Seattle-A's: What to watch for

Seattle-A's: What to watch for
April 6, 2012, 4:58 pm
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Programming note: Mariners-A's coverage begins tonight at 6 p.m. with A's Pregame Live, followed by Brandon McCarthy's first pitch at 7:05 p.m on Comcast SportsNet California!

The Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners are tied atop the AL West after splitting their opening series in Japan.

RELATED: A's-M's Tokyo Box Scores -- Game 1 Game 2

The first 10 games of the 2012 season will pit the A's and M's against each other a staggering total of seven times, spanning three openers -- Japan, Oakland and Seattle.

With the Rangers and Angels in action Friday, only one team will carry the top spot into the weekend.

Here are some things to watch for in the A's 2012 home opener:

Dueling aces: It will be Brandon McCarthy and Jason Vargas alternating trips to the mound Friday night -- not exactly the star power you would expect in an Opening Day matchup.The Mariners elected to start Vargas in Felix Hernandez's stead, putting their ace on schedule to pitch in front of the hometown crowd when the Mariners finally head to Seattle next Friday -- again to face the A's. A result of the unique scheduling to start the year, the A's will have the dubious honor of facing "King Felix" three times in just their first eight games.Though the same can be said of the Mariners and McCarthy; The A's ace threw seven strong innings in Japan, giving up six hits -- only Dustin Ackley's solo home run hurt him -- striking out six and walking three. He was only at 82 pitches when he left the game.Home cookin': The A's expect a sellout for the home opener -- though tickets are still available -- and the team is excited for the support."When they're out there and cheering for us," outfielder Coco Crisp told Comcast SportsNet cameras Thursday. "It brings that excitement, that energy that is needed for our team to go out there with that extra bonus of intensity."They'll need it. The A's haven't won their Coliseum opener since 2004, dropping their last seven.Game-changers: With the exorbitant payroll differential, it will be tall task for the A's to compete in a re-tooled AL West, but they'll certainly surprise some teams with their young talent. It all starts with the trio of Yoenis Cespedes, Jemile Weeks and Josh Reddick, who established themselves this spring as potential future stars. Weeks and Reddick each hit over .300 and tied for the team lead with three home runs, while Cespedes established his batting practice as an event worthy of admission prices.
Still, it's a lot to expect from a core that only has 250 MLB games under their collective belt (Reddick -- 145; Weeks -- 99; Cespedes -- 2).Don't expect M's manager Eric Wedge to call on relief pitcher Shawn Kelly when Cespedes comes to bat late. The Cuban defector sent his seventh inning offering deep in the Tokyo Dome last Thursday, helping the A's earn a series split in Japan.Shook up shortstop: Cliff Pennington did not play in the A's final two spring training games, mostly precautionary after he left the first Bay Bridge Series game with a tight groin.Melvin has maintained that Pennington is okay, but it's something to keep an eye on. Lateral mobility is a source of defensive strength for Pennington, and if his groin is limiting at all, it's likely Melvin and the A's will play it safe.In his absence Wednesday, Eric Sogard had a few defensive miscues with his neighbors. He was unable to corral a backhanded glove-flip from Jemile Weeks for a would-be highlight-reel double play, and his miscommunication with Josh Donaldson allowed Hector Sanchez's infield fly to land safely on the infield dirt.RunsForMcCarthy: Is it possible to have "ownage" of a team with a 1-3 record? In his last five starts against the Mariners, Brandon McCarthy has pitched three complete games, maintained a 1.86 ERA, held Seattle to a .182 batting average, and registered a 101 strikeout to walk ratio. How is a 1-3 mark possible with those numbers, you ask? The A's have scored a total of seven runs in those five games. That's not going to do it.Delaying history: Last year, Ichiro failed to reach the 200-hit plateau for the first time in the past six seasons. His .272 batting average in 2011 dipped .054 points off his career average. Though he might not be the player he once was, he only needs three hits to pass Rod Carew and become the all-time leader against Oakland. With 17 more games still to play against Seattle this season alone -- including Friday night's home opener -- Carew's mark of 282 is not safe. Ichiro hits .364 inside O.Co -- the highest career average inside the Coliseum by a long shot (Derek Jeter is second, batting .348).