The past few seasons have been good to the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics. The two clubs have won more games than any other American League team in the past three seasons, and have faced off twice in the playoffs during that span. Those hotly contested series, along with several entertaining regular season matchups, have turned Tigers-A's games into must-see TV.
This season is a bit different, though. The Tigers are playing well, but are tied for second place with the Minnesota Twins after a 3-4 homestand against the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros. An eight-run outburst in yesterday's loss to Houston pushed the Tigers over the 200-run mark on the year, good enough for fourth in the American League. The Tigers are second in the AL with a .281 team batting average, and their .345 on-base percentage paces the AL. They also lead the league with 41 stolen bases. The Tigers' pitching staff has a 3.71 ERA, fourth in the AL, and their 3.79 FIP is fifth. Surprisingly, the bullpen is leading the way. Their 2.82 ERA is third in the AL, behind only the Astros and Kansas City Royals.
The A's, on the other hand, have not been so fortunate. They come into this week's series with a 16-30 record, the worst mark in baseball. They have already fallen 13 1/2 games behind the Astros in the AL West, and are 10 1/2 games out of the wild card race. Their offense is right behind the Tigers, with 199 runs scored in 46 games this year. They are hitting .256/.320/.392 as a team, good enough for a .719 OPS that ranks ninth in the AL. They have done a solid job of getting on base, per usual, but their .136 ISO is the fourth-lowest in the league.
Oakland's pitching staff has also been better than their league-worst record would advertise. Their 3.97 ERA ranks seventh in the league, while their 3.83 FIP is sixth. They are led by an excellent starting pitching staff that leads the AL with a 3.45 ERA. Their 3.56 FIP is second in the AL, and they have limited home runs better than any other staff in the league. The bullpen has been the exact opposite, however, with a league-worst 4.96 ERA. They also "lead" the league with eight blown saves, a big reason why they are 2-13 in one-run games. Their 22-24 pythagorean expected record reflects this, and is probably a better estimate of their true talent level.
SB Nation blog: Athletics Nation
Game 1 Pitching Matchup: RHP Shane Greene (4-2, 4.05 ERA) vs. RHP Jesse Hahn (1-1, 4.43 ERA)
Jesse Hahn was drafted out of Virginia Tech by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, and has already been traded twice in his professional career. He made his major league debut with the San Diego Padres last season, allowing a 3.07 ERA and 3.40 FIP in 73 1/3 innings. The A's acquired Hahn and reliever R.J. Alvarez in the trade that sent Derek Norris to San Diego, and the results have not been promising. Norris is hitting .284/.319/.458 for the Padres, while Hahn has allowed a 4.43 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 44 2/3 innings for the A's this season.
Hahn got off to a good start this season, holding opponents to a 2.86 ERA in four April outings. Things went south quickly, however, as he has given up 19 runs (15 earned) in four May starts. His strikeout rate has perked up some, however, as he has 20 strikeouts to seven walks this month. A .355 BABIP and 3.01 FIP in May suggest that this rough stretch won't last long, though he has given up a 30.3 percent line drive rate. Hahn relies primarily on a 93 mile-per-hour fastball and a slow curveball, with a healthy dose of changeups mixed in to lefthanders. The extra pitch has not helped, as lefties are hitting .305/.362/.389 against him this season.
Game 2 Pitching Matchup: LHP David Price (3-1, 3.32 ERA) vs. RHP Jesse Chavez (1-4, 2.89 ERA)
Jesse Chavez held opponents to a 3.45 ERA in a career-high 146 innings pitched last season, his first as a starter in the major leagues. Despite this success, the A's moved him to the bullpen at the beginning of the 2015 season. The crafty righthander was excellent in that role, throwing 6 2/3 scoreless innings with nine strikeouts before an injury forced the A's to move him back into the rotation. He is 1-4 in six starts this year, but that is hardly his fault. Chavez has a 3.41 ERA in those starts, holding opponents to a .591 OPS. The A's offense has scored just 13 runs in his six starts, including two shutouts.
Chavez's 2015 season has been very similar to his breakout 2014 campaign, though he is allowing more fly balls than usual. He is striking out close to a batter per inning, and has lowered his walk rate slightly. Opponents have just a .212 batting average against him this year, in part thanks to a .270 BABIP. That low-ish BABIP isn't entirely unsustainable, though. He has induced pop-ups at a whopping 18 percent clip this season, the third-highest rate in the American League (minimum 40 innings pitched).
Game 3 Pitching Matchup: RHP Alfredo Simon (5-2, 2.67 ERA) vs. LHP Scott Kazmir (2-3, 3.09 ERA)
We are in year three of Scott Kazmir's improbable career renaissance, and things are going just as well as ever. He has limited opponents to a 3.09 ERA in nine starts this year, though a rough start at Minnesota has given him a 5.14 ERA in May. He has struggled with his command over the past month as well, walking 13 batters to just 23 strikeouts in his last 28 innings. This bout of wildness is reminiscent of Kazmir's early seasons, when he walked over four batters per nine innings in six seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays.
On a positive note, Kazmir has upped his strikeout rate from last season, and is just shy of a strikeout per inning. He is getting more swings and misses outside the strike zone this year, but has actually used his offspeed pitches less frequently than in 2014. He has started throwing a cutter much more often, a pitch that resembles his vaunted slider of his early playing days better than his current slider does. It has also helped him improve his ground ball rate to 46.4 percent, a career high.
Hitter to fear: Stephen Vogt (.306/.408/.605 in 152 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Sam Fuld (.195/.278/.288 in 134 plate appearances)
Stephen Vogt has been the rock of the Athletics' offense so far this season. He is the team's only regular .300 hitter, though Billy Burns leads the team with a .309 batting average in 87 plate appearances. Vogt also leads the team with 10 home runs and 33 RBI, and his on-base percentage is 28 points better than Josh Reddick at .380. Shortstop Marcus Semien has also been a surprise offensively, hitting .291/.339/.464 in 193 plate appearances. Sam Fuld will get regular playing time with Coco Crisp currently on the disabled list, but his sub-Mendoza batting average is an issue if his glove doesn't rebound to its usual standards. Outfielder Mark Canha has nosedived after a hot April, hitting just .160/.276/.420 this month.
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