Rewind: AL West challenge awaits A's following sweep

Otero: 'In the end it's a win and that's all that counts'

Rewind: AL West challenge awaits A's following sweep
April 10, 2014, 4:15 pm
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Despite losing two starting pitchers befor the start of the season, Oakland leads the American League with a 2.30 overall ERA. (AP IMAGES)

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Over-hyping the A’s upcoming stretch of games would be foolish considering the calendar still reads April.

However, there’s no denying that Oakland’s next six games – all against American League West opponents – hold some weight. Fresh off a three-game sweep at Minnesota, the A’s play three in Seattle against an improved Mariners team that is 5-3 and trailing them by a half-game for first place.

[RELATED: Instant Replay: A's bats too much for Twins in series sweep]

Following that is three games in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels, who hold high hopes of contending in the A.L. West (though losing Josh Hamilton for 6-8 weeks because of a thumb injury is a devastating blow).

It’s a nice early-season barometer for the A’s. And despite the uncertainty surrounding the closer position, you have to like the way this team shapes up as it begins this six-game stretch.

The starting rotation appeared to be a huge question mark after Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin both went down with injuries in spring training. Not only have the starters held down the fort thus far, they’ve thrived.

Dan Straily’s sterling outing in Thursday’s 6-1 win over the Twins was the latest example. He surrendered just three hits over seven innings, finding his groove after serving up a homer to the second batter he faced, Brian Dozier. Oakland leads the American League with a 2.30 overall ERA.

Looking to identify the A’s unsung hero through nine games? Pitching coach Curt Young might be your guy. Oakland has lost several key pitchers to injury in recent seasons, and the A’s always seem to plug guys into the rotation who fit in seamlessly (Jesse Chavez is shaping up as the 2014 example). The common thread always has been Young, who does his work outside the limelight but seems to know how to get his starters in the right frame of mind for success.

[RELATED: Struggling Johnson removed from closer's role]

No doubt there’s some dysfunction in the bullpen with struggling Jim Johnson being removed as the closer, at least temporarily. But with Ryan Cook making a healthy return from the disabled list, the A’s have the resources to piece things together in the ninth inning, for the short-term anyway.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign from the sweep of Minnesota was Josh Donaldson finally coming to life offensively. He had four extra-base hits in the series, including his first home run Thursday, and he did most of his damage driving the ball to center and right field, which usually means good things for the third baseman.

Granted, the Twins’ starters were awful. But the A’s scored 21 runs and banged out 30 hits over the three games. Lots of players got in on the act.

The A’s do face a tough roster decision sometime this weekend, when outfielder Craig Gentry likely joins the active roster for the first time after recovering from a back injury. As much as Sam Fuld is contributing right now, the word I’m hearing is that Fuld could be the odd man out to make room for Gentry.

Surely that would be an unpopular move with fans, and it would require the A’s to expose Fuld to waivers, where he could be claimed by another team. But the A’s may choose to let Josh Reddick try to work through his hitting struggles in the majors. And the right-handed hitting Gentry, considered an excellent defender as are Fuld and Reddick, could potentially form a right field platoon with Reddick.

That scenario will play itself out. As for the A’s on-field happenings, things are rolling along quite nicely.

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