Alex Hall from Athletics Nation was kind enough to take some questions in about a team that we don't really know much about. You can check out my answers to his questions here, but here's what he had to say about this
upcoming currently happening series.
RR: The A's are 44-34 right now, and are holding their own in a division with huge payrolls like the Rangers and Angels. How are they doing it?
AN: There are two reasons that spring to mind - one of them is familiar, and the other one is new. The familiar one is that they are getting lots of production from young players on cheap, pre-arbitration contracts, which is how most of the good A's teams of the last 15 years have been put together. That allows them to match the talent of the expensive teams while keeping their payroll low.
The new one, though, has to do with way that Billy Beane has constructed this team. Rather than putting all of his eggs in one basket by sinking too many resources into a couple of star players, Beane collected as many solid, versatile pieces as he could so that there would always be nine good players on the field. Recent A's teams have been devastated by injuries, and the only way to protect against those injuries is to have more good players than you think you'll need while also not relying too heavily on just one or two great players who might slump or get hurt. While the A's have sustained a season-ending injury to second baseman Scott Sizemore, the long-term loss of starting pitcher Brett Anderson, and at least one DL trip by four of their five outfielders, the Rangers have been crippled by injuries while struggling to replace the lost production. Meanwhile, the Angels went all-in on a few aging superstars and found out that players in their thirties can decline at unpredictable rates.
Beane and manager Bob Melvin have also made effective use of platoon players, who come a bit cheaper but can still provide the same production as more expensive stars if utilized properly. Between this cost-cutting measure, a roster of solid-but-not-great players who can each cover multiple positions, and enough depth to cover the inevitable injuries, Beane has really put the "A" in "team" this year.
RR: What's something that the A's can improve on? Will they be buyers at the deadline?
AN: This is a fairly complete team in that there aren't any gaping holes, but there are definitely a couple of areas for improvement. If Oakland could get a good defensive shortstop with just a league-average bat, they could permanently shift Lowrie to second base to minimize his role in the defense and they would no longer have to start Eric Sogard or Adam Rosales (more on them later). If a shortstop isn't available, then a quality second baseman would at least keep "Sogales" on the bench where they belong. Like any other team, they could also use another quality relief pitcher; the Balfour/Cook/Doolittle tandem has done great work this year in the late innings, but they've each had their struggles recently. Another arm wouldn't hurt.
Of course, an ace starting pitcher would be nice, but the A's don't get to have nice things. Jarrod Parker is probably better cast as a #2 starter, and Bartolo Colon can't pitch like this forever...can he?
RR: The Reds will be facing a couple of guys that they haven't seen in this series. Can you give us a short synopsis of what we can expect from Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin?
AN: Tommy Milone is a soft-tossing lefty with a fantastic change-up. He relies on pinpoint accuracy, and needs to get hitters to chase on his breaking pitches. Since his fastball averages around 87, he is very hittable when he misses his spots. He counteracts this by keeping his walk rate low (5% of batters this year), so that the bases tend to be empty when the big hits come. His fly ball tendencies play better in the cavernous Coliseum, so...good luck with that.
A.J. Griffin is similar to Milone. He throws only a couple of miles harder (around 89 on average), keeps the walks down (5.9%), and is most effective when he's pounding the zone and inducing weak contact. His out pitch is a beautiful 12-to-6 curveball which can come in as slow as the high sixties. Hitters are sometimes back in the dugout by the time the ball hits the glove.
Both pitchers have been homer-prone this year, each having allowed 15 in around 95 innings.
RR: The A's are on a bit of a skid lately, losing 6 of their last 9. In your estimation, what's been responsible for that?
AN: Indeed, Oakland just dropped seven out of ten to division rivals Texas and Seattle. It seemed like a different thing went wrong in every game. A couple of the losses were games blown by the usually-solid bullpen, two were lost because 41-year old Raul Ibanez hit key homers for Seattle, one was lost because 68-year-old Henry Blanco hit a grand slam off of Griffin, one was lost because nobody could drive in a baserunner in Texas...basically, just a regular ol' slump. Overall, I think that Oakland's pitching is allowing too many homers - they have given up the 9th most in the Majors this year. Sunday also marked the end of a stretch which saw the A's play 30 games in 31 days (including the 18-inning marathon against the Yankees), so fatigue may have been an issue. Yesterday's off-day probably helped quite a bit.
RR: Seriously, you can tell us... is Bartolo Colon a witch?
AN: We're still not 100% sure. I saw a documentary once that said that witches burn because they're made of wood. Since wood floats in water, it must weigh the same as a duck, since ducks also float. Therefore, you can tell if someone is a witch by seeing if he weighs the same as a duck. It actually might not have been a documentary. It might have been a Monty Python film. Still, we should check anyway.
The A's website says that Colon weighs 265 pounds, and Wikipedia says that a mallard duck (a medium-sized waterfowl) weighs up to 3.5 pounds. So, Colon fails that test, but he does float in water (probably), so the jury's still out. With the way that he can guide the ball with pinpoint accuracy and generate late movement, it's also possible that he could be a wizard or a Jedi, so it's best not to jump to any conclusions.
RR: Do A's fans have the same irrational love for Adam Rosales as Reds fans did when he played here? Has he been on a Count Chocula box there yet?
AN: I think that I'm just about the only person at Athletics Nation who still likes Adam Rosales, and I have to admit that it's gotten a bit irrational. I love the quirkiness and the hustle and the home run sprints, but the novelty has worn off for many fans. He's been on a terrible cold streak that has him more likely to be on a Count Suckula box.
At this point, Rosey is on the team because he can play a decent shortstop. Jed Lowrie is below-average there and is better cast at second, and Eric Sogard also doesn't cut it there, so Rosales is the right-handed side of an infield platoon with Sogard. He's hit lefties just fine, and the fact that he has had a few clutch, game-winning homers/hits this year also has me irrationally loving him. However, he is better suited to be a utility infielder than a starter. Thanks to his 6-for-53 line against right-handed pitching, he has lost his good standing with the rest of the AN community, and most folks would rather see Hiro Nakajima or Grant Green take his spot.