The AL West is the focus of MLB this week, as the Rangers and Angels have split the first two games of their weekend series and will get the ESPN showcase on Sunday night. But let’s not overlook that the Oakland A’s are hanging around and sitting at 17-16 coming into Saturday’s games, 4 ½ back of Texas and 2 ½ ahead of LAA. The A’s have survived an 11-game East Coast road trip and fought their way to a 6-5 record and then split two against Detroit these past two games at home. When you hear of Oakland succeeding, you generally think pitching. But it’s the bats that are helping the A’s hang tough in the AL West right now.
No bat is succeeding more than Josh Reddick, the rightfielder Oakland acquired from Boston when they unloaded injury-prone closer Andrew Bailey. Reddick’s on-base percentage is a solid .343 and his eight home runs have keyed a .554 slugging percentage—all done while playing in one of the least-friendly parks to hitters in the American League.
Reddick has been successful all year, and in recent games he’s started to get some help. Seth Smith, the left fielder brought in from Colorado has started to hit and lifted his on-base percentage to sparkling .402. The A’s picked up Brandon Inge off the slag heap Detroit thrust him on, and Inge has promptly hit four home runs in the last week, while hitting over .300. High-profile centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes isn’t dazzling, but he’s consistent, with a .434 slugging. Cespedes needs to get on base more consistently if the offense is to continue its strong pace—they’re third in the AL in runs scored this past week. Second baseman Jemile Weeks also has to show the offensive potential he flashed in the second half of last year, but has been dormant for the first month-plus of 2012.
Oakland won’t continue this offensive pace for an extended period. But if the outfield trio of Reddick, Smith and Cespedes produces and Weeks can get back to being a sparkplug, it won’t be a terrible offense. Then it depends on the pitching, which has been okay, but not as good as it’s capable of being. That’s a topic for another post, but for the time being next week is checkpoint time—the A’s will play consecutive two-game series on the road against the Angels & Rangers.
Around the rest of the AL West…
Texas (22-12): Josh Hamilton electrified the baseball world with his four-home run effort in Baltimore earlier this week and he hasn’t stopped crushing the ball. But there are other reasons the Rangers are still the best offense in the AL, both for the season and in recent games. Elvis Andrus is 12-for-29 and swiped three bases to help set the table. Adrian Beltre hit .320 and has gone deep three times. Nelson Cruz doesn’t have his power stroke going, but is at a .367 on-base percentage. Oh, and the bullpen, other than a couple innings from Robbie Ross, has been perfect for a week. There’s a reason this is the best team in baseball.
LA Angels (15-19): May has been better than April, with the Angels going 7-4, but there are still significant problems on the offense. Albert Pujols hit his first home run, but all he did beyond that last week was hit three singles. The few positive developments include young Mike Trout hitting .474 and drawing three walks, and Mark Trumbo opening up and driving the ball into the gaps and getting on base. Ultimately the biggest positive for the Angels is that the seven-game deficit they face in the AL West and only 4 ½ behind the Yankees who would currently be the second wild-card in the AL playoffs. LAA’s gradually improving, still has plenty of ceiling above them and hasn’t been buried.
Seattle (15-19): The Mariners have gotten some great pitching, with Hector Noesi and Jason Vargas delivering outstanding starts and Felix Hernandez continuing to be King Felix. Offensively, Jesus Montero hit a slump after a nice start, but at long last second baseman Dustin Ackley began to hit, as did centerfielder Mike Saunders. Now they just need first baseman Justin Smoak to join them. Seattle has just started a 10-game road trip, losing last night in the Bronx and trailing there again Saturday as this article goes online. Oakland faced a similar trip and showed they weren’t ready for an early burial. Seattle has to show the same thing.