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Orioles vs. A's: Series Preview

The O's are above .500 and heading west. First up - the Oakland A's.

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far:

After games like Sunday's, it's important to keep the big picture in mind. After being swept out of New York, a lot of probably thought the season was dead (or at least on life support...). But after winning seven of their last ten, they're 53-51 and one game back in the Wild Card standings. They even gained a game on the Yankees this week and are now six back on them. Yes, winning the series against Detroit instead of splitting it would have been nice, but at least they didn't lose it. And lets' face it, that game on Friday night could have very easily gone the other way. So, on to Oakland.

The A's just got done selling off some big pieces of their club. Ever the tinkerer, Billy Beane read the tea leaves and decided this wasn't their year. Accordingly, he traded away Ben Zobrist, Tyler Clippard, and Scott Kazmir. That's only three players, but they were pretty big pieces accounting for 5.0 bWAR this season. The A's are currently 46-59 and in last place in their division. This is a very different team than the one the Orioles saw the last time they were in Oakland, but I'm not betting on them being a pushover. Their record is bad in part because of some awful luck - they're under-performing their pythagorean expectation by an incredible 11 wins and rank 20th in The Power Rank's cluster luck rankings.  Let's hope that bad luck sticks with them for a few more days.

Pitching Matchups:

Monday: Tyler Wilson vs. Jesse Chavez






















Due to a minor ankle injury to Chris Tillman, Tyler Wilson has been called up to make a start. Wilson hasn't appeared in a game since June 19th (in relief) and hasn't started a game for the O's since May 28th, which was Game 1 of the double-header against the White Sox. Wilson lost that game, but he also didn't get much in run support. Obviously, no one on the A's have faced Wilson so there's no track record to look at here. I'm a little concerned that most of the A's best hitters are left-handed and would have the advantage on Wilson. Josh Reddick in particular has an .875 OPS vs. lefties this season. It may be enough for Wilson to just make it through five innings while limiting the damage, though I have to imagine the bullpen is a little taxed after that Tigers series, so maybe seven innings would be better.

Chavez fits perfectly into the narrative surrounding the A's this season. That win/loss record looks terrible, but a closer look at his other stats show he might be better than it indicates. On the other hand, his numbers may be helped by a strong first couple months that have really not carried over for him into the summer. Since the beginning of June his ERA is above 5 and he's given up seven of his nine home runs on the season. He's also only had one game in that stretch (total ten starts) where he hasn't given up an earned run. That's a bad couple months. He has been slightly better at home this season though, so let's see.

Tuesday: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Chris Bassitt






















Miguel Gonzalez has been struggling lately. I'd like to get more specific, but Baseball Reference was not cooperating with me tonight. Regardless, I don't think I need to give you the details - it hasn't been looking good.  The good news is his numbers against the A's lineup actually look pretty decent - Ike Davis has a home run against him, but has only faced him three times. Brett Lawrie has faced him 18 times (Lawrie used to be on the Blue Jays) but is only hitting .111 against him. At the beginning of the season I suggested Gonzalez may not have much of a future with this team after this year - I looked pretty dumb saying that at first, but lately it's been making more sense. I could end up being wrong, but I think he's going to need to start showing everyone more.

Chris Bassitt made his debut late last season for the A's, and has bounced around the bullpen and the rotation since then. He's made five starts in a row and they haven't gone great, though his last outing was probably his best with seven innings pitched and six strikeouts. It's a small sample size, but his 1.8 runs per game in support have really been hurting him. Even though he's a young guy, he doesn't seem to have any real issues throwing to lefties - his splits have been pretty even. We know the Orioles seem to make previously unknown pitchers look suspiciously good...let's see how this one goes.

Wednesday: Wei-Yin Chen vs. Kendall Graveman






















I'm going to chalk that last start by Chen up to bad luck. I really have no choice - the idea that Chen might be starting into a slump or regressing toward his FIP is no good. If the Orioles are going to make a playoff push, they're going to need Chen to be at his best and Friday night was far from his best. The troubling thing with Chen continues to be the home runs - he's given up 22 on the season and and nine in July alone. Only seven of those have been on the road, meaning this could be a Camden Yards problem. That's good for this start being in Oakland though - not only because it's away from home, but also because Oakland ranks 22nd in MLB in ESPN's HR factor rankings. Of the current A's lineup, Billy Butler is the only player with any home runs against him, but both of those were in 2012.

Like Bassitt, Graveman just made his debut late last season. He's gotten more playing time since then though, even though it seems like this numbers have been worse. His biggest problem has been walks. This isn't the Orioles' strength, but they would probably do best to be patient and let him make the mistakes.

Other Notes:

- Again, the Orioles seem to struggle against guys it looks like they should beat up on while feasting on this season's All-Stars. So is it a good thing they're not facing Sonny Gray? I think it still is - Gray was good before, but he's been outstanding this season. Maybe they'll face him in Baltimore, but that would be better because the offense does better at home anyway. For now, this is a good thing.

- Want more proof the A's have been unlucky? According to Baseball Reference, the A's rank 6th in the AL in Wins Above Average with 2.5. In fifth place? The Orioles with 3.3. That gives them a better ranking than teams with better records, like the Angles and Twins. But maybe there's a reason - one of the weakest contributors to that number is the bullpen, with the relief pitching contributing 2.4 wins below average. This matches up with the bullpen's ERA of 4.25 ERA, good for 27th in MLB. The Orioles just showed the Tigers what can happen when you have a weak bullpen - wins can turn to losses quickly (or as was the case on Thursday, very nearly so). Could the A's have the same problem? Looks that way. And with Tyler Clippard gone, I don't think that's getting any better.

- The A's offense is led by Reddick, who I mentioned above, and Catcher Steven Vogt. Vogt is only hitting .262, but has an OBP of .344 and leads the team with 14 home runs. Vogt is a lefty and does a lot better when facing right-handed pitching. This probably makes him a threat for two weaker pitchers like Gonzalez and Wilson...cross your fingers when he comes to bat.

- Coming into Sunday's game, J.J. Hardy had a hit in every game this side of the All-Star Break. That all came to an end of course, but it was a good streak for a guy who's offense seems to have taken a real hit since the beginning of last season. His numbers in Oakland aren't great (.243 in 74 PA's), but not terrible either.


Tough one. The A's haven't been playing well (3-7 in their last 10) and just moved some of their better players off the roster. On the other hand, the Orioles are 21-31 on the road this year. Unfortunately, I think that's the deciding factor here - O's lose two out of three. This team has given us some hope, but I think it's been false. Ultimately, I think they're a .500 team. Normally that means you can pick them to win half their games, but if it's on the road, its lower than that.