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Oakland Athletics Series Preview: Their usual second half surge hasn’t happened...yet

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This team usually gets going in the second half, but they’ve gone nowhere this season.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Athletics have notoriously been outstanding in the second half of seasons, but this year, after losing their series finale against the Rangers, they’re 25-26 since the break. They did make some moves at the deadline and brought back Starling Marte and Josh Harrison who have done well for them. But they lost Ramon Laureano to a suspension for PEDs and Chris Bassitt after he took a line drive off his face. They’ve just struggled to get anything going with just one winning streak extending past three games since the middle of June. And it’s such a bad time for them as they now find themselves multiple games out of either wild card spot behind three teams. And they’ve got Seattle right on their heels as well, so they need to get things going quickly or they’ll miss the postseason for the first time since 2017.

While they miss Laureano, the A’s offense is pretty good. Marte has been so great for them since coming over with tons of stolen bases. They get huge power without many strikeouts from Matt Olson and Matt Chapman has been much better than the start of his season, though still not quite what he was a couple years ago. It’s just a very balanced lineup that shouldn’t have trouble keeping consistent, but this one actually does. On the pitching side, their starting rotation remains pretty good, even with Bassitt out, but the bullpen has had its struggles with one of the worst ERAs of any team over the last month or so. They’re working to find a combination that is working, but they haven’t been able to do it enough and that’s been a big issue for them.

Royals vs. Athletics Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Athletics
Category Royals Athletics
Winning % .455 .538
Team wRC+ 87 103
Team xFIP 4.49 4.33
Run Differential -92 61
H2H Wins 1 3
Highest fWAR Nicky Lopez, 3.8 Matt Olson, 4.6

Athletics Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Josh Harrison 2B 490 .289 .352 .422 5.5% 13.1% 111 1.7
Starling Marte CF 450 .322 .394 .470 8.7% 18.4% 141 5.4
Matt Olson 1B 586 .276 .370 .545 12.1% 16.0% 149 4.6
Matt Chapman 3B 563 .219 .318 .415 12.4% 32.0% 105 3.5
Jed Lowrie DH 489 .249 .325 .405 9.8% 20.7% 105 1.2
Mark Canha RF 546 .235 .361 .411 12.3% 20.5% 122 2.9
Tony Kemp LF 335 .266 .372 .406 13.1% 14.6% 122 2.3
Sean Murphy C 412 .217 .308 .414 9.2% 25.5% 103 3.3
Elvis Andrus SS 499 .231 .278 .309 5.4% 15.8% 65 0.4

Athletics Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Yan Gomes C 324 .260 .302 .441 4.3% 20.4% 97 1.4
Seth Brown OF/1B 258 .205 .271 .457 8.1% 29.1% 97 0.7
Chad Pinder INF/OF 183 .223 .290 .361 7.7% 27.9% 83 0.2
Skye Bolt OF 54 .096 .096 .173 0.0% 25.9% -32 -0.4
Khris Davis OF 83 .178 .253 .342 9.6% 30.1% 62 -0.3

Athletics Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Andrew Chafin 63 60.2 1 3 25.0% 6.1% 1.78 3.78 1.3
Sergio Romo 58 53.2 1 1 24.0% 8.6% 4.19 4.55 0.5
Jake Diekman 59 54.0 3 2 32.3% 12.7% 3.17 3.95 0.3

Probable Starting Pitchers

Tuesday - Frankie Montas vs. Jackson Kowar, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Frankie Montas 28 163.2 12 9 26.7% 6.9% 3.57 3.63 3.6
Jackson Kowar 5 17.0 0 3 18.3% 13.4% 9.53 5.89 0.0

Frankie Montas looked like he was going to be a breakout star after a very good 2019 season, but he came out flat in 2020. This season, he’s gotten generally back on track with strikeouts remaining up, but his walk rate dropping, which is obviously a good thing. His velocity on his sinker dropped a bit last season and it’s back to where it was in 2019. He’s using that a bit less and his four-seam fastball a bit more, which I think helps because two pitches at a similar velocity that do different things can be quite beneficial. But even with those facts, the star of the Montas show is his splitter. This season, opponents are hitting .142 with a .189 SLG on the splitter and a 51.8 percent whiff rate. That’s...amazing. As good as his stuff is, Montas can lose the zone early in counts at times and when he falls behind, opponents have hit .343 with a .550 slugging percentage. But he doesn’t really struggle as the lineup turns over multiple times and he was very good against the Royals earlier this year, so this will not be a walk in the park. Oh yeah, he also has a 1.30 ERA in his last four starts with hits allowed in 27.2 innings.

Jackson Kowar gets his third chance since coming back from the minors. In his first start, he was quite good, but the numbers in his second start were, well, less than good. But I was impressed about him struggling early and not letting that get to him. After giving up four in the first to Baltimore last week, he easily could have folded. The Kowar we saw a few months ago very well may have. The Kowar the A’s saw a few months ago very well may have. But he’s added a slider and it looks like it’s coming along nicely and he still has the big fastball and changeup that is as good as any around when it’s right. This is the first chance for Kowar to face a team a second time, which is something that has gone well for Daniel Lynch, which makes me intrigued to see how Kowar fares.

Wednesday - Sean Manaea vs. Mike Minor, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Sean Manaea 28 156.2 9 8 26.6% 5.6% 3.79 3.54 2.8
Mike Minor 28 158.2 8 12 22.3% 6.1% 5.05 4.33 2.3

Sean Manaea will always be tied to Royals history as they moved him to bring back Ben Zobrist for the 2015 stretch run. Some have argued that trading him was a mistake, but I just can’t see how getting a key contributor for the postseason was any kind of mistake. That said, Manaea has been really good for the A’s, and the Royals could definitely use him. He’s faced the Royals twice in his career, posting a 1.46 ERA in 12.1 innings with 11 strikeouts and one walk. While he doesn’t throw hard, he is throwing a decent amount harder this year, averaging 92.1 MPH on his sinker. It’s a different type of sinker because he actually gets some swings and misses on it. He rounds out his repertoire with a changeup and a curve. Both are very good pitches. He’s struggled a fair amount since the start of August, though, going 1-3 with a 6.62 ERA over 34 innings. He’s struggled with righties, and he has seen a pretty typical penalty each time he faces a lineup.

Mike Minor is coming off his first scoreless start of the season. He went six innings against Baltimore and didn’t walk anyone for the second straight start. His control has been outstanding since late May, walking just 20 batters in 104.2 innings. He hasn’t been as good with the run prevention as the Royals probably would like, but he’s given innings, maintained control and has generally kept the team in games. He’s given up four or fewer runs in 22 of 28 starts and three or fewer in 15. Yes, you’d like more, but he’s done his job. He pitched against Oakland in June, going seven innings and giving up one run on three hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. It was one of his three best starts of the season, so hopefully he can repeat that.

Thursday - Paul Blackburn vs. Carlos Hernandez, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Paul Blackburn 5 22.1 0 2 15.0% 5.0% 5.24 4.38 0.1
Carlos Hernandez 22 76.2 6 1 22.3% 10.8% 3.29 4.76 1.1

As a 23-year old rookie, Paul Blackburn posted a 3.22 ERA in 10 starts and struck out 22 batters in 58.2 innings. I’m honestly not even sure how that’s possible. Over the next three years, he pitched in 11 games and posted a 9.22 ERA in 41 innings. He did strike out more hitters, but had been terrible. I’m sure the Athletics weren’t planning on relying on him, but here they are. On the bright side, he’s not going to walk guys, so the A’s don’t have to worry about that, but they can’t feel good about him out there every fifth day. With Blackburn, the Royals will see a sinker at 90-92, a cutter that gets very few swings and misses, a changeup and then a curve and four-seamer that have been hit hard. He has some splits I’ve never seen before. When behind in the count, he’s allowed a .619 OPS. When the count is even, he’s allowed an .865 OPS. And when he’s ahead in the count, he’s allowed a 1.250 OPS. That’s just weird.

Carlos Hernandez is coming off a start where he didn’t really have his best stuff and still made it through six shutout innings against Baltimore. He walked three and struck out one. My question is if this is a one-time thing or if he’s starting to wear down. He’s now thrown 103 innings this season, which is 23.2 more than he’s ever thrown before. It could be that these last few starts might be a tough sled for him, so we’ll see how that goes. But I’m not so sure that’s the case. And even if it is, I think his stuff is good enough that he can get by with a little bit less. He just needs to be sure that the command is a little better than it was against the Orioles because this Oakland lineup is considerably better.

Prediction

The Royals don’t seem to be playing particularly well, but they are 29-25 since the break and are putting together much more competent games than what we saw when they faced Oakland in June. I’m going against my better judgment and predicting a series win for the Royals.

Poll

Will the Royals avenge their series loss to Oakland from June?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Yes they will, with a sweep.
    (3 votes)
  • 36%
    It won’t be resounding, but they’ll take two of three.
    (29 votes)
  • 51%
    Nope, but they’ll squeeze one win out.
    (41 votes)
  • 7%
    Not only will they not avenge that series, but they’ll get swept.
    (6 votes)
79 votes total Vote Now