The Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels haven’t faced off since June. Back then, the Halos hadn’t quite found the winning identity they now seem to possess, the bullpen was a mess and the A’s looked like World Series contenders.
Fast forward to today, when the two teams are the two best in baseball, with the Halos holding the 2.5 game edge. This series will be the first of three over the next month.
Here are three burning questions as the Angels and A’s open a four-game series in Oakland.
Which pitchers will show up?
Sonny Gray followed up a five-game winning streak with a four-game losing streak. C.J. Wilson lost his curveball some time before the All Star break. Oakland’s Friday starter and L.A.’s Saturday starter are the two wildcards of the weekend.
In his last three starts, Gray has been shelled, going 0-3 with a 6.48 ERA. The pressure effectively was taken off of Gray to carry the staff after the blockbuster trades that brought to Oakland Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and later Jon Lester, but it hasn’t made much of a difference. Oakland has had only the 17th-best ERA in the league in August and is 2-8 in their last 10 games.
Wilson has been inefficient nearly all season. His counts have ran high; he’s worked into bad counts and has given up early leads. However, the lefty has limited the A’s to just a .212 average in his career.
The A’s will throw Lester (3-1, 2.93 ERA with the A’s) and Scott Kazmir (14-5, 2.73 ERA) following Gray. The Angels will counter with Hector Santiago (3-7, 3.46 ERA), Wilson and ace Jered Weaver (13-7, 3.70 ERA).
Which hitters will break out of their slumps?
Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton have been scuffling at the plate but so has the entire Oakland lineup.
Angel Stadium dealing with pipe breaks and flooding
Trout is just .221 this month, while Hamilton finally has shown some signs of production with his 3-for-7 stretch in the last two games in Boston. But going back 10 games, Hamilton is batting a rough .222.
However, the A’s, while still the top-scoring team in the league, saw their team average plummet. Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson and Derek Norris (.161 in last 10 games) haven’t been nearly as productive in the middle of the order. Coco Crisp also has struggled at the top.
Yoenis Cespedes is long gone and so is their first-half surge, as the A’s team batting average has dropped 35 points since July 1.
Will this be an ALCS preview?
On paper, the A’s have all of the tools to make a deep playoff push: Starting pitching, heavy hitters, speed and a deep bench. The offense is lacking some pop without Cespdes, though the remaining schedule works in their favor.
The Angels are without their best pitcher in Garrett Richards and another solid lefty in Tyler Skaggs. The schedule through the rest of the season is tough, but their bats and bullpen might be enough to carry them through.
With 10 games still left to play against Oakland, it’s too early and too close to be able to determine the division. It could, however, be a preview of something better to come in October.