Oakland Athletics: 5 Takeaways from Series Against the Texas Rangers
Usually, any time the Oakland Athletics face the Texas Rangers, the series is magnified a touch. Competitively, the two American League West rivals have matched one another win for win over the years; the A’s have won the last two division crowns, while the Rangers won the two prior.
This year was expected to be another wire-to-wire battle between these two divisional adversaries. However, the Rangers have experienced an incredibly disappointing 2014 season, the result of unpredictable performances and a rash of injuries. The team has never been at full strength and has limped short-handedly through the entire season.
It has been so devastating that the Rangers have actually fallen into the cellar of the AL West, below and behind the perennially lowly Houston Astros. In fact, heading into the weekend series against Oakland, Texas actually had the worst record in all of baseball at 40-62.
The Rangers’ precipitous decline, however, does not affect the competitiveness or the intensity between these two ballclubs. And with the A’s at the complete opposite end of the spectrum—owners of baseball’s best record—the pressure was on the mighty Athletics to put the lifeless Rangers away with ease.
The A's did take two of three from the lowly Rangers. It probably felt good to win a road series. It probably was disappointing to not sweep against the worst team in baseball. It probably also felt weird to see a Texas team that has been so thorny for the past half-decade become the hapless team that it currently is right now, zombie-ing its way toward the finish line for the last two-plus months of the season.
Yet for a team like Oakland, one that has dreams of a World Series championship, there's no time for sympathy—especially for one of its divisional rivals.
Here are five things learned from the Oakland A’s series against the Texas Rangers.
Jason Hammel Pummeled Again
So how long until A’s fans are allowed to start petitioning for Tommy Milone to be re-promoted? Mid-August? Right now? How many sad performances from Jason Hammel will it take?
The also-ran in the Fourth of July blockbuster trade with the Chicago Cubs that also brought ace Jeff Samardzija, Hammel was hammered again—this by the Rangers—in Friday’s 4-1 Texas victory. The righty lasted 5.2 innings, his longest outing as an Athletic, allowing three earned runs on seven hits with two walks. His Oakland ERA now stands at 7.11.
Certainly, Oakland is not even for a second considering Hammel’s job to be in jeopardy. After all, many analysts consider Hammel to be the more consistent asset in the trade and the true long-term commodity. However, if he continues to perform as he has for the A’s, Oakland might opt to bring the demoted Milone back into the fold.
Earlier this past week, the lefty Milone expressed his desire to be traded to a team that would offer him a starting spot in a major league rotation, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. He did not seem to hide behind the fact that he was frustrated about being sent down to the minors as a result of the acquisitions of Samardzija and Hammel. But the A’s appear that they will keep Milone in their back pocket in case of an emergency.
Little did they know that the emergency might be Hammel’s utterly unexpected inefficiency.
In three starts with Oakland, Hammel has given up three home runs in 12.2 innings and has a 1.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. With Chicago, Hammel allowed only 10 homers in 108.2 innings, striking out 104 while walking only 23.
For a team with World Series aspirations, it can afford to make a switch if Hammel indeed continues to implode.
Wait and see.
Everyone knows that the great thing about the Oakland Athletics is their depth. The team consists of solid bench players, versatile guys who can play multiple positions and switch-hitters, all of which help the A's gain matchup advantages.
However, the real depth in Oakland’s roster lies in the range of quality hitters who can alternate shouldering the load. The A’s do not have to rely solely on one or two players to carry the offense. Hot bats do not have to belong specifically to Josh Donaldson or Yoenis Cespedes or Coco Crisp.
Yes, these guys are the heart and soul of the lineup, but if and when any of them slump, the A’s know that somebody else is going to pick up the slack.
In April, it was Jed Lowrie wielding the hot bat. Then Donaldson and Brandon Moss carried the team through the month of May. And Crisp, Cespedes and Derek Norris all had spectacular offensive numbers in June. But the ebbs and flows of the long season offer others to get hot while others remain cold.
Case in point is the current state of the offense in the season’s second half. Post-All-Star break, the Athletics are relying upon some unexpected hot hitters, specifically Josh Reddick and Eric Sogard. Reddick’s season has been inconsistent, production-wise and health-wise. He has had two stints on the disabled list and was hitting as low as .208 as recently as May 7.
But now he is healthy and is hitting. After his first visit to the DL, Reddick hit .455 in four games. He returned from his second trip to the DL on July 22 and has since gone 8-for-21 with four extra-base hits in six games. His season batting average now sits at .245, just a tick above Donaldson’s .244.
The other unlikely offensive source has been Sogard, who has been looking up at the Mendoza line for much of the season; his average was .186 as of July 12. His playing time has waned in recent weeks, but he’s seen more action due to an injury to Alberto Callaspo. And Sogard has taken advantage.
Since the All-Star break, Sogard is as hot as the Texas heat, batting .350 while nudging his batting average to .205. Most impressively, Sogard has scored eight runs in six games out of the No. 9 spot in the order.
Watch out, AL. It doesn’t matter if certain A’s players are slumping at the plate. Someone you least expect is going to carry the team. If Reddick and Sogard are among those whom you have to watch out for, then it only makes the job that much easier for when Donaldson, Moss and Cespedes go on tears of their own.
Coco Not Feeling Crisp
Speaking of slumpers, the slumpiest of them all right now has to be center fielder Coco Crisp. The veteran is in the midst of a 3-for-30 stretch over the past eight games that has dropped his batting average from .295 to .274.
Apparently, there is a reason for Crisp’s chilliness of late: his neck.
John Shea of SFGate.com reported that Crisp missed Sunday’s finale against the Rangers because he was on a flight back to the Bay Area to have his neck re-examined. The injury has troubled Crisp for a good portion of the season, and it appears that he has yet to fully recover.
It is the 24th game Crisp has missed this year. The veteran has a respectable .274/.372/.416 slash line for the season, but for the month of July, those numbers are .208/.328/.283. Certainly, his health is a concern, particularly for the home stretch of the season and (hopefully) the playoffs.
The A’s need to ensure that their spark plug is at 100 percent, as Crisp is such a vital component setting the table offensively. But it is equally important that Crisp is healthy because of his defense in center field.
In Friday’s game, Yoenis Cespedes filled in at center—and it was an adventure, to say the least. While Cespedes’ lackadaisical attack on the ball dekes runners into eventual outfield assists, his performance on Friday was anything but highlight-worthy.
In the third inning, Cespedes didn’t stop an Elvis Andrus liner from trickling all the way to the wall, and Andrus ended up with a triple. In the end, it didn’t matter, as Andrus scored on an Alex Rios single. But Cespedes chucked away a throw in the sixth inning that allowed two runners to move up a base. Texas scored an unearned run because of his miscue.
The A’s need Crisp back to his normal, healthy self. It might take some time, but regardless of how long it takes, the Athletics will ensure that all that time is used up in order for Crisp to heal himself.
It’s a classic example of “anything you can do I can do better.” On Saturday, A’s righty Sonny Gray pitched 6.2 innings, allowing one run on seven hits. He lowered his earned-run average to 2.65 for the season and now boasts a stellar 12-3 record.
Sunday was more of the same from the A’s rotation, as All-Star Scott Kazmir went five innings while allowing two runs to push his season record to 12-3, as well. Both pitchers are tied for the AL lead in victories.
This is an amazing position to be considering that Gray has been in the majors for barely one entire season; he made his big league debut on July 10, 2013. Already, Gray has proven his ace-worthiness in his short time with the A’s, starting Games 2 and 5 in the 2013 AL Division Series as well as earning the nod on Opening Day this year.
Meanwhile, Kazmir’s comeback story from nearly two years out of the majors has been well-documented. Certainly, after the A’s lost out on signing free agent Tim Hudson, it appeared that the team was not only going with the most recognizable free agent starter available, but it seemed that they were also overpaying him.
Last year, the Athletics had two starters finish in the top 10 in AL wins—Bartolo Colon (second with 18) and A.J. Griffin (tied for eighth with 14). The last time Oakland had two starters finish in the top 10 and win more than 15 games apiece was 2006, when both Barry Zito and Joe Blanton tied for eighth with 16 wins. Zito, of course, is known for his 23-win Cy Young season in 2002, the last time an Athletic led the league in victories.
With Gray and Kazmir tied atop the leaderboard right now, it’s a good bet that one of them could end up with the most victories by season’s end. Or maybe both of them.
Despite victories by Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, the Texas series was not exactly an example of the Athletics starting rotation at its best. Only Gray earned a quality start, while Kazmir and Friday night’s starter, Jason Hammel, both fell short of six innings in their respective starts.
All three of them were pushed to the limit during the weekend series. Hammel allowed nine baserunners in 5.2 innings, Gray allowed 11 in 6.2 innings and Kazmir allowed nine in just five innings.
But for the A’s, when there’s a dip in performance in one area, another unit picks up the slack. This time it was the Athletics bullpen, which tallied 8.2 innings against the Rangers, allowing just one run on three hits and one walk.
Hot hitting, potent starting pitching and a dominant bullpen; right now, the Athletics have it all. Seems like a championship formula, right?
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