In mythology, a phoenix is a bird that has risen from the ashes, reborn. Well in baseball, there are two teams that have done that during this season, one on each league: our Cardinals and the Oakland A’s over in the American League. The AL West race is especially interesting to me as I’m going to an Astros game today, with the visitors being these same A’s. This is my first baseball game in a while and only my 2nd or 3rd down here in about 7 years. (I went to a Cards game on one of my recent St. Louis vacations.)
I thought examine the two teams and see how each team had produced their resurgence and see what similarities and differences there are. Even though they don’t come into play until the end of games, let’s start with the bullpens.
The A’s pen is among the best in baseball and leading the charge is Blake Treinen. Acquired last year in a trade with Washington in which the A’s sent their own closer Sean Doolittle to the Nationals, Treinen actually hinted at what he would do this year at the end of 2017. He had a 2.13 ERA and a 1.158 WHIP in 35 appearances after coming over from Washington, as opposed to the 5.73 ERA and 1.619 WHIP he had with them before the trade. This year, of course, he has been even better. He has an 0.97 ERA, a 0.954 WHIP and 32 saves while being one of the most dominant relievers in baseball this season.
Treinen has beeen backed by solid performances from Lou Trivino and Yusmeiro Petit. In addition, the A’s also beefed up their bullpen by adding the ageless Fernando Rodney and former Mets closer Jeurys Familia via trade. The A’s pen is deep and formidable.
On the other hand, the Cards pen has struggled this year, though it seems to have at least settled down a little lately. Whether that’s due to player performance or better bullpen management by new manager Mike Shildt is hard to say, but it’s good to see progress.
Our pen is led by Bud Norris. Initially the Cards signed Greg Holland to a one year, $14 million contract to be the closer but that did not go well. In 32 appearances for us, Holland had a 7.92 ERA and a 2.240 WHIP, far worse numbers than he had in pitching the hitter’s haven that is Coors field last year for the Rockies. He was released by the Cards in August and has since signed with the Nationals,
Luckily we have the previously mentioned Norris. Norris got his first shot as a closer last year with the Angels and the numbers weren’t exactly pretty. He had a 4.21 ERA with a 1.330 WHIP and a 2-6 record to go with 19 saves. Thankfully, he’s been a much better pitcher this year with the Cards. He has a 2.91 ERA with a 1.063 WHIP and 27 saves. Nowhere near as dominant as Treinen, but respectable.
The rest of our pen has talent, like youngsters Jordan Hicks and Austin Gomber, but has been nowhere near as dominant as the A’s pen. An interesting wild card will be veteran SP Tyson Ross, claimed off waivers from San Diego. While he’s mainly been a starter in his career, I can see him being a useful bullpen weapon if that’s how Shildt decides to use him. Overall, though, the A’s have the better bullpen.
Next, let’s look at the rotations. First, the Cards. Our rotation is led this year by Miles Mikolas, who came back from Japan after being over there for a few years. He is currently 13-3 with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.086 WHIP. When he last pitched in the bigs prior to this, he had a 6.44 ERA in 10 starts and 57 innings for the Rangers in 2014, so to to say this season’s results are a massive understatement. He’s doing this for $7.5 million this year, so he’s (so far) been a huge bargain. I hope he keeps it up. Another notable part of the rotation was Carlos Martinez, who’s having a solid year, going 7-6 with a 3.31 ERA, but who isn’t quite as good as he was in 2015 and 2016. While his ERA is lower than last year’s 3.64, his WHIP is higher (1.365 this year, 1.220 last year) indicating he’s been a little lucky, and also showing why you can’t rely on ERA as a measuring stick. Of course, right now he is in the bullpen after dealing with a number of injuries.
As for the rest of the current rotation, Jack Flaherty has been very good and is just 22, so I’m looking forward to watching him grow and get even better. John Gant also has been productive, while Luke Weaver has struggled a little, but I think he’ll turn it around. Weaver is also in the bullpen at the moment, as much of the rotation from the beginning of the year has shifted roles or is injured currently.
The A’s rotation, in comparison, has relied on veterans some people thought were done like Edwin Jackson. Talk about have arm, will travel–this is Jackson’s 13th team. Jackson is 4-3 with a 3.03 ERA and a 1.156 WHIP in 56 innings. Trevor Cahill is another reclamation project who’s done well and they acquired Mike Fiers at the deadline who is pitching better with the A’s than he did in Detroit. If you’re a SP and you want to revive your career, Oakland may be the place for you. The team’s best “homegrown” (he was acquired as a prospect in a trade) SP is Sean Manaea, who is currently 12-9 with a 3.59 ERA and a 1.077 WHIP, though he’s also been placed on the disabled list. Overall, both teams have solid rotations. I think the long term view is rosier for the Cards than the A’s, but time will tell.
Finally, we have the lineups.
The A’s have relied on the long ball, with 4 guys with 20 or more homers (and our old friend Stephen Piscotty close with 18) and are led by Khris Davis, who has 39 and is on his way to have his third straight 40 homer year. No regular is hitting over .300, with the highest batting average being Matt Chapman‘s .280 average. Chapman also has the best OBP at .364, followed by Jed Lowrie at .356. Nobody else with over 300 PA is above .330. It’s all about the long ball.
As far as the Cards go, they’re less reliant on the home run, though our biggest spark plug lately has been Matt Carpenter who has 34 homers (and 38 doubles, for that matter). Carp has been on a huge roll after a slow start, is a legitimate MVP candidate, and has been the driving force of our offense lately. Other notable contributors include Jose Martinez, our lone .300 hitter, and Harrison Bader, our defensive stud CF who is hitting .280 with a .351 OBP and 12 stolen bases. With the struggles of Dexter Fowler and the trade of Tommy Pham, Bader has really stepped up and helped out. At just 24, I’m looking forward to him playing a long time for the Cards. I said that about a young Stephen Piscotty too though, and he now plays for Oakland, so time will tell on that one.
Notable defensive contributors include the aforementioned Bader for us, as well as Kolten Wong, who has been doing a great job at 2B, and Matt Chapman on the A’s side. Chapman sucks in everything at 3B is a potential Gold Glove candidate. Plus he’s solid with the bat and is just 25. Definitely somebody to keep an eye on.
In summary, both teams are surprises., though the A’s are the far bigger one, as they have the lowest payroll in the league. The Cards are a surprise more due to the fact that they had been written off due to strong starts by the Brewers and Cubs. Nobody’s writing them off any more. As a fan of both teams, I hope they both make the playoffs.
As always, thanks for reading.