Oakland A's: 5 Things to Look for in Series vs. Seattle Mariners
The Oakland A’s deserve some much-needed home cooking, particularly after the grueling three-game series against the Boston Red Sox over the weekend. All three games were intense, as the A’s were strongly tested by the World Series champions.
Oakland escaped with a 10-inning victory on Sunday to take the last game in the series, avoiding a sweep by doing so. Each contest was a struggle for the Athletics. In fact, in all three facets of the game—pitching, hitting and fielding—the A’s were generally outplayed. On the cusp of being swept out of Boston on the heels of an inspiring three-game sweep of their own of the Texas Rangers, it was a great win for the Athletics.
But there is no time to rest and reflect for the A’s. Following their cross-country 10-game road trip, the team immediately flew back to Oakland to begin a 10-game homestand that has a unique twist. Starting Monday, the Seattle Mariners pay another visit to the Oakland Coliseum for four games in three days; a doubleheader is scheduled for Wednesday to atone for the “washout” that occurred in early April.
After this series is over, the A’s will have played the M’s 10 times in their first 45 games this season. The Mariners are obviously a ballclub with which the Athletics are overly familiar.
Here are five things to look for in the upcoming series against the Seattle Mariners.
Scott Kazmir Keeps Rolling
Oakland A’s lefty Scott Kazmir might garner a lot of votes for Comeback Player of the Year, but he is probably more deserving of early season American League Cy Young Award consideration given his tremendous performance thus far.
Through six starts, the veteran Kazmir is 4-0, ranking first in win percentage and WHIP (0.94), second in wins, fifth in ERA (2.11) and seventh in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.0). It’s not a surprise that he’s pitching well so much as it is a shock that he’s dominating so easily.
The 30-year-old southpaw is coming off his worst outing of the season last week against the Texas Rangers. Kazmir threw five innings, giving up seven hits and three runs. The A’s, however, did win convincingly. Oakland is undefeated in each game that Kazmir has started this season.
Kazmir will start in the series opener against Seattle, and he heads into the series with tremendous career numbers against the Mariners. His 1.05 WHIP and .195 opponents’ batting average are his best marks against any other AL foe. His 3.12 career ERA, in 12 starts, is also tied for his lowest against an AL ballclub. Earlier this season, Kazmir tossed six shutout innings against the M’s at Safeco Field, allowing two hits while striking out nine.
Can he match that success this time around? Seattle’s hitters fare much better against lefties, batting .249 (as opposed to .226 versus righties). Platooning catcher Mike Zunino leads the way with a .310 batting average, but it’s the left-handed hitters who could be the most dangerous against Kazmir. Oddly enough, lefties are hitting .321 versus Kazmir with a .724 OPS (righties have a measly .497 OPS).
Look for Kazmir to struggle against the left-handed hitting Robinson Cano but dominate the rest of the M’s lineup. Kazmir just needs to make sure there’s nobody on base in front of Cano if he wants to keep Seattle’s offense at bay.
Can They Dethrone the King?
Speaking of dominant starting pitchers, the A’s must be frightened to see that Seattle’s ace, Felix Hernandez, will be on tap to face them this series. The Athletics’ nemesis owns a career 17-7 mark against the A’s with a 2.60 ERA. He has struck out 212 batters in 215 innings to boot. Even better, Hernandez has a 9-2 career record in Oakland.
In April, Hernandez threw another Coliseum gem, giving up one lone run in 8.1 innings, striking out nine. Dating back to 2013, Hernandez has allowed one run in 23 innings in Oakland. With 25 strikeouts and three walks.
On paper, it already looks ominous for the Athletics, as Hernandez’s turn in the rotation is scheduled for Wednesday. Only Brandon Moss (.280 batting average) and Alberto Callaspo (.298) have had meaningful career success against Hernandez. What will be most interesting to see is whether A’s manager Bob Melvin will sit left fielder Yoenis Cespedes against Hernandez. Cespedes has a .185/.241/.222 slash line with 10 strikeouts in 27 at-bats versus King Felix.
Given that Wednesday is a doubleheader, Melvin should opt to sit Cespedes, who has already battled a couple of nagging injuries this season, in the game that Hernandez will start. Though Josh Reddick has fared even worse in his career (.133 batting average), his outfield defense is more valuable. Look for Daric Barton to play first base and Moss to play left field against Hernandez on Wednesday.
It probably won’t matter too much, given Hernandez’s domination of Oakland’s lineup. But every little advantage helps against the king. Or rather, every opportunity to reduce already-weak productivity can help. And the A’s will need all the help they can get.
Josh Lindblom or Drew Pomeranz?
Wednesday’s doubleheader will be the second such twin-billing this season for the Athletics, as the A’s already squared off twice in one day against the Cleveland Indians in early April. Though it was the first series of the season, the Athletics were still flummoxed enough by the jagged schedule (due to an April 1 rainout) that the team summoned righty Josh Lindblom from Triple-A Sacramento to spot start in the April 2 nightcap.
The 26-year-old righty performed modestly considering the unexpected adjustment in the A’s schedule in April. In a pinch, Lindblom gave the team 4.2 innings, allowing only two runs—both of which were plated by a Mike Aviles home run. Not bad for just his sixth career start, but nothing eye-popping, either.
If the A’s want to give themselves a better chance to win, then they will not start Lindblom on Wednesday. After his April appearance with Oakland, Lindblom has struggled mightily in the minors. The right-hander sports a 6.53 ERA in five games with the River Cats. In 30.1 innings with Sacramento, he has allowed 34 hits, good enough for a .290 batting average against.
His performance thus far is not good enough for a second look in the bigs. Though the Mariners are not exactly the most dangerous AL offense, they are major league hitters who can pounce on any unimpressive stuff. That is why the decision for who will start in the second game of the doubleheader is a head-scratcher for the A’s.
Another option could be lefty Drew Pomeranz. The 25-year-old reliever has made nine appearances for Oakland, resulting in adequate success. His season numbers include a 1-1 record with a 1.98 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. He has allowed two solo home runs in 13.1 innings. His most recent appearance was in last Friday’s 7-1 loss to the Red Sox in which he allowed three hits and one run in 2.1 innings of relief.
Pomeranz was acquired in the deal that sent starter Brett Anderson to the Colorado Rockies. Surely the Athletics expected that at one point down the road Pomeranz would serve as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Why not see what he can do sooner rather than later, especially in the comforts of playing at home?
Pomeranz has yet to allow a hit at the Coliseum, facing 15 hitters and issuing three walks. It would make sense if the A’s gave him an opportunity to start at home, hoping he eats up some innings in the process.
Can Cano Be Contained?
One of the difficult tasks for the A’s, no matter who is pitching for them, is retiring and limiting the damage of Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano. The big splash of free agency last season has had tremendous success against the Athletics throughout his already stellar career. But now that he is a Mariner, the A’s have to face him at least 80 to 100 times a year, providing him more opportunities to punish Oakland pitching.
For his career, Cano is batting .303 against the A’s, with eight home runs and 28 runs batted in in 78 games. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly, given his talent level), Cano hits even better at the Coliseum—he carries a .307 batting average and .516 slugging percentage in Oakland.
Of course the real challenge for the A’s pitching staff will be to make sure that the table-setters in front of Cano do not do their jobs. Corralling Cano is a tough task in itself, but making sure that he doesn’t have many opportunities to drive in runs is the key to this series.
Overall, Cano is still adjusting offensively as he fits in with his new team. His numbers are not sexy (only eight extra-base hits), but he still has a .293 batting average, which would be the highest mark if he were on the Athletics. Though he has yet to reach the levels of his own personal standards, it’s only a matter of time before he plays at his All-Star level offensively. It would be nice if he didn’t get going against the A’s.
Get More Derek Norris
One thing to keep an eye on during this Seattle series is whether Bob Melvin sticks firmly to his right-left platoon at catcher. Because the way that Derek Norris is hitting, it’d be hard to keep him out of the everyday lineup right now.
The Mariners are slated to throw three right-handers during their four-game series in Oakland, with lefty Roenis Elias the only southpaw (Tuesday’s matchup).
Norris, however, is brandishing a hot bat at the moment. The platooner is 14-for-27 in his past 10 games, with seven walks and only four strikeouts. His season batting average currently sits at .371 with a burly .458 on-base percentage.
What’s doubly impressive, however, is Norris’ performance against righties so far this season. He has a .400 batting average against righties, and both of his home runs this year are against right-handers.
Given Melvin’s penchant for going with whoever is hottest, Norris might see a lot of playing time this series. Yes, he’ll split starting time in the doubleheader, and he’ll face the lefty Elias. But maybe Norris could earn time as designated hitter in the other game of the doubleheader.
Whatever the case may be, and however Melvin decides to use Norris, there should be plenty of ways to get Norris more at-bats. His offense is too valuable right now to keep him on the bench.
Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue