Coming off their first series win in Yankee Stadium since 2007, the Oakland A’s find themselves facing a new challenge: playing four games in Cleveland against the 14-14 Indians. Terry Francona’s team is on a bit of a roll, winning six of its last seven games.
The two teams head into the series with two of the best offenses in the American League. Oakland still leads baseball in runs, while Cleveland has hit the most home runs and has the highest OPS.
For the A’s young pitching staff, Cleveland represents a significant test after facing the underwhelming Yankees offense that was marred with injuries to a number of its stars. The Indians might be without lead-off hitter Michael Bourn, who is beginning his rehab with Triple-A Columbus after suffering a laceration to his finger, but they still have had a number of power threats emerge early in the season.
Mark Reynolds has nine home runs, tied for the American League lead, and has a .328/.397/.586 line with four homers in his last 16 games. Coming to the Indians as a free agent in the off-season, Reynolds has had an OPS+ of above 100 for five of his seven major league campaigns, making him a very productive player despite his massive strikeout totals.
Considering the Indians' lack of power threats outside of Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana, Reynolds has fit very nicely in his role as the team's designated hitter.
The A's and Indians come into the series with very similar numbers from their pitchers, getting better numbers from relievers than starters in a significant way. But the A's are coming off the series in New York in which they allowed four runs or less in three-straight games for the first time since early-April.
Monday’s first game will feature a pair of struggling hurlers: Jarrod Parker (1-4, 7.36 ERA) and Ubaldo Jimenez (1-2, 7.13 ERA). Parker threw six innings, allowing three earned runs, in his most recent outing against the Angels, giving him his first win of the year.
Parker might not have been great versus Los Angeles, but he allowed 17 groundballs to just three fly balls. That ratio was far and away his best of the season, meaning he could be turning the corner with his command issues that have plagued him so far.
Jimenez’ numbers have been bloated by two consecutive terrible starts early on, where he allowed 14 earned runs in six combined innings. In his last appearance, the right-hander had easily his best performance of the year by throwing seven shutout innings against the Royals.
Cleveland is still looking for a return on its investment after sending four prospects to the Colorado for Jimenez back at 2011’s trading deadline. The Rockies are still waiting for those three players to contribute in the major leagues, making the trade a relative wash at this point.
Jimenez has seen a gradual drop in his fastball velocity since his dominant 2010 season in Colorado. Hitters are also making contact with pitches outside the strike zone almost 15 percent more of the time, indicating a drop in overall stuff. If the A’s are able to take advantage of his walk rate of nearly five per nine innings, Jimenez should be a nice matchup for their lineup.
Tuesday’s game will feature Cleveland’s Zach McAllister (2-3, 3.30 ERA) and the A's Tommy Milone (3-3, 3.69 ERA). McAllister is off to a solid start, having yet to allow more than three runs in any of his five starts. The A’s that have faced the right-hander have fared very well, combining to go .455/.514/.697 in 37 plate appearances. Josh Donaldson leads the pack, going 4-for-6 against him.
Milone suffered the loss in his last outing against the Angels last week, but had a season-high 10 strikeouts. The left-hander has allowed four runs in both of his road starts this season, giving him a 6.17 ERA on the road compared to a 2.63 mark at home.
Wednesday’s third game will have a pair of contrasting right-handers throw when A.J. Griffin (3-2, 3.79 ERA) takes on Justin Masterson (4-2, 3.64 ERA). Griffin is coming off of his best performance of the season, as he shut out the Yankees in seven innings, allowing just six hits and a walk. He tied a season-low, allowing just two line drives.
Masterson started the season allowing just one earned run in his first 22 innings, but has given up 18 in his last 25 frames. Armed with a hard fastball and heavy slider, Masterson’s inconsistency has been frustrating for the Indians, who had him pegged as a future ace when they acquired him in the Victor Martinez trade with Boston back in 2009.
Thursday’s series finale of the four-game set will see Scott Kazmir (1-1, 6.28 ERA) and Bartolo Colon (3-1, 3.62 ERA) square-off. Kazmir earned his first win since 2010 in his last start and has thrown well in his last two outings. After suffering shoulder and back injuries over the last two seasons, Kazmir’s descent from top-prospect status with the Rays has been a long fall since striking out 239 hitters all the way back in 2007.
Colon has allowed eight earned runs in his last 11.1 innings after having a 2.42 ERA in his first four starts. Colon is returning to Cleveland, where he has 85 career appearances, having gone 37-22 with a 3.94 ERA. He spent six seasons with the Indians from 1997 to 2002.
An important figure in Indians' history, Colon not only was the ace of the Indians' teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but he also netted the Indians Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens when he was traded to the Montreal Expos in 2002. Signed by the Indians as a teenager, Colon made six playoff starts for the Indians and won 75 games in 162 appearances.