The Oakland Athletics, after getting swept by the Rays in their previous three-game series, were certainly looking for a win when they visited Fenway on Monday. They did not get it, however, as they lost to the Red Sox, 9-6. Through their first 16 games, the A’s were 12-4 and outscored their opponents, 96-63. The team seems to be in a bit of a late-April funk, though, as Monday’s defeat marked the team’s fourth consecutive loss.
Oakland starter A.J. Griffin, who was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA coming into Monday night, was hit hard by the Red Sox lineup. Pitching four innings, the righty gave up eight hits and seven earned runs – four of which came from a grand slam off the bat of Mike Napoli. Trailing 9-3 at one point, despite scoring three runs in the eighth inning to make it interesting, the A’s were unable to overcome the deficit.
With the loss, Oakland’s record falls to 12-8, keeping them in second place in the AL West, a game and a half behind the Rangers. Just over three weeks into the 2013 season, Oakland has certainly made the most of its division and the teams therein. Going into Tuesday, the A’s are 11-2 against AL West opponents and 1-6 against all other teams. After the 9-6 loss to the Sox, the A’s have not only lost their last four games, but have also been outscored, 26-10, during that span. Oakland’s recent struggles will only give credence to the claims of many that the early success of the A’s was misleading because of six games against the Astros, a team that is likely to achieve its fifth straight sub-.500 season.
How much can a team really be ridiculed for its own schedule, though? This is not the NFL, where a few stellar games against bad teams can significantly improve your season. MLB teams play balanced, 162-game seasons, against teams that are very good and also teams that are very bad; eventually, things even out. Skeptics of the A’s can argue that that is exactly what is happening – the A’s are starting to play good teams and are coming back to reality. To that, I ask: are the Angels, who the A’s swept earlier in April, not a good team?
This is an A’s team that went 10-12 in April 2012 and ended up finishing 94-68, which was good enough for first place in the AL West. They managed to achieve that record despite having a nine-game losing streak – which included six losses to “good teams,” such as the Angels and Yankees – in late May of last year.
Regardless of opponents, the Athletics’ stats count, and said stats have been pretty impressive so far. The A’s currently lead the American League in runs scored per game (5.30), runs (106), doubles (45), RBI (100), stolen bases (19), walks (87), and OBP (.341). Luck? They’ve even been able to maintain these numbers with outfielder Yoenis Cespedes away from the team, on the 15-day DL since April 13.
The Cuban-born star, who is nursing a strained muscle in his left hand, hit 23/82/.292/.356/.505 in 2012 and already has three homers in 11 games this year. Cespedes should be back by this coming weekend for the series against the O’s, adding some heavy firepower to an offense that is already doing quite well.
Although Josh Reddick has not exactly started his 2013 season in an explosive fashion, his offensive “woes” (I use the term very loosely) are being somewhat misrepresented by many who cover/follow baseball. Because of Reddick’s career-best 2012 season in which he played an instrumental role for the A’s, leading the team in runs scored, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI and walks, some people are reading too much into the wrong stats and simply overreacting.
Playing in 16 of Oakland’s 20 games, the 26-year-old has only eight hits in 57 at-bats (.140 average), which is obviously nothing to brag about. But other than hits/average, Reddick is actually having a good start to 2013. Along with his meager eight hits and .140 average, Reddick also has a home run, 10 RBI, seven walks and, surprisingly, five stolen bases.
To put those numbers into perspective, through his first 16 games in 2012, Reddick was hitting .266 with a pair of homers, three RBI, one walk and two stolen bases. So, if you ignore the atrocious batting average, Reddick’s start to 2013 isn’t all that bad; in multiple ways, it’s actually better than his production at this point in the season last year.
On Monday, Reddick went 2-4 with two RBI, bringing his RBI total to 10 – one more than his RBI total for the entire month of April last year. He also had two more strikeouts against the Red Sox, bringing his total to 15, but for someone who struck out over 150 times last year, that shouldn’t really raise much concern. Something else to keep in mind: Reddick went on to have an absolutely amazing month of May last year, finishing the month with 20 runs scored, 10 homers, 18 RBI and 17 walks. Also, since cutting his hair and trimming his epic beard, the superstitious Reddick has seemingly come out of his 2-28 slump, going 3-8 with three RBI in his last two games.
Oakland does not rely completely on its offense, however. Boasting impressive, young starters Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin and veteran Bartolo Colon, the rotation is pretty strong and will only get stronger as Anderson and Parker regain the talent and composure that earned them their respective roles as ace and No. 2 starter.
Relieving the starters is also a group of pitchers who are more than capable. Closer Grant Balfour – who was 24-26 in save opportunities last year – has not had many chances to save games in 2013, but is a perfect 3-3 in save opportunities. Although middle relievers do not always get the credit they deserve, Oakland has a highly effective group of guys bridging the gap between their starters and closer. Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Chris Resop, and Pat Neshek have all contributed to a solid Oakland bullpen that currently has a 2.58 ERA.
In conclusion, don’t expect this A’s mini-slump to last for an extended period of time. It is a long season, and the A’s have too good of a team for this current losing streak to be taken particularly serious. Despite the fact that, as I mentioned, Reddick’s “struggles” have been misrepresented and overblown, he will continue to transition out of his cool-streak and his average will surely rise. It’s extremely early in the season, but – as of now – there is no reason why Bob Melvin and the A’s cannot make the playoffs for the second straight year.
Yankees fans looking to get a closer look at the Oakland Athletics will not have to wait very long. On Friday, May 3, the A’s come to Yankee Stadium, where they will begin a three-game series against the Yanks.
(April 5, 2013 - Source: Bob Levey/Getty Images North America).