COMMENTARY | Coming out of the All-Star break, the Oakland Athletics couldn't be sitting in a much better position. Leading the American League West by two games over the Texas Rangers and 11 ahead of the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland is in control of its destiny going forward.
The A's (56-39) kick off their second-half schedule with a trip to Southern California to take on the Angels, who have been a massive disappointment this year. At 44-49 and coming off a sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles is simply hoping to get on track.
Offense hasn't been a problem for the Angels, who come into July 19 with the 7th-most runs and 4th-highest batting average in baseball. The problem has been brutal pitching, headlined by the immortal Joe Blanton (2-12, 5.33. Yes, you read that correctly). The Los Angeles staff ranks 27th in ERA, 25th in WHIP and 24th in opponents batting average. In a word, yikes.
If the Angels want to make any noise other than the sound of a large crash this season, beating Oakland in this series is a minimum with a sweep being preferable. For the A's, a simple series win will suffice.
A.J. Griffin (8-6, 3.68) vs. Jered Weaver (3-5, 3.63)
Griffin is coming off one of his best starts this season. Against the Boston Red Sox on July 13, Griffin shut down the most potent offense in baseball, not allowing a run through eight innings and only giving up six hits and one walk. He dominated Los Angeles earlier this year on April 11, pitching eight frames with only one earned run against.
Weaver isn't the unhittable ace of old, but he's still more than formidable. In his three July starts, Weaver has a 2.33 ERA and a pair of wins picked up against the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston. His control has also been excellent over this stretch, walking only two batters versus 14 strikeouts.
Dan Straily (6-2, 4.28) vs. C.J. Wilson (9-6, 3.37)
Straily has been downright filthy in his last two times toeing the rubber. The 24-year-old right-hander has beaten the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, surrendering a grand total of three hits and one run in 13.2 innings with 13 strikeouts. Straily has been a showcase of great talent and inconsistency in his young career. Could this be the turning point?
Wilson has enjoyed a fine season, lost among the wreckage that is the Angels. The southpaw has given up more than three earned runs in only one appearance since May, including his current streak of three starts with two earned runs or less against. Wilson is also very tough to hit homers off, with three being blasted in his last 10 starts.
Bartolo Colon (12-3, 2.70) vs. Jerome Williams (5-5, 4.60)
This is certainly a pitching matchup those with an AARP card can appreciate.
With Colon, you have the most unlikely All-Star of the season at 40 years old. The Dominican has enjoyed a phenomenal campaign with 12 wins to his credit. The large, yet in-charge hurler has thrown at least six innings without having three earned runs chalked up against him since May 9. He also does not award patience, walking only 15 men all year.
Williams, on the other hand, has struggled in 2013. The last three times Williams has taken the ball, it's been an outpouring of offense for the other team. Over that stretch, Williams has been hammered for 17 earned runs in seven innings. He is also the opposite of Wilson, being taken out of the park six times in his prior five starts.
Hitters to watch
Josh Donaldson is having a breakout year, and it might well continue against Williams, whom he's 5-for-10 against lifetime with a pair of doubles. Jed Lowrie will look for more doubles against Weaver, with three in 12 at-bats. Oddly enough, those are his only hits against the lanky star.
Alberto Callaspo wears out Colon with seven hits in 21 tries, including a home run. Josh Hamilton has a chance to get off to a good start in the second half against Griffin. In seven ABs, Hamilton has four hits, albeit for singles. However, he has gone deep once off Straily in his career.
For Oakland, this series represents a great opportunity to move another game further ahead of the Angels while potentially distancing itself further from Texas, which is playing the Baltimore Orioles. With their next 13 games against sub-.500 teams, the A's could really do some damage before seeing the Rangers in early-August.
Considering how easy Texas' schedule is in August with 23 consecutive games against teams with losing records, it would be very beneficial for Oakland to pad its slim lead in the AL West sooner rather than later.
Matt Verderame is a lifelong Oakland A's follower and has been published in the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin and also at SB Nation among other papers and websites. His twitter handle is @MattVerderame.
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