Tony Gwynn: Tigers & A’s: Two early season surprises
A slow start for the Oakland Athletics is nothing new—and if recent history is any indicator, nothing for them to be concerned about.
Known for second-half runs that have led to first- or second-place finishes in the AL West for seven straight years, the Athletics try to get back to the .500 mark when they open a three-game set with the Detroit Tigers at McAfee Coliseum on Tuesday.
Oakland (6-7) has lost five of six since a 5-2 start, including two of three to Texas to begin a nine-game homestand, and is under .500 through 13 games for the fourth time since 1999.
Over that span, the A’s are a combined 50-54 in the first 13 games of each season, including a 3-10 start in 2001. They won 102 games that year and advanced to the postseason, losing to the New York Yankees in the AL division series.
The A’s reached the playoffs every year from 2000-03.
Esteban Loaiza (0-2, 11.42 ERA) will make his third start for Oakland after being signed as a free agent in the offseason. A 12-game winner with Washington in 2005, Loaiza is 11-4 with a 2.58 ERA in 18 games against Detroit, including 7-1 with a 2.73 ERA at home.
The 34-year-old right-hander has struggled in two outings in 2006, allowing five earned runs in 4 2-3 innings of a 6-2 loss to Seattle on April 6 and six runs in four innings of a 6-5 defeat to Minnesota last Wednesday.
The A’s are hoping Loaiza, 22-19 with a 4.80 ERA since a 21-win season with the Chicago White Sox in 2003, can give them an outing similar to what Dan Haren had in a 5-3 loss to the Rangers on Sunday.
Haren pitched eight innings of one-run ball, allowing four hits and striking out five, and left with a 3-1 lead. Closer Huston Street, though, gave up four earned runs in the ninth, including a two-run homer to Mark Teixeira that tied the game at 3.
Street had converted his last 21 save opportunities.
“You always want to keep a streak going but I’ve blown saves before,” Street said. “It was set up perfect—bobblehead day, Easter Sunday, get a win for Haren right there. Now it’s just a blown save.”
Eric Chavez went 4-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs to up his average to .313.
Chavez is a .292 hitter with 12 homers and 35 RBIs against the Tigers.
Detroit (7-6) began the season 5-0 but has since dropped six of eight, including a 2-5 homestand that concluded with a four-game split against Cleveland.
The early season schedule isn’t doing any favors for the Tigers, who are kicking off a nine-game West Coast road trip with this series before playing three each at Seattle and the Los Angeles Angels.
Justin Verlander, a 23-year-old right-hander and the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft, will make his first career start against the A’s.
Verlander (1-1, 6.52 ERA) earned his first major league win April 8 when he pitched seven innings, allowing two hits and striking out seven, in the Tigers’ 7-0 victory over the Rangers.
He ran into trouble in his next start, giving up seven earned runs and seven hits in just 2 2-3 innings of a 13-9 loss to the White Sox on Thursday.
That outing was similar to Nate Robertson’s in a 10-2 defeat in the series finale against the Indians on Monday.
Robertson, who had a team-high 16 losses last year, gave up six earned runs and eight hits in 2 1-3 innings, exiting in the third with his team trailing 7-1.
“We stunk,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who unleashed a booming, expletive-filled postgame tirade that could be heard outside the clubhouse. “The whole ball of wax was lackluster. It’s been going on here before.”
Chris Shelton provided yet another highlight for Detroit’s offense, connecting on his ninth home run of the season in 13 games. He totaled 18 in 107 games as a rookie in 2005.
Carlos Guillen also homered, his third of the season and first since he homered in the Tigers’ first two games.
Oakland is 22-9 against Detroit since 2002, including 11-5 at home.