The Cleveland Indians head to Oakland today to conclude their first road trip of the season with a three-game series against the Athletics. Most expected Oakland to spend 2012 battling the Seattle Mariners for last place in the AL West, but 14 games into the season the A’s find themselves tied for second place in the division—4.5 games behind the first-place Texas Rangers, but ahead of the cellar-dwelling Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
This will be the Indians’ first look at the 2012 Athletics, so I enlisted Swingin’ A’s contributor Jason Leary to give us an expert’s take on the Tribe’s weekend hosts. Here’s what he had to say about Oakland’s busy winter, the incredible Yoenis Cespedes, and the Athletics’ chances this year and down the road.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: Do the A’s have any chance at all at making the playoffs this year?
JASON LEARY: Nope. The Rangers and Angels are big-money powerhouses in the AL West and the A’s are in the first year of a rebuild so there’s absolutely no chance of Oakland winning the division and making the playoffs in 2012. Even though there are two wild card teams in the American League this season there’s no way the outgunned A’s are sneaking into October that way.
JASON LEARY: It was a bitter pill to swallow seeing three All-Stars sent packing by general manager Billy Beane, especially since the team was openly throwing in the towel on competing in the AL West for a few years. But in the end I think Beane got a very strong return for Bailey, Cahill, and Gonzalez which put the A’s in position to potentially field a strong, young team in the near future.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: Yoenis Cespedes seems to have taken to the majors pretty quickly. What are your thoughts after watching him the last two weeks?
JASON LEARY: He’s an absolute blast to watch and you can already see him learning to adjust to big league breaking balls even though he’s still striking out a ton. It’s been a painfully long time since the A’s had a young, gifted power hitter in the middle of their lineup and Cespedes is definitely someone who makes you stop what you’re doing every time he’s at bat.
It looks like the sky is the limit for the Cuban slugger who covers a lot of ground in center field, has a strong arm and the speed to steal a lot of bases. There are sure to be a lot of ups and downs in his first season in the big leagues but it’ll be a fun ride for A’s fans.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: Do you agree that the Athletics won’t be able to field a successful team unless they move to a new stadium?
JASON LEARY: No, I don’t agree with that statement. The A’s have shown that they can field a winner in the drab, aging Coliseum but a lot of things have to go right for that to happen and they haven’t been able to successfully pull off that trick since making it to the ALCS in 2006.
Despite disagreeing with that statement, I will say that the A’s do need a new stadium whether it’s in Oakland or San Jose. A new stadium won’t solve all of the A’s problems but, in theory, it would give the A’s the financial resources to be more competitive on a consistent basis.
Of course, you can look at a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates and see that a new ballpark doesn’t automatically lead to a steady stream of playoff appearances. Ideally, you also need good ownership, a strong front office, a savvy coaching staff, a little luck and a big TV contract.
Even if the A’s get a new ballpark in the near future they’ll still be sorely lacking the good ownership and lucrative TV deal to really run with the big boys in the American League.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: Who’s pitching for Oakland this weekend, and what should Indians fans look for from them?
Godfrey doesn’t light up the radar gun and he doesn’t feature a single dominant pitch so he lives and dies on pounding the strike zone and trying to keep hitters off balance. In the big picture he’s probably just holding down a spot in the rotation until someone like Jarrod Parker or Brad Peacock are ready to come up from Sacramento or Dallas Braden or Brett Anderson are ready to come off the disabled list.
McCarthy was Oakland’s Opening Day starter and he thrives on pinpoint control, spotting his fastball, and inducing a lot of groundballs with his sinker. He’s coming off of a rough loss to the Angels where he gave up 11 hits and 5 runs in 7 innings but he has a strong track record pitching in Oakland so I could easily see him getting back on track this weekend.
Ross is Oakland’s No. 5 starter and he features a decent fastball and a very good slider. When he actually knows where those pitches are going he can be very good but sometimes the lanky right hander with the funky delivery can lose the strike zone and when that happens he pays dearly for it.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: What’s your prediction for the series?
JASON LEARY: As Mr. T said in “Rocky III” when he was asked for his prediction before stepping into the ring with Sly Stallone: PAIN. This isn’t going to be pretty for the Indians.
All kidding aside, I think it should be a competitive series between the two clubs. I’m going to give tonight’s game to Cleveland because I think if Ubaldo Jimenez is on he should be able to shut down Oakland’s lineup but I’m going to give the A’s the edge on Saturday and Sunday.
I think McCarthy should be able to work at least 7 strong innings and the green and gold can score some runs off Jeanmar Gomez and the middle of the Indians’ bullpen. On Sunday, I’m counting on Justin Masterson’s career ERA of 5.73 vs. the A’s working in their favor, allowing them to escape the weekend with a 2-1 series win.
Of course, if the Indians sweep the A’s in dominant fashion (which is entirely possible) I’ll respectfully tip my hat to the Tribe.