Oakland A's Look to Wake Up Against Cleveland Indians

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | After finding a way to lose a series to the Houston Astros, the Oakland Athletics will try to regain their form prior to the All-Star break against the Cleveland Indians.

Oakland trails the Texas Rangers in the American League West by 1.5 games and sits in the second wild-card position only a half-game back of the Tampa Bay Rays. In the quite-crowded AL, Oakland is just three games off the Detroit Tigers' pace for the best record in the Junior Circuit.

Now, the A's welcome in Cleveland, which swept Oakland back in May at Progressive Field In a four-game series. The Indians are trying to stay in the wild-card fray, sitting 3.5 games out of a postseason position. Cleveland has also been sputtering recently, only 3-7 in its last 10 games.

Pitching matchups

Justin Masterson (13-8, 3.59) vs. A.J. Griffin (10-8, 3.88)

Masterson has been the ace of Cleveland's staff throughout 2013, but hasn't been the same guy over his past two starts. The lanky right-hander has watched 10 men (nine who earned it) cross the plate in that span. However, Masterson ranks 4th in the American League in strikeouts (171) and 3rd in innings pitched (168.0). On the flip side, Masterson has walked 64 batters, 3rd-most in the AL.

Griffin has been a workhouse for Oakland this season, throwing 153 innings. The right-hander has also proven to have exceptional control, ranking 9th in the AL with a WHIP of 1.13 thanks to only 38 walks. O.co Coliseum has been kind to Griffin comparative to his road starts, with only 11 homers allowed against 17 away from home.

Ubaldo Jimenez (8-7, 4.11) vs. Dan Straily (6-6, 4.19)

Jimenez is another Indians pitcher who works outside the strike zone more than his manager Terry Francona would like, issuing 65 walks, 2nd-most in the AL. The former Colorado Rockies star has been much tougher after throwing a first-pitch strike. When doing so, hitters have a .190 average compared to a .291 clip when he misses to start an AB.

After having three consecutive appearances well below par, Straily bounced back to dominate the Toronto Blue Jays. North of the border, the youngster surrendered only one run in 7.1 innings while earning a no-decision. Straily's biggest issue is pitching with runners in scoring position. Opponents have a .308 average in those situations.

Scott Kazmir (7-5, 4.18) vs. Bartolo Colon (14-5, 2.97)

Kazmir was supposed to have started on Friday, but Francona pushed him back because of a dead arm, which sounds awfully painful. Anyway, Kazmir has been wildly inconsistent in his last five starts. In three of them, he's not given up a run; while in the other two, he's coughed up a combined nine. Righties give the southpaw much more trouble, clubbing 13 of the 15 homers charged to him this season.

After being the picture of consistency, Colon has really fallen apart like a cheap suit in the rain over his past two starts. In 6.2 innings, Colon has allowed 10 earned runs and taken the loss in both outings. Once throwing fastballs consistently in the low to mid-90s, Colon is now living in the high-80s. Quite possibly, a 40-year-old could be tiring.

Hitters to watch

Nick Swisher has ownership of Colon, earning six hits and two homers for a .500 average against the veteran All-Star. Swisher also hammers Griffin, with two bombs off him in seven at-bats. Carlos Santana is due to break out. He's only hitting .163 in August in 13 games.

Coco Crisp has a .306 average against Kazmir in 36 ABs, including a homer and three doubles. Crisp is also 3-for-9 with two jacks versus Masterson. Brandon Moss will also be happy Masterson's in town with a 3-of-8 line against the Jamaican native with a homer to his name. Yoenis Cespedes has hit Jimenez well, having three knocks in four at-bats with a tater.

Final thought

Oakland only has 42 games left, basically a quarter of the season. Currently, the A's are in the midst of a 9-game homestand and need to make it count before hitting the road to face two tough teams in the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers.

If Oakland has designs on winning the AL West and making serious noise well into October, the slide needs to stop soon. The A's at their best are a free-wheeling bunch who can hit, pitch and run. Lately, none of these facets are working to full capacity. It must change for Oakland before it's too late.

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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