Manager: Bob Melvin, fourth year
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: LF Yoenis Cespedes (.259/.344/.518, 6 HR, 9 doubles, 20 RBIs); 3B Josh Donaldson (.262/.341/.476, 7 HR, 10 doubles, 24 RBIs); RHP Sonny Gray (4-1, 1.91 ERA, 40 K); LHP Scott Kazmir (4-1, 2.64 ERA, 1.04 WHIP)
Season series vs. Nats (2013): Did not play
Grab an afternoon nap and brew up some coffee because there’s going to be some high-quality late-night baseball being played in Oakland the next couple of nights to start a three-game set between first-place clubs.
The American League West-leading Athletics host the National League East-leading Nationals in a meeting between two of the majors’ best pitching staffs.
The A’s are fourth in the big leagues with a 3.05 ERA, just a hair behind the Nats, who rank third with a 3.04 ERA. Oakland’s bullpen stands fourth in the majors with a 2.68 ERA while its rotation is eighth with a 3.25 ERA.
The Athletics send two of their top three starters to the hill, as well as former Washington left-hander Tommy Milone, who will face right-hander Doug Fister in his Nats debut in Friday’s series opener.
Fister’s first start for his new club makes Friday’s 10 p.m. tilt enough of a must-watch, but it’s the next two games where the Nats get to see some of the best the A’s have to offer.
Right-hander Sonny Gray, who’s tied for second in the AL with a 1.91 ERA and third with four wins, starts Saturday for Oakland against Tanner Roark. Left-hander Scott Kazmir, who hasn’t finished with an ERA under 4.00 since 2008, starts Sunday, looking to continue a masterful start. He’s 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA through seven starts, and will face Gio Gonzalez in a battle between southpaws.
While the A’s own one of baseball’s best bullpens, they do have a propensity for blowing late leads. Their seven blown saves are tied for third-most in the majors, as they’ve converted just six of 13 save opportunities.
Add in the Nationals’ tendency to make late comebacks and it could make for a combustible combination. So it might be an understatement to say the late innings could be nerve-wracking at the O.co Coliseum.
The A’s do throw one of baseball’s best offenses at the Nationals, as well. Oakland is tied for fourth in majors with 166 runs and ranks third with a .339 on-base percentage, which helps make up for a .250 team average and 31 homers.
Nats hurlers get a rare look at left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and third baseman Josh Donaldson, two of the top players in the AL West. Cespedes has six homers, 20 RBIs and an .862 OPS. Donaldson has seven homers, 24 RBIs and an .817 OPS.
Should make for a fun start to the Nats’ six-game West Coast swing.