (out for the season with Tommy John surgery) and A.J. Griffin (out the first month of the season with a sore elbow).
How would the A’s staff survive without 40 percent of its arms? Yes, the team had prepared for such a worst-case scenario by housing seven-plus starters during spring training.
But could Oakland truly expect to make up for losing nearly 400 innings pitched with Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez?
Throw in the fact the A’s lost 2013 ace Bartolo Colon to free agency and replaced him with a pitcher, Scott Kazmir, who appeared in one game in 2011 and 2012 combined, and newly minted ace Sonny Gray only had 10 career MLB starts to his credit—there were more question marks about the A’s vaunted rotation than they would have liked.
And yet, so far this season, the starting staff is in fact the most dominant unit of the team. As usual.
In Minnesota’s season opener Monday, Kazmir gutted out a victory with a bare-minimum quality start: three earned runs in six innings.
It only got better from there, as Chavez followed with seven innings of one-run ball Wednesday—numbers replicated by the forgotten Dan Straily in the series finale Thursday.
After just one week, Minnesota had the highest-scoring offense in the AL. Oakland’s starters managed to hold the Twins to five earned runs in 20 innings. The starting rotation’s ERA stands at a league-best 1.93.
That’s six straight quality starts by the A’s and eight in the team’s first nine games to begin the season.
Make no mistake—Oakland’s ballyhooed starting rotation may include a couple different or unexpected faces (and arms). But the expectations and results have been the same: dominant, as always.
Door Closed on Jim Johnson
Unfortunately, one of the biggest lessons the A’s have learned has come quite early in their season. And it’s one they wish they didn’t have to find out: closer Jim Johnson is terrible.
So unreliable and ineffective that prior to Oakland’s 6-1 victory Thursday, manager Bob Melvin announced Johnson was being demoted. This news came after Johnson coughed up a two-run lead in Wednesday’s 7-4 extra-inning win for Oakland.
It was the third time in five appearances Johnson had lost a ninth-inning lead. Not the best first, second and fifth impressions for Johnson, the All-Star closer who Oakland traded for last offseason to replace free agent Grant Balfour.
On Wednesday, Johnson actually earned a hold for his efforts: five batters faced, one out, two hits allowed and two runs allowed.
It actually could have been worse, had it not been for Minnesota’s inexcusable intent to bunt with runners at first and second with no outs to start the ninth. Why sacrifice with him struggling so mightily?
Regardless, the damage was done. The Twins tied the game when A’s reliever Dan Otero allowed a sacrifice fly, but Oakland withstood the emotional letdown and came back to win in the 11th.
Several experts scratched their heads when the Athletics acquired Johnson last offseason, who led the AL in saves and blown saves in 2013. Those reservations are proving to be worrisome so far, as Melvin and the A’s have opted for a bullpen by committee only nine games into the season.
The A’s bullpen is considered by many to be one of the top relief units in all of baseball. With Otero, Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson and Ryan Cook, the Athletics have a wealth of arms in their arsenal.
Cook has the most experience serving as the extended closer for Oakland back in 2012. While Johnson has tallied 101 saves in the past two seasons alone, the remainder of the A’s bullpen has a combined 35 saves for their careers led by Cook and Gregerson with 16 each.
It’s bad the A’s have had to make this decision about Johnson. Demoting a closer, or any player, with his experience can’t be easy or desirable. But the good news is Oakland is dealing with this problem in April and not, say, late August. Hooray for silver linings!
Does Josh Reddick Deserve a Demotion?
Speaking of players who are in abysmal slumps—Josh Reddick!
What began as a non-concern has turned into a complete nonplus for the Athletics. Many players start the season slowly, but Reddick’s 3-for-29 opening to the 2014 campaign is indeed a major issue.
Partly because it’s impossible to understand what is “wrong” with Reddick at the plate. Mostly because Reddick’s poor performance becomes an asterisk in how the A’s evaluate their roster with it comes to playing time.
Outfielder Craig Gentry has been cleared to come off the disabled list, having been sidelined with a back strain since the beginning of spring training. At the time, Oakland anticipated Gentry would be the team’s fourth outfielder rotating time with Reddick, Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes.
And when the A’s added outfielder Sam Fuld to the Opening Day roster to serve as Gentry’s fill-in, it seemed predictable when Gentry was healthy again to rejoin the team, Fuld would be the odd man out.
And yet, with Reddick’s slump, Fuld is back in the fold. Fuld’s omnipresence on the field has been invaluable for the A’s, making the decision to release him (Fuld is out of options and would have to pass through waivers for Oakland to retain him) all the more difficult.
Would the A’s really send Reddick down to Triple-A when Gentry is activated from the DL? Should they demote Reddick?
Sure. What the heck, why not?
It’s been made clear in just a couple of weeks Fuld can play defense as well as Reddick. Sounds impossible, but it’s somewhat true (Fuld already has two outfield assists).
Meanwhile, at the plate, Fuld has accumulated two triples and a home run in six games, with a .482 slugging percentage (compared to Reddick’s .103).
Yes, Fuld isn’t exactly a league-wide terror. It’d be a slam-dunk decision to demote Reddick if Fuld was hitting .300 with three homers. But Reddick could use a refresh in Sacramento, regardless.
In Wednesday’s game, Reddick struck out four times and added a double-play groundout, an ego-bruising game for anyone, but a confidence-drainer for a player in the kind of slump Reddick is in.
He has 13 strikeouts in 29 at-bats and only two walks, evidence he simply has no control of the strike zone right now.
For all of his rascality and personality, Reddick is best served to either be the fourth or platooning outfielder that Gentry was intended to be, or simply take a staycation in the state’s capital for a few weeks.
Alberto Callaspo Needs to Be in Starting Lineup
Speaking of platoons—Alberto Callaspo shouldn’t be platooning.
The switch-hitting, multi-position infielder needs to be in the starting lineup. His bat, right now, is aflame with base hits, collecting two hits in each of the three games versus the Twins.
Callaspo already has four multi-hit games this season, and has a ridiculous .444/.524/.667 slash line in five games, making it difficult for Melvin to give him a day off.
But with Reddick’s slump and Crisp on the mend this series nursing a wrist injury, it was easy for Melvin to find a spot for Callaspo in the lineup: designated hitter. In all three games, Callaspo served as Oakland’s DH. He finished 6-for-13 with two runs scored and two runs batted in.
With several A’s regulars starting off slowly, the team needs Callaspo in the lineup. The A’s offense is in the middle of the pack in the AL in several categories, including batting average, hits and total bases. But thanks to the versatility of Callaspo and his scorching bat, Oakland ranks fifth in the league in runs scored.
(Of course it also helps that the Twins rank last in ERA.)
A's Feeling Minnesota
Yes, facing the Twins is a great way to jump-start an offense. Minnesota’s pitching staff has but one quality start this season, a 6.31 team ERA, and a hefty 1.63 WHIP—all league-worst marks. They’ve also served up 13 home runs, including four to the Athletics.
Oakland has had a particularly fun time facing Minnesota. The three-game sweep extends the Athletics’ winning streak to nine in a row against the Twins. The domination has been across the board, as Oakland has outscored Minnesota 86-27 during that span.
The A’s continued to manhandle the Twins during this series, scoring 21 runs on 30 hits. Meanwhile, A’s pitching, despite Johnson’s ninth-inning hiccup Wednesday, held Minnesota’s high-powered offense (now ranked second in the AL in runs scored) to just eight runs in 29 innings.
Unfortunately for the A’s, the next time they face Minnesota will be in August, in Oakland. In the meantime, the Athletics will focus their attention on the rest of the league, starting with the rival Seattle Mariners, the next stop on their road trip.
With first place on the line. April baseball at its best.
Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue