Series 28 Preview: Cubs at Athletics
The Cubs will face 40-year-old Bartolo Colon and his 11-2 record Wednesday night. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty)
Halfway into the 2013 season, the Oakland A’s are proving their surprise 2012 AL West title was no fluke. They sit just a half game back of the first-place Rangers and own the league’s second best record at 48-35. To GM Billy Beane’s credit, the A’s have managed to construct a balanced roster that protects against injuries and allows manager Bob Melvin to get creative with lineup platoons and late-inning matchups. And the two-time Manager of the Year winner (2007 with the Diamondbacks and 2012 with the A’s) has proved adept at handling both the bench and the pitching staff. Beane also has proved a master the last few years at adding productive veterans to an otherwise youthful bunch. Amazingly, center fielder Coco Crisp (33 years old), starting pitcher Bartolo Colon (40) and closer Grant Balfour (35) have been among the team’s best players—if not the best. Most of the remaining regulars are right in that 26-28-year-old sweet spot in which the average big leaguer peaks. The iron is hot for this bunch.
HITTING: 4.7 Runs Scored/Game (6th in the AL)
The lineup’s production has been impressive, especially considering they haven’t gotten all that much out of first base, left field and right field. The three regulars in those traditionally offense-heavy positions—Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick—have combined for a .226 batting average and a .302 on-base percentage. They have, however, also combined for 32 home runs (29 of which are from Moss and Cespedes). Unsurprisingly, the A’s draw walks, and they have enough power to make the base runners count. Former Cubs farmhand Josh Donaldson—a 2007 supplemental first-round pick acquired in the Rich Harden deal—has been Oakland’s real standout so far. His .316 AVG/.384 OBP/.525 SLG line leads the team in all three slash categories, and he’s played a solid third base since being moved out from behind the plate a season ago. Watch out for the platoons. Lefties Chris Rusin and Travis Wood will likely see Derek Norris (C), Nate Freiman (1B), Adam Rosales (2B) and Chris Young (DH/OF); righty Matt Garza will see Stephen Vogt or John Jaso (C), Brandon Moss (1B), Eric Sogard (2B) and Seth Smith (DH/OF). Oddly, the A’s haven’t seen a southpaw starter since June 14.
PITCHING: 4.0 Runs Allowed/Game (3rd in the AL)
This is a staff that pitches at the extremes—the most important margin being a 3.76 ERA that ranks third in the league. Most strikingly, the A’s own the game’s most extreme fly-ball rotation and bullpen. Outside of the injured (again) Brett Anderson and middle reliever Danny Otero, every single Oakland pitcher has a ground ball percentage below the MLB average of 44.5 percent, according to Fangraphs. Wednesday night’s starter Bartolo Colon, seemingly impacted neither by age nor his burgeoning waistline, is the most neutral GB/FB guy of the bunch. But he stands out in another fascinating way, throwing fastballs nearly 84 percent of the time. He’s able to do it by mixing his 92-94 mph four-seamer with an 88-91 mph sinker to all but the low-and-in corner of the zone. Tonight’s starter A.J. Griffin is a 25-year-old righty who has been remarkably solid and consistent in two half-seasons so far. The A’s 13th-round pick in 2010, Griffin’s standout pitch is a big, slow curve that he brings out often when he gets ahead in the count. Finally, on the Fourth of July, the Cubs are expected to face Jarrod Parker, who has rebounded from a disastrous start to the season but was pulled from his last outing with a hamstring twinge. The former ninth-overall pick in 2007 pairs a low-90s fastball with a plus change-up, and he’s been throwing more strikes (especially quality ones) of late. It all leads to a deep bullpen, with closer Grant Balfour putting the pedal to the metal in the ninth.