After a brutal 10-game roadtrip that saw the Oakland A's face-off against three first-place teams, Oakland returns home for the final six games of the regular season hoping to extend their magical 2012 campaign further into October. The A's hold only a slim two game lead over the hard-charging Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays for the second Wild Card spot.
The A's magic number to clinch a spot in the post-season is five. They still have a slim chance at winning the AL West, but, ironically, they would have to root against their better interests in the Wild Card race in order to gain ground in the division. That is because while the A's will be taking on the Seattle Mariners this weekend in Oakland, the Angels will be in Texas squaring off against the Rangers. The Rays will continue their series against the fading Chicago White Sox.
What the Angels and Rangers (and Rays, for that matter) do this weekend will mean little for the A's if they can't beat the Mariners. The A's began their season against Seattle in Tokyo, Japan, back in March, splitting the two-game series. The season series between the AL West rivals has been neck-and-neck ever since, with the A's holding a slim 9-7 advantage. Oakland has scored 50 runs in the 16 games and has allowed 45.
The Mariners may be in last place in the AL West, but they have played much better than their last place standing would indicate since the All-Star break. The Mariners are 37-32 since the break and had winning months in July and August before slumping a bit in September. The Mariners have generally struggled to score runs this season, but first baseman Justin Smoak has been a one-man wrecking crew of late. He has homered five times since September 15th and three times in the M's recently completed series against the Angels. Michael Saunders (945 OPS) and Kyle Seager (810 OPS) have also swung the bat well this month.
Seattle backstop John Jaso has been the most effective hitter versus Oakland for the Mariners this season. The former Ray has six hits in 20 at-bats against Oakland this year (964 OPS), with three of those hits going for extra bases. Brendan Ryan has the next closest OPS for Seattle against the A's this year at 758 in 41 at-bats.
Of course, the Mariners are built on pitching and the M's have pitched well in September. Going into their game against the Angels on Thursday, the Mariners had a team ERA of 3.52 and a 1.23 WHIP for the month. Ironically, the pitcher who has struggled the most for Seattle this month has been Felix Hernandez, who has an uncharacteristically high ERA of 5.70, although his 32:7 K:BB ratio in 30 innings would indicate he has pitched better than that ERA would suggest.
The A's are scheduled to square-off against Blake Beaven, Jason Fargas and Erasmo Ramirez in the three game set. Beaven has made only one start against the A's this year, but it was a good one. He earned the win by tossing seven innings of three-run ball. He struck-out four and walked none. Beaven will take on A.J. Griffin, who struggled in his two starts on the A's recently completed roadtip.
Griffin made his Triple-A debut last season in a spot start for the Sacramento River Cats against Seattle's Triple-A affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers. That day, the Rainiers sent Beaven to the mound. The A's are hoping for a better result than Griffin and the River Cats got against Beaven in June of last season, when Sacramento fell, 4-0.
Griffin has put together an outstanding rookie season for the A's, but he has hit a little bump in the road over the last 10 days. The right-hander has gone 6-1 with a 2.80 ERA in 13 starts, but he has allowed nine runs over his last nine innings. He gave up three homeruns in his start against the Tigers on September 18th which began the A's 10-game roadtrip, and then allowed a homerun to Nick Swisher in his start last Sunday. Like Beaven, Griffin has faced Seattle only once this season, but that one start was a good one. He allowed only one earned run in 5.1 innings and he struck-out seven.
In Saturday's game, the pitching match-up will be Fargas and A's rookie Dan Straily. The lefty Fargas has pitched well against Oakland throughout his career and he has seen the A's five times already this year. In 34.1 innings against Oakland, Vargas has a 28:9 K:BB ratio and a 2.36 ERA. He is 2-1. A's hitter have a 549 OPS against Vargas this season.
Straily will be looking to duplicate the game he pitched against the Texas Rangers in the series opener in Arlington. Straily left that game with two-outs and none on in the seventh and the A's leading 4-2. Oakland would go on to lose the game, 5-4, but Straily shined in his start. The right-hander pitched around some shoddy Oakland defense and allowed only one earned run (a solo homerun by Josh Hamilton) while striking out eight. Straily will be facing Seattle for the first time in his young career. Thus far as a big leaguer, Straily has alternated good and bad starts. The A's are hoping he can break that streak and put up a second consecutive quality outing for the first time in his career. Overall, Straily has a 3.60 ERA and a 29:12 K:BB ratio in 35 big league innings, but he has allowed nine homeruns.
The series finale will feature a pair of rookies, Ramirez and Tom Milone. The A's have seen Ramirez twice this season, once as a starter and once as a reliever. He has dominated the A's in nine innings pitched, allowing only a run on three hits with 12 strike-outs and one walk. The right-hander has a 3.42 ERA in 52.2 innings. He throws a lot of strikes and has walked only eight thus far this season.
Milone has made four starts against the Mariners this season and has been very good against Seattle, as well. He is 2-1 but he has a 2.42 ERA and a 29:3 K:BB ratio in 26 innings versus Seattle. In his last start versus Seattle, Milone struck-out 10 in six innings in an A's win in Seattle. He will be looking for his 14th win.
The A's will need to continue to swing the bats as well as they did during their last two games of the roadtrip in Texas. Oakland is hopeful that leadoff hitter Coco Crisp will return to the line-up after missing most of the roadtrip with an eye infection. Josh Reddick snapped an 0-for-30 slump on Wednesday and then homered twice on Thursday. A Reddick hot streak would be a big boost for Oakland down-the-stretch. Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss have also been swinging the bat well and Chris Carter has shown signs of life after a September slump. The A's homered five times on Thursday in their 9-7 loss to Texas.