What's going on with the Athletics?
Much has changed since the last time the Athletics faced the Mets in late June of this year. Not content to rely on miracle seasons from Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez to anchor his team's pitching rotation, general manager Billy Beane sent prized shortstop prospect Addison Russell along with Billy McKinney and Dan Straily to those Cubs in exchange for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
It was kind of surprising to see such a blockbuster deal occur right after Independence Day, but Beane knows that if you're going to be a buyer, you should buy early. The Tigers may have pulled off a more impressive trade for a starting pitcher when they extracted David Price from Tampa Bay, but Beane's Athletics are getting more use out of their new hurlers thanks to the promptness of the Cubs deal.
It was even more surprising to see Oakland sneak in and acquire Jon Lester from the Red Sox right before the trade deadline. Lester, who was considered a near lock to be moved before July 31, was sought after by a multitude of contenders, but the Athletics were the team willing to part with the major league talent that Boston desired.
Yoenis Cespedes is a valuable slugger for sure, even when he isn't participating in the Home Run Derby. However, Oakland has a crowded outfield and likely saw Lester as the more valuable piece for the way its team is constructed. As wise as that trade may have been, the Athletics are now mired in an offensive slump that has seen them lose five straight games while scoring three or fewer runs in each contest. With a critical series with the rival Angels upcoming, Oakland likely views this short set with the Mets as a very important one.
Who are these guys?
Nate Freiman has been half of Oakland's first base platoon ever since the team traded Cespedes away and moved Brandon Moss to the outfield full-time. The 27-year-old non-prospect has shown modest power in the minor leagues during his career, but this season he's shown a real penchant towards punishing left-handed pitching. Freiman has four home runs against southpaws in just 33 plate appearances this season, and he's making a case to stay on the roster even as Kyle Blanks gets close to full health. The Mets aren't throwing any lefties at the Athletics this week, but Freiman could still be utilized as a pinch-hitter late in the game.
Sam Fuld is an interesting guy because he's already in his second stint with the Athletics this season. Back in April, the team designated Fuld for assignment in favor of the similarly skilled Craig Gentry, but Oakland ended up wanting their man back once Gentry got hurt and Cespedes was traded away. So it was that on July 31, the Athletics sent Tommy Milone (no longer needed thanks to the team's new wealth of pitching) to the Twins in order to reacquire Fuld. The journeyman doesn't start often, but he's a major asset on defense, especially when Moss and Jonny Gomes (also acquired from Boston at the deadline) are playing regularly in left field.
Who's on the mound?
Tuesday: Dillon Gee vs. Scott Kazmir
Kazmir has only recently cooled off from the early season's Cy Young pace, but he's still an important member of Oakland's rotation. He's just not as important now that the team has added ace-types in Samardzija and Lester. After a sizzling July in which he posted a 1.38 ERA in four starts, Kazmir has let up 12 runs in his last three starts. Perhaps he's ripe to be pounded again, which is what the Mets did the last time they saw the former top prospect. Back in June, New York lit up Kazmir for seven runs in three innings, which still stands as the lefty's worst outing of the season.
It's been really tough to get excited for a Gee start since the first half of the season, but at least he's been passable lately with a 3.38 ERA in three August starts. Nevertheless, Gee needs to start keeping the ball in the park with more regularity if he is going to be a major part of the Mets' rotation beyond this season. Players like Moss and Josh Reddick make it tough for right-handed pitchers to avoid home runs against Oakland, even in spacious O.co Coliseum.
Wednesday: Zack Wheeler vs. Jeff Samardzija
With 40 strikeouts and just seven walks allowed as an Athletic so far, Samardzija has given his new team just what it needed when it dealt for the big right-hander in early July. Although Samardzija isn't striking out batters the way he used to this season, he's made strides in other important categories like walks, home runs allowed, and ground ball rate. All that has made the former Notre Dame football player an asset worth trading a prospect like Russell for. Thanks to unbalanced scheduling, this will be the first time the Mets see Samardzija this season.
Since they haven't been able to do much in the way of run scoring lately, the Mets probably won't be too thrilled to see Samardzija this week. The Athletics, on the other hand, are probably chomping at the bit to get another shot at Wheeler. The right-hander was shelled for six runs in two innings the last time he faced Oakland, but since then it's been nothing but quality starts for Wheeler, even though he's walked at least three batters in his last three outings. The Mets need their man to get back to showing the command he had in July if they want to hang around with Oakland on Wednesday night.
Prediction: The Mets finally find some runs and split the short series.
What about some highlights?
The Mets' offense is in dire straits right now, but the last time it faced Kazmir, there was towel-waving fun to be had.
If you ever wonder what the umpires and managers talk about when they exchange lineup cards, this video is a "must see."
I'm sure you've seen plenty of these lately, but it's for a good cause and Athletics mascot Stomper is adorable.
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