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Oakland Series Preview: Q&A with Cuppingmaster, the master of cups.

BK talked to this A's fan over from Athletics Nations. He seems like a cool dude. Big series, anyways, eh?

Ezra Shaw

BK: The Reds face Dan Straily in the first game of this weird two game series... another guy that they've never faced. What should we expect?

CM: Sliders. His fastball is pretty meh, it's straight-ish and he can get to about 92 MPH on a good day. He has a changeup, but he only throws it about a third as much as he does the slider. The slider is his swing and miss pitch... unless he can't locate it. When it stays up and hangs, it goes far. I'm morbidly curious to see what happens in a launching pad like Great American ballpark.

Don't get me wrong, though. If his slider is down, he can dominate a swing happy team.

BK: Looks like we're getting Bartolo Colon in the second game after all. Are you guys surprised by that?

CM: I don't think anyone in the A's community is truly surprised. It's become clear in the last couple weeks, based on the beat writers' comments, that the team wasn't worried about it, either. The thought was that it would have been hard to justify additional punishment for a guy who served his time, and pretty much stayed out of the limelight in doing so. After all, how could they say that he "used" twice?

He has his haters, for sure, but when he pitches like a Cy Young candidate, his prior transgressions are a lot easier to overlook. Plus, for me and others, it's just fun to watch him move his fastball all over the place, then drop a slider to completely fool a hitter.

BK: The A's have won a ton of game so far this year, with what looks like an average offense on paper (7th in the AL in runs scored, 8th in HR). Is that a concern going forward?

CM: The offense is certainly concerning recently. Over the last 14 days, the A's have a 93 wRC+, which is not terrible, but not befitting a playoff contender. With Yoenis Cespedes having a down year, Josh Reddick not hitting nearly as well as he did last year, and Josh Donaldson beginning to slump, the A's need to win games preventing runs as long as the offense is slumping.

Oops. That's been exactly the problem, lately. The bigger concern is indeed the pitching staff after Colon and Jarrod Parker. Tom Milone, A.J. Griffin, and Straily have been inconsistent. With yesterday being the second in a string of three off days in eight days, Milone was actually sent down in favor of additional relief. It's unclear whether he will return, or someone like top pitching prospect Sonny Gray will get his chance to start in Oakland. With Brett Anderson on track for some rehab starts soon, the rotation does have the potential to get stronger very soon.

No word yet on whether Anderson will make his starts from inside a hermetically sealed cocoon.

BK: For a team that doesn't have any guys who are lighting up the offensive leaderboards, the A's are getting the job done. Who's been the most valuable hitter for the A's this year?

CM: Despite his current struggles, Donaldson has been far and away the best hitter on the team this year. He has a wRC+ of 139 and plays a very good third base. Next up for consideration are Jed Lowrie and John Jaso. The A's took a chance on Lowrie remaining healthy over a full season, and it has paid off (at least offensively),and he currently sports a 116 wRC+. Finally, Jaso has hit when he has played, and leads the team with a 15.3% walk rate (second in the AL). The A's as a team, actually, lead all of MLB with a 9.6% walk rate. Indeed, the offensive attack is actually pretty balanced.

BK: You guys are sitting 2.5 in front of the Rangers for the division lead, and look to have a playoff team on your hands in Oakland. How exciting is it to have a team that's outperforming their projections in what looked like a tough division going into the season?

CM: Two games actually, after the worthless Angels can't be bothered to put up a fight anymore.

The national guys certainly did not expect the team to compete. For being the division champions, they were like the least assuming contenders ever going into the season. I think A's knew that they would be good again, and most fans expected them to be as well. In fact, I would say the general consensus among the fanbase is that the team has underperformed so far. As I said earlier, Reddick and Cespedes have really not hit this year, and Anderson has been on the shelf since April with Parker having fits of inconsistency. It's been the emergence of Donaldson, the acquisitions of Lowrie and Jaso, and the unexpected performance of Colon that has carried the team. The A's will be scary when all their tools are available for use.

BK: The interaction between Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman at the Home Run Derby was one of the most interesting highlights of the show. Are you nervous about possible sabotage via cream cheese and guava pastry this week?

CM: I can't believe he ate 20 of those or whatever. There is a great Cuban bakery here in LA that makes those and I can probably eat about about 6 before I need a defibrillator and a glass of water. Hopefully with Cespedes' mother now living in Miami he's gotten his fill of the homemade variety and will refuse anonymous deliveries.