Oakland: The Twins own the worst ERA in the majors (4.98), but the team closest to them is the one they will be facing during this series, the Oakland A’s (4.76). The Twins will miss the A’s top two current starters, who both pitched in wins over Detroit Saturday and Sunday.
Struggling ace, Sonny Gray, has been battling injury this year and is currently on the DL. His spot in the rotation has been a difficult one for the A’s to fill, and Tuesday they will turn to recent call-up, Eric Surkamp, who was sent down earlier after giving up 16 runs in 5 starts that totaled only 22 innings eaten up.
Oakland’s offense features a familiar face to Minnesota Twins’ fans. Danny Valencia, now on his 5th team since his departure with Minnesota. Valencia has always been good against lefties, but has worked hard on his game against righties to the point where he’s been inserted into the A’s lineup as the cleanup hitter.
His slash (.335 AVG / .882 OPS / 7 HR / 18 RBI in just 33 games) is way above his career average, but it’s consistent with his production after moving from Toronto to the Bay in the middle of last season. Valencia hit three home runs in a game against Tampa two weeks ago, with all three home runs traveling over 425 feet.
Offense: All-Star outfielder, Josh Reddick, will miss this series as well. He’s been on the disabled list since May 19th after breaking his thumb while stealing second base. He’s expected to miss another 2-4 weeks.
With Reddick in the line-up, the Athletics have a formidable middle of the lineup, featuring Stephen Vogt, Valencia, and the surprising Khris Davis. It’s the rest of it around them that has been struggling.
Coco Crisp has been a reliable lead-off hitter for over a decade. But his .299 OBP is far too low to bat lead-off in front of all these good hitters in the middle of the A’s lineup. There have been calls for manager Bob Melvin to insert someone else at the top, but the cupboard is bare. Speedy Marcus Semien hits for power nicely near the bottom of the A’s lineup, but has a lower OBP than Crisp. Oakland currently has 11 players on the disabled list.
Player to Watch: Khris Davis. Acquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, Davis has been a godsend with his production. Oakland’s left fielders last year hit a slash (.199 / .268 / .338) led by the likes of Sam Fuld (remember him?). In fact, his power numbers (14 HR, 34 RBI) in just 48 games this year, nearly eclipse those cumulative numbers (7 HR, 48 RBI) of the three players who played left field for Oakland all of last year.
Davis has produced better than expected, his 14 homers only 1 behind major league leaders, and his 34 RBI greatly needed in Josh Reddick’s absence. But it’s his slash (.243 / .272 / .797) that has everyone in the Bay Area excited for the future. Oakland’s “Moneyball” style has paid off big with Davis, and has him under control for another 4 years.
Pitching: Rich Hill and…? Between injuries and under-performers, the A’s are hard pressed to cobble together a starting staff. By comparison, the Twins are stacked. But the A’s do have an outright ace in Hill (8-3, 2.25 ERA). He and Sonny Gray were a formidable 1-2 punch before Gray went down with an injury. Luckily, Hill pitched in Sunday’s game, so the Twins will not have to face him this series.
Former Phillies closer, and part of the amazing Royals bullpen that won the World Series last year, Ryan Madson, has returned to the closer’s role with Oakland with good results (11/13 SV OPP, 2.53 ERA). Former closer John Axford and Sean Dolittle are the R/L combination of late-inning setup men for Melvin’s bullpen.
Player to Watch: Kendall Graveman. Picking nits here, since neither starter really has a track record in the majors, much less against the Twins. But Graveman has had five outings this year where he gave up 2 runs or less in a start, and has only 1 win to show for it. He has lost his five last decisions, seeing his ERA rise from 2.04 to 5.36 in his last 6 starts.
Next: Minnesota Breakdown