Rays series preview: Who are the Athletics?
The second half of the Rays' West Coast swing is a bay area battle against the Athletics. Here's the information you need to know about Oakland before the action kicks off.
How's the team?
Record: 42-50, fifth in AL West
For the third straight year, the Athletics are occupying the AL West cellar. The team isn't quite as bad as its record would indicate — FanGraphs' BaseRuns model thinks Oakland should have a 44-48 record. While A's pitchers have the seventh-highest ERA in baseball (4.68), they've been criminally unlucky, stranding fewer baserunners than any other team. Still, Oakland hasn't played very well; the offense ranks in the middle of the pack, and the defense is the worst in the majors by any measure. That's why the club dealt away two of its better players, relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, on Sunday.
What's the media saying?
"The A's have made the most errors of any team in baseball. Their batters have struck out 852 times, producing nothing but breeze in more than 25 percent of their plate appearances. At least everyone stays cool in the mostly empty Coliseum." (Carl Steward, East Bay Times)
"(W)ith the trade of Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington Sunday, the A's have nearly achieved what we thought their true goal has been – to trade every player until they have for no players at all and just turn the Coliseum into a ghost ship." (Ray Ratto, CSN Bay Area)
"After trading Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, A's executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane has conceded to the word "rebuild" to describe the plan in place. It's a term he has been reluctant to use-preferring "reload," "retool," or "representative product" in the past." (Jeremy F. Koo, Athletics Nation)
The struggles of the A's pitching staff are mostly confined to the bullpen, which has a 4.87 ERA in 303-1/3 innings. Despite numerous injuries, the club's rotation ranks 15th in the majors with a 4.57 ERA, and the Rays will have to go up against the staff ace on Wednesday — assuming he doesn't get traded before then.
Monday: Daniel Gossett (30-1/3 innings, 6.23 ERA) — In the minor leagues, Gossett had a lifetime ERA of 3.55, with a high ground ball rate (50.8 percent) and a respectable strikeout rate (21.6 percent). That production hasn't translated to MLB, where he's gotten 47.7 percent ground balls and struck out 14.3 percent of his opponents. Without anything to lose, the A's will continue starting him, but they'd like to see more from the rookie right-hander.
Tuesday: Chris Smith (6 innings, 4.50 ERA) — While he's been a member of five MLB organizations and spent a couple of seasons in independent ball, Smith might be more talented than the term "journeyman" would imply. This season in Triple A, the righty put up a 3.16 ERA over 12 starts, which earned him a ticket to the Show. At age 36, he made his first career big-league start for the A's, becoming the oldest pitcher in franchise history to do so. That outing went smoothly enough, so now he'll get a second shot. Has Oakland found the next Rich Hill? Most likely not, but we'll have to wait and see.
Wednesday: Sonny Gray (84-2/3 innings, 3.72 ERA) — For what seems like forever, Gray has been the subject of trade rumors. If the Cubs or Brewers don't deal for him in the next two days, Gray will take the hill on Wednesday in the series finale. The right-hander has rebounded nicely from his rocky 2016 season, improving his ERA from 5.69 to 3.72. Like many of his teammates, he's struggled to work out of jams — only five other hurlers have left fewer men on base. With a little more luck on his side, Gray might turn in a solid effort.
Who's hot? Who's not?
The A's traded for left fielder Khris Davis before the 2016 season in the hopes that he'd add power to their lineup, and he hasn't disappointed, leading the majors with 67 home runs across the past two years. He's gone on a tear recently, with a .271 batting average, .380 on-base percentage and .612 slugging percentage in his last 24 games. Hitting the ball with authority, and taking a good amount of free passes, has made Davis one of the most balanced hitters in the game.
Infielder Ryon Healy won't win any awards for his plate discipline — in his brief MLB career, he's struck out nearly six times as often as he's walked. Like Davis, he thrives when he squares the ball up; unlike Davis, he's fallen flat recently, posting a .182/.238/.273 slash line over his last 21 games. Healy has just three extra-base hits in that span, and if he can't rediscover his power stroke, he'll continue to flounder at the plate.
Injuries decimated the Athletics in 2016 — their players spent more time on the DL than those of any other American League team — and that trend has carried over to 2017. Starting pitcher Andrew Triggs is done for the year after undergoing hip surgery; fellow starters Chris Bassitt, Jharel Cotton and Kendall Graveman are working their way back from various maladies. Utility players Jake Smolinski and Chad Pinder are out, as is reliever Ryan Dull, but their absences haven't made as large an impact.