Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

USA TODAY Sports

The Rays welcome the scorching hot Oakland A's to Tropicana Field for a 3-game weekend series.

Baseball can drive you crazy. The Rays are trying to find their footing and build momentum coming off a tough road trip that ended with Bradon Gomes surrendering a grand slam to Orioles catcher Matt Wieters to drop their record to 5-10. On the heels of the depressing roadie and crushing defeat the Rays return home to face the streaking Oakland Athletics.

The A's have an advantage as they will be very rested compared to the Rays who played in Baltimore last evening and had to travel home late while the Athletics relaxed in St.Petersburg after not having played since defeating the Houston Astros 7-5 on Wednesday afternoon.

This season the A's have picked up right where they left off in 2012 by winning 12 of their first 16 games and have won 4 in a row. They have played 13 of their first 16 games against AL West foes and are 11-2 in those games After losing their first two games of the season to the Seattle Mariners they have rolled to 11 straight victories against the AL West. They have had the luxury of playing against the Houston Astros six times already and defeated them in every contest.

The pitching matchups for the series are Alex Cobb vs Brett Anderson tonight, Jarrod Parker vs Jeremy Hellickson Saturday evening, and Tommy Milone vs Roberto Hernandez on Sunday afternoon.

2013 Roster Construction

Even before the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers played a single game to determine the World Series winner A's GM Billy Beane was moving forward on construction the 2013 A's.

On October 20th the A's completed one of their two 3-team trades by acquiring Chris Young and cash from the Arizona Diamondbacks. For their part the A's traded minor league shortstop Yordy Cabrera to the Miami Marlins and shortstop Cliff Pennington to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Marlins completed the trade by sending reliever Heath Bell and cash to the Diamondbacks.

The trade for Chris Young spelled the end of Jonny Gomes with the A's and he moved on to sign with the Boston Red Sox. Other notable A's players that departed were starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy (Arizona Diamondbacks), utility infielder Brandon Inge (Pittsburgh Pirates), and shortstop Stephen Drew (Boston Red Sox). One move that caught many off-guard was the re-signing of soon to be 40 year old Bartolo Colon whose 2012 season ended after testing positive for a banned substance and having to serve a 50-game suspension.

After trading Clliff Pennington and not re-signing Stephen Drew the A's turned to the international free agent market and signed Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima.

The A's completed thier second three team deal of the winter on January 16, 2013. The A's acquired form Rays catcher/DH John Jaso from the Seattle Mariners and sent pitchres Ian Krol, A.J. Cole, and Blake Treinen to the Washington Nationals. To complete the deal the Washington Nationals sent outfielder Mike Morse to the Mariners.

The last significant move the A's made over the winter was acquiring shortstop Jed Lowrie along with pitcher Fernando Rodriguez from the Houston Astros in exchange for catching prospect Max Stassi, pitcher Brad Peacock, and 1b/OF/DH Chris Carter.

Notables on the trainers table:

Yoenis Cespedes (strained hand muscle) and shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima (hamstring) are on the disabled list.

The Offense:

To say that the Rays pitching staff will be tested by an A's offense is an understatement. Entering Thursday evenings action the A's offense sits at or near the top of the American League in several categories. They are first in runs (96), runs/game (6.0), home runs (20), walks (70), OBP (.355), OPS (.818), OPS+ (129), wRC+ (130), and stolen bases (15) and are second in slugging percentage (.464). The have outscored their opponents 96-63 and have 6 blowout wins (defined as margin of victory of 5 or more runs). As the numbers suggest - the A's will take their walks, steal bases, and drive the ball out of the park. Shutting them down will not be an easy task.

Infielders: (C) John Jaso, (1b), Brandon Moss (2b), Eric Sogard, (SS) Jed Lowrie, (3b) Josh Donaldson

Outfielders: (LF) Chris Young (CF) Coco Crisp (RF) Josh Reddick

Bench: (C) Derek Norris, (1b) Nathan Freiman (UTIL IF/OF) Andy Parrino, (OF) Michael Taylor, OF/DH Seth Smith

Pitching:

The A's pitching staff has held the opposition to 3 runs or less in 10 of their first 16 games and have a team ERA of 3.5 and a FIP of 3.73. The starters are second behind the Seattle Mariners in innings pitched and have an ERA at 4.28 and a FIP of 3.91. The bullpen is led by former Ray Grant Balfour as their closer. Balfour is 3 for 3 in save opportunities this year and has converted 21 in a row dating back to last season. Overall the A's bullpen has an ERA of 2.24 while pitching to a 3.41 FIP.

Starting Rotation: Brett Anderson (LHP), Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone (LHP), A.J. Griffin, Bartolo Colon

Bullpen: (Closer) Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle (LHP), Jerry Blevins (LHP),Pat Neshek, Evan Scribner, Chris Resop.

Rays Vs Brett Anderson

Anderson is a heavy groundball pitcher with a career groundball percentage of 54.7%. In his three starts this year that number is an inflated 65.4% but he has given up 3HR in 18.2 innings of work. He likes to get ahead with his fastball and put hitters away with his slider. When he falls behind in the count he likes to go the four seem fastball. This season he has had trouble with his control early on issuing 9 walks.

Rays vs Jarrod Parker: Thanks to Mike Valancius

Last year, Jarrod Parker managed to fly under the radar a bit despite a strong rookie campaign and a notable reputation as a top prospect. In a season preview last year, Steve (Slow) called Parker's changeup one of the best in the major leagues. At the time, it seemed like an overestimation of the pitch's strength; it was considered his weakest pitch in the minors. However, a larger sample size has shown Steve's claim to be true.

His change-up is a true plus pitch that he throws about one out of every four pitches. It comes in about 12 mph slower than his fastball and sinker. Although it does not feature tremendous depth, batters come up empty on swings against it close to half of the time. He also uses an effective slider against right handed hitters. He throws two fastballs, a sinker and a four-seamer, neither of which is that effective of a pitch.

Some pitchers specialize in certain areas of pitching, such as strikeouts, command, or groundballs. Parker does not, instead being above average in several facets. His strikeout and walk rates are both solid, and he does not allow too many fly balls to leave the park. So far this year, Parker has really struggled, posting a 10.80 ERA and a 7.20 FIP. Let's hope the 2012 Jarrod Parker does not show up when the Rays face him this series.

Rays vs Tommy Milone

Tommy Milone is a fly ball pitcher who relies on his control. He primarily uses a fastball, cutter, and changeup and likes to throw the changeup when he is ahead in the count and with two strikes on a hitter.

Links:

The Process Report loos at the Process vs Coco Crisp & Chris Young

Here’s an odd one. Instead of focusing on Coco Crisp and Chris Young’s tendencies at the plate, or their abilities to run down balls in the outfield, let’s focus on what they do when they reach base....read more here

Cuppingmaster at Athletics Nation look at Josh Reddick's Plate Discipline & Outcomes:

At first glance, it almost looks like he is trying to be more patient compared to 2012, and indeed that's true. He is swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone, fewer pitches inside the zone, swinging less in general, taking more first strikes, and swinging through fewer pitches. At the same time, his overall contact rates are about the same, and he's making more contact inside the zone when he does swing....read more here

An interesting story on Rule 5 1b Nate Frieman by YonYonson at Athtleics Nation:

As a Rule 5 player, he has to stay on the 25-man roster for the entire season, so it's apparent that the team had to like him. You will too. He's the kind of guy you'd want your daughter to meet. He majored in history (minored in math) at Duke, and in high school, he was in both the Spanish and English National Honor Societies....read more here

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