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Oakland Athletics Must Quiet St. Louis Cardinals' Bats

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COMMENTARY | After staggering home from a road trip that saw series losses to the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners, the Oakland Athletics (46-34) showed why they are a championship contender.

Facing Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and the rest of the vaunted Cincinnati Reds, Oakland swept the two games from the Queen City boys. The A's showcased a team effort, pounding Bronson Arroyo for seven runs in the first three innings of the opener while the recently disastrous bullpen picked up Tommy Milone.

The bullpen, which had allowed eight runs in seven frames during the last two contests in Seattle, threw 4.1 scoreless innings, giving the A's a 7-3 triumph. In the last affair it was A.J. Griffin throwing the best game of his career, spinning a two-hit shutout for a 5-0 win.

Josh Donaldson also put on his big-boy pants, hitting two homers in the series.

Now, Oakland welcomes the St. Louis Cardinals (48-30) to the O.co Coliseum for a three-game set.

Pitching matchups

Shelby Miller (8-5, 2.35) vs. Bartolo Colon (10-2, 2.93)

In a battle of young vs. old, Colon and Miller kick off this marquee series. Colon comes in as one of the biggest surprises in baseball, a strong candidate for the All-Star team. The 40-year-old has been remarkably consistent even with his unique frame, allowing more than three earned runs only twice in a start, and not once since May 9.

Miller has struggled of late, giving up four earned runs in two of his last three outings. The right-hander is one of the best youngsters in the game and looks to bounce back against a team filled with players he's never faced before, sans one at-bat versus Jed Lowrie.

Adam Wainwright (10-5, 2.31) vs. Jarrod Parker (6-6, 4.27)

Parker scuffled in his last outing, surrendering two homers to the ancient yet still good Raul Ibanez, ultimately earning a no-decision in seven innings of three-run work. Parker has had issues with the long ball, giving up 15 this season after watching only 11 balls leave the park in 2012. Recently, though, Parker has realized being good is more fun than the alternative, with a 3-0 mark in June and a 2.29 ERA.

Wainwright is currently one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award. The Georgia-native has walked a mere 10 batters for the year while punching out 106 and possesses an insanely good WHIP of 1.01. However, Wainwright has lost his last two outings against the Rangers and Chicago Cubs, respectively.

Tommy Milone (6-7, 4.06) vs. Jake Westbrook (4-2, 2.21)

Milone failed to earn the win in his last appearance against Cincinnati despite Oakland giving him seven runs. The southpaw only pitched 4.2 innings thanks to six hits, four walks and three runs. Milone has been roughed up in his two latest starts, allowing a total of nine earned runs in 10 innings while walking five and striking out three.

Westbrook is the typical Cardinals find. Old, used up, and somehow effective a la Jeff Suppan and Woody Williams. The ex-Indians standout has been vulnerable in recent times, though, getting tagged for four runs against the Houston Astros on June 25 and hit for three runs in five innings against the hapless Miami Marlins three starts ago. Trouble or a blip on the radar?

Hitters to watch

Josh Donaldson has been red-hot the past six games, hitting .364, driving in six runs and hitting an aforementioned pair of blasts against Cincinnati. Lowrie has also been on fire with hits in 12 of his last 25 at-bats. Coco Crisp might wear the hero hat in the finale, as he wears out Westbrook with an 8-for-15 stat line against him.

No team has a more balanced offense than St. Louis, evidenced by eight regulars hitting at or above .293 in June. These streakers are led by Yadier Molina, who is reaching base at a .415 clip in that span. Keep an eye on Carlos Beltran, who pounds Colon to the tune of four homers and a .317 average in 41 at-bats.

Final thought

The Cardinals have been struggling for the first time this season, entering Oakland as losers in four of their previous five. With stats such as being second in runs scored (388), third in team ERA (3.25) and tops in run differential (+113), don't expect a prolonged slump from the Redbirds.

Oakland is simply looking to keep the positive vibes going against the NL Central. So far, the A's are 4-1 against the division and face the Chicago Cubs after St. Louis leaves town. With Texas playing the Reds over the weekend, Oakland is eying a return to first place.

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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