Feb. 21, 2113; Tempe, AZ, USA: Los Angeles Angels players (from left), infielder Mark Trumbo , outfielder Mike Trout , first baseman Albert Pujols and outfielder Josh Hamilton pose for a portrait during photo day at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The First True Test For the 2013 Oakland Athletics

What started as a 6 month long offseason discussion about how the Athletics could possibly defend their AL West title against the ultra rich Los Angeles Angels, has now become a discussion of just how good the Athletics are at 5-2.  They haven’t faced the cream of the crop in the American League thus far, so the hot start to the season has to be met with tempered enthusiasm undoubtedly.  But, there is no doubt that this is a talented team, so taking on the Angels who are considered the favorites to not only win the AL West but are among the favorites to go to the World Series will give an early indication as to whether this team can once again be for real.

The first matchup of this week’s series is assuredly the most intriguing as the A’s send Jarrod Parker to the hill against the always outspoken C.J. Wilson.  A’s fans have a very special brand of dislike for Wilson after his negative comments directed at the Athletics, the fans, and the Coliseum (especially the mound), so beating him is always a little extra special.  The A’s will have to do what they typically do best, and work the count and make Wilson throw a ton of pitches.  He’s prone to walking a number of batters, “lawyerball” as he termed it, and it will be in the team’s best interest to take him to court.

The second game will pit Tommy Milone against former Athletic Joe Blanton.  This requires an entirely different approach, Joe Blanton is always hittable, and the A’s need to be aggressive when he gives them pitches to hit.  If they can put a crooked number on the board like they have during this 5 game winning streak, they’ll be able to take this game.  Blanton cannot be underestimated though, if the A’s don’t attack his pitches then he’ll be able to get on a roll and the A’s could be in trouble.

The final game will feature a major thorn in the A’s side Jason Vargas as he battles A.J. Griffin on Thursday.  Vargas always seems to perform well versus the Athletics with a 3.13 ERA in 89 innings.  It’ll be pretty clear early on whether the A’s will be able to get to Vargas or not.  He has struggled thus far in an Angels uniform, so the Athletics will want to contribute to his woes.

The A’s pitchers will need to focus on keeping the Angels speed guys off the basepaths as much as possible.  Obviously Mike Trout is the ultimate catalyst batting leadoff, but Erick Aybar in the two spot before the thumpers come up can cause major problems as well for the Athletics.  Peter Bourjos has also once again found himself in a regular role with the Halos, and will likely be slotted in the 9th spot, so the Angels will have 3 very fast baserunners in succession before Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Mark Trumbo come to bat.  Giving those three as many at bats as possible with as few runners on base as possible will be the key to winning this series.

I expect the A’s to take game two of this series versus Blanton, so just getting a victory against Wilson or Vargas will get the A’s a very impressive early road series victory.  So while the Angels finally get their chance for the pomp and circumstance of their home opener, the A’s are going to be there to crash the party and show them just why they are the defending AL West Champions.

Tags: A.J. Griffin Jarrod Parker Oakland Athletics Tommy Milone

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