Series Preview: Oakland Athletics @ Texas Rangers - Matters of Import

Things are a little different now than they were the last time the Rangers faced the Oakland A's. On July 18, the Rangers lost a closely-contested game in Oakland 4-3. It was yet another A's walk-off win in a series of many that came in the middle months that made them difficult to take seriously. After all, it's not like they'd continue to win every close game. Who did they think they were? The Baltimore Orioles? Colby Lewis started that game. It was his last start of the season before succumbing to a torn flexor tendon. A day later, The Dark Knight Rises premiered.

That July loss pre-dates my handball love affair. When the Rangers and A's last played Bartolo Colon was still the A's top starter and Roy Oswalt was still in the Ranger rotation. Melky Cabrera was fresh off an All-Star Game MVP award. Miguel Cabrera only had 20 home runs and Mike Trout was still a shoe-in for American League MVP. Most importantly, but maybe a little disheartening, on that day in July the Rangers' American League West lead slipped to 5.5...over the Anaheim Angels. The A's climbed to within 8 games of the Rangers.

Had the season ended on that July 18 date, the A's would have finished 47-44 and out of the playoffs. The A's odds of making the postseason on that date was bumped from 6% to 9% with the win. Fast forward just over two months later, and the A's are 86-66 and are currently locked into the final wild card spot in the American League with an 81.5% chance of qualifying for the postseason per Baseball Prospectus.

Over the course of the season these two teams have split the season series at six games apiece. Each team is 4-2 against the other in their home park. The last time the two teams met in Arlington, the month of July began and the Rangers took three of four. Since that July 1 date, the A's have gone 48-24 which is eight games better than the Rangers over that span. The A's have feasted on the American League in the absence of playing the Rangers.

They haven't done it like the Orioles have done it. They're not magic. They're good. Plain and simple. They may have had a stretch where they seemed to win in their last at-bat every night--and that seems now like it got them kick-started--but since then, they've just beaten teams.

But the thing is, there's really no particular reason for it. Their starters have been excellent (second best ERA in the American League), but then, they currently have four rookies in their rotation and a guy they picked up on waivers on May 15. They've hit better than expected, but then, Josh Reddick, their best player this season, has a wOBA of .172 on the month. Yoenis Cespedes has missed 40 games. Seven players that you could say make regular appearances in their usual lineup (George Kottaras, Stephen Drew, Derek Norris, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jonny Gomes, and Chris Carter) all have played in less than 100 games this season. It's a near lineup-wide platoon.

The A's are something of a true whole is more than the sum of its parts kind of team. Somehow, and nearly every night, they find the right formula to win baseball games. Since the last time they were in Arlington, they've done it to the tune of a .667 winning percentage and baseball's summer had barely just begun. The A's are a pretty amazing story in 2012. But they simply haven't had to play the Rangers during mostly any of it. So now is as good a time as any to put an end to the feel-good.

Anyhow, here's basically all you need to know:

  • A's sweep - The Rangers and A's are tied for the AL West lead with six games remaining
  • A's win 3 of 4 - The Rangers lead the A's in the AL West by 2.0 games with six games remaining
  • 2-2 series split - The Rangers lead the A's in the AL West by 4.0 games with six games remaining
  • Rangers win 3 of 4 - The Rangers lead the A's in the AL West by 6.0 games and clinch a division tie
  • Rangers sweep - The Rangers clinch the 2012 American League West division championship

Monday, September 24 7:05: RHP Dan Straily vs. LHP Derek Holland

Tuesday, September 25 7:05: LHP Tommy Milone vs. RHP Yu Darvish

Wednesday, September 26 7:05: RHP Jarrod Parker vs. LHP Martin Perez

Thursday, September 27 1:05: LHP Travis Blackley vs. LHP Matt Harrison

Here's a breakdown of the pitching match-ups against the pretender to the throne Oakland Athletics:

  • Derek Holland: 11-6, 7.51 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, .253 BABIP, 68.7% LOB, 4.57 FIP, 4.06 xFIP, 1.9 WAR - Last three starts: 5 runs allowed in 22.0 innings
  • Dan Straily: 2-1, 6.67 K/9, 3.18 BB/9, .241 BABIP, 93.5% LOB, 6.46 FIP, 5.21 xFIP, -0.4 WAR - Last three starts: 7 runs allowed in 17.2 innings

Advantage: This would have been Derek Holland vs. Brett Anderson and would have seemed a more scary proposition. This feels like, given the gravitas of this series, one you'd hope the Rangers would win. This is a favorable match-up in the sense that Derek Holland is pitching well (a 3.71 FIP since August 1) and Dan Straily is sporting a 93.5% strand rate in his 28 1/3 career innings as a big league pitcher. But Straily has the advantage of having never faced the Rangers before, and he throws a change-up, so he might be a Trevor Cahill starter kit for all we know.

  • Yu Darvish: 16-9, 10.43 K/9, 4.29 BB/9, .290 BABIP, 70.1% LOB, 3.30 FIP, 3.55 xFIP, 4.8 WAR - Last three starts: 3 runs allowed in 23.0 innings
  • Tommy Milone: 13-10, 6.57 K/9, 1.81 BB/9, .304 BABIP, 73.6% LOB, 4.06 FIP, 4.04 xFIP, 2.3 WAR - Last three starts: 6 runs allowed in 17.0 innings

Advantage: Yu Darvish has turned into a dominating force on the mound. The A's haven't experienced Yu Darvish like this, though they have faced him three times now. Darvish allowed a run in a start in May to pick up a win but then pitched one of his worst games as a major leaguer against the A's in June when he allowed six runs on six hits with six walks in a Ranger loss. The last time Yu faced the A's was back in July. He allowed three runs but struck out a season high 11 A's. That start was the last before a stretch of five ugly outings for Yu that would last until things began to turn around mid-August. The Rangers have faced Milone only twice. In one start in May he pitched seven innings and allowed four runs in an A's loss and in another in June he lasted five innings and allowed six runs (only one earned) in an A's loss. Both games were at the Ballpark. The Rangers seem to have a decent idea on how to beat Tommy Milone.

  • Martin Perez: 1-2, 5.67 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, .288 BABIP, 72.1% LOB, 4.37 FIP, 4.77 xFIP, 0.4 WAR - Last three appearances (One start since July 24): 5 runs allowed in 13.1 innings
  • Jarrod Parker: 14-10, 5.77 K/9, 2.33 BB/9, .253 BABIP, 77.9% LOB, 4.74 FIP, 4.44 xFIP, 3.5 WAR - Last three starts: 4 runs allowed in 22.0 innings

Advantage: Martin Perez has 33 1/3 average major league innings whereas Jarrod Parker has been one of the better starters in the American League this season. Perez's lone big league win came in his first start which happened to be against the A's at the tail end of June. Parker has only faced the Rangers once and he no-hit them through seven innings. As much as the first two games seem to favor the Rangers, this one is one the A's are counting on.

  • Matt Harrison: 17-10, 5.63 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, .285 BABIP, 78.8% LOB, 3.95 FIP, 4.12 xFIP, 3.7 WAR - Last three starts: 4 runs allowed in 22.1 innings
  • Travis Blackley: 5-3, 5.90 K/9, 2.68 BB/9, .264 BABIP, 67.7% LOB, 3.81 FIP, 4.33 xFIP, 1.2 WAR - Last three appearances (One start since August 29): 2 runs allowed in 5.2 innings

Advantage: Matt Harrison and Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes should have the upper-hand in this match-up. However, the Rangers have only lost twice against Oakland in Arlington this season. In both of those games, the winning A's pitcher was Travis Blackley. It seems like every time the A's need a starter--and often times, it's against the Rangers--they have Travis Blackley ready and waiting to ruin an evening. Just once I want to believe in you, Matt Harrison.

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Oakland Athletics (86-66, 2nd Place in AL West)

Rangers Record vs. Oakland: 6-6 (4-2 at The Ballpark)

Oakland's Recent Results: 1-2 road series loss against the New York Yankees

Oakland's Road Record: 41-35

Ballpark In Arlington Park Factors (LHB/RHB): HR: 115/117 - Runs: 117/117

SB Nation A's Blog: Athletics Nation

Match-up: (as of 09/24) Rangers A's Advantage
Batting (RAR) 54.3 (5th) -8.5 (15th) Rangers
Base Running (RAR) 6.8 (4th) 3.7 (9th) Rangers
Starters (RAR) 101.6 63.3 Rangers
Bullpen (RAR) 51.3 (9th) 32.9 (13th) Rangers
Defense (UZR) 22.5 (5th) 20.6 (6th) Rangers
Overall (UZR + RAR) 236.5 112.0 Rangers

Questions to Answer:

  • Without looking, can you name the other current member of the A's rotation that won't make a start in this series?
  • Who is your Return of the McLemore Approved Player to Watch in this series? (Ian Kinsler is home.)
  • Over/Under: 4.5 Moneyball references on Wednesday's ESPN broadcast?
  • What's your guess for line (IP/H/K/BB/ER) by Yu Darvish in his start on Tuesday now that he's become sort of crazy great?
  • It's simple really, what's your guess for Ranger magic number after Thursday afternoon: 7, 5, 3, 1, 0?
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