By Mike Corasaniti
If you didn’t hear or see the tensions that flared from Oakland and Baltimore’s three-game series this past weekend then you are most certainly missing out. Not necessarily from the ridiculous Manny Machado-fueled drama, but from the beginning of some commotion brewing between two ball clubs that may be on the verge of getting comfortable among the the American League elite for the next few seasons.
Oakland has the tools to win its third straight divisional title, so the chances these two teams meet in the playoffs currently hinge mostly upon Baltimore and it’s prospects for either usurping Toronto or fighting for a Wild Card spot. Certainly nothing about it is out of the realm of possibility, and certainly nothing about the two teams meeting for a rematch in October would be less than exciting.
A Word on Baltimore
Oakland has been on the cusp of a breakthrough for the past few years now since they once again began looking like divisional contenders. Their Wild Card berth in 2012 was a solid start for this new era of Baltimore baseball, but the O’s would certainly like to take the next step as soon as humanly possible. Whether that next step comes this year or in a few more years when young stars like Manny Machado are a little more developed – and more mature – remains to be seen, but some noise in the playoffs is still very much in the realm of possibility for this year’s club.
They have certainly had their setbacks with pitchers Miguel Gonzalez and Johan Santana (From the minors) sustaining injuries this week, but they’ve seen their share of promise as well. Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz, and Nick Markakis continue to be leading lights in their own ways for an offense that is third in the majors in batting average. Throw in even more depth with the power of Chris Davis and the rising potential of second baseman Jonathan Schoop, and Baltimore’s offense won’t go quiet too often.
The Orioles have crucial meetings with the Red Sox and Blue Jays this coming week, which could very well set the tone for the division in the coming summer months.
How good has Oakland’s offense been? Not only are they the best at scoring runs and getting men on base, but their run differential that has been floating around plus-120 has made their winning style dominant: They are running away with games more than anyone else.
First baseman Brandon Moss, who has now been integral to Oakland’s offense since arriving three years ago, is heating up at the right time. His three home runs in the past week are helping the A’s continue distance themselves from the second place Angels (Who they begin a three-game set with starting June 9), and his .279 batting average and 53 RBI’s lead the team.
But the source of Oakland’s AL-Best 39 wins have come from the mound much more so than from behind the plate. Scott Kazmir, a sort of paradox for teams over the last few seasons as he’s tried to hone in on his true potential, is coming into his own once again for the A’s. Kazmir’s 2.20 ERA and 7 wins top a pitching staff that leads the majors in ERA, WHIP, and opponents batting average. That’s scary stuff for the AL West.
Where Baltimore contender hopes go to die is in it’s pitching staff: It’s not very good right now.
Lefty Wei-Yin Chen’s mediocre 4.13 ERA is an Oriole best, and Ubaldo Jimenez can’t seem to close out games despite tossing a team-leading 66 strikeouts. Numbers like the ones Baltimore pitchers are offering don’t win playoff matchups, but ones like Oakland’s do.
A likely playoff scenario sees the AL-West winning A’s see the Baltimore Orioles after a Wild Card win over the Angels or someone similar, but the Orioles are still a few years out from making a big splash in the playoffs. Whether they can go on the capture their first World Series since 1989 is a mystery, but the A’s, on the other hand, seem like they’re years past they’re due. A matchup against the Orioles in their current state of play may lead to another dramatic encounter, but it would be an easy series for Oakland nonetheless.
Oakland in 4