Since their hot start, the A’s have had a rough few weeks. They were 12-4, and ended up falling as far as two games under the .500 mark. Now, with this weekend’s sweep of the Kansas City Royals the A’s are 23-22 and appear as if they may have turned things around. And the timing is important as they embark on a road trip through Texas to visit the Rangers and the Astros, and play a 4 game home and home series next week versus the cross-bay rival San Francisco Giants.
Needless to say the returns of both Coco Crisp and Chris Young give an exponential boost of legitimacy to the everyday lineup. It may be a harsh truth but a lineup featuring Michael Taylor and Luke Montz with any level of frequency above the occasional rest days for the regulars is not indicative of a contending team. That’s not to say they can’t possibly be useful parts of a contending team, but in complementary roles only. Having 3/4 of the original starting outfield back has, and will continue to pay dividends for the team.
The starting pitching may finally be coming around as well. Despite the announcement Friday that Brett Anderson had a stress fracture in his foot and would miss an extended period of time, the starting pitching showed signs of life this weekend. Jarrod Parker turned in his strongest start of the season Friday night against James Shields, Tommy Milone gutted out 6 effective innings when he clearly was struggling, and despite not being on his best A.J. Griffin kept the A’s in the game so they could come back and complete the sweep of the Royals. The A’s will need those three to carry the load in Anderson’s absence, and at this point relying on his return and effectiveness upon that return would be foolish.
Josh Donaldson is playing at an All-Star level. Not a “well the Athletics have to get one representative so it might as well be him” level, but a legitimate All-Star level. Through Saturday’s game, Donaldson ranked in the top 10 in the AL with a 1.9 WAR, that’s not AL third baseman, that’s AL position players. He’s in elite company there. His 152 wRC+ ranks only behind Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria at third base. His .323/.393/.544 slash line compares favorably with just about anyone in the AL not named Miguel Cabrera. He may get shunned from the All Star Game due to a lack of name recognition, but at this point he undoubtedly deserves a spot.
Perhaps the biggest reason for short term optimism though is the fact that Yoenis Cespedes may be primed for a breakout. Watching him in person on Friday night, the ball is jumping off his bat again. Even when he’s making outs, he’s starting to make hard contact. His .202 BABIP screams of bad luck. While he hasn’t been making solid contact this year either, bad fortune hasn’t helped the cause. If that BABIP starts to climb, he can carry the A’s back to the level where they were.
This upcoming three game set with the Texas Rangers in Arlington will be a big test for the Athletics on their path back into the upper echelon of the American League. They will have to contend with one of the best pitchers in the AL right now in Yu Darvish on Tuesday night, both Yu and the A’s love strikeouts so making contact will come at a premium that night. If the A’s can take game 1 of the series against Josh Lindblom, that will do wonders for their chances to take this series. In case you forgot, the last time we saw Lindblom he was walking off field in Oakland after Yoenis Cespedes sent a rocket down the left field line for a 3-run walk off home run to complete a sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, hopefully Yoenis reminds reintroduces himself to Lindblom, if he does then the Athletics may be in business.