The A's, at least in the early going in 2007, are a pretty easy team to figure out. They don't give up very many runs, but they don't score very many either. Only two American League teams (the Red Sox and Angels) have allowed fewer runs per game thus far this season than the A's' 3.4, but only two major league teams (the Nationals and Giants) have plated fewer runs per game thus far than the A's' 2.8. The A's are also dead last in the majors in home runs, having hit just two through ten games. Obviously a line-up with Eric Chavez, Mike Piazza, Nick Swisher, and Milton Bradley is going to pick up the homer production at some point, but that's a crippling lack of production. The A's are 4-6 thus far this season. Two of those four wins had final scores of 2-1, and one of them required a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth against the White Sox's closer, Bobby Jenks (a favor the A's bullpen aces returned the next night).
In a near perfect inversion of the Yankees' season thus far, the only thing that's really been working for the A's in the young season has been their starting rotation, which has been the stingiest in the American League and is bested only by the Mets and Braves in the NL. Despite losing Barry Zito to free agency and Esteban Loaiza to the DL, the A's rotation has posted a 1.98 ERA after two full turns. The best of their bunch, as expected, has been the Healthy Rich Harden, whom the Yankees will face on Sunday. Harden has struck out 13 and allowed just 12 base runners in 13 innings, but is curiously not the staff leader in ERA despite his 1.38 mark. No, that man is tonight's starter, Dan Haren, who's 0.69 ERA is in stark contrast to his 0-2 record. Such are the A's.
As for the Yankees, they'll get to see what Kei Igawa can do in a moderate climate (temperatures in Oakland are in the mid-60s as I write this, though they'll likely drop in to the 50s by tonight). Igawa was flat out awful in his first major league start (the most encouraging sign was that he walked "only" three men in five innings), but nerves and the weather likely played a part in that, and the steady improvement he showed during spring training gives reason for optimism, as do the dormant Oakland bats.
What it all comes down to tonight, then, is the stingy Oakland starting pitching against the explosive Yankee offense, and the explosive Yankee starting pitching against the stingy Oakland offense. Which will give most?
Home Ballpark (2006 Park Factors): McAfee Coliseum (96/97)
Who's Replacing Whom?
Mike Piazza replaces Frank Thomas
Shannon Stewart replaces Jay Payton
Travis Buck is holding Mark Kotsay's spot (DL)
Todd Walker is holding Dan Johnson's spot (DL)
Rich Harden takes back the starts he gave to Kirk Saarloos and Brad Halsey last year (or so A's fans hope)
Joe Kennedy takes over Barry Zito's starts
Jay Marshall replaces Joe Kennedy and Ron Flores (minors) in the bullpen
Chad Gaudin is holding Esteban Loaiza's rotation spot (DL)
Lenny DiNardo is replacing Gaudin in the pen
Alan Embree replaces Brad Halsey (minors)
1B - Nick Swisher (S)
2B - Mark Ellis (R)
SS - Bobby Crosby (R)
3B - Eric Chavez (L)
C - Jason Kendall (R)
RF - Travis Buck (L)
CF - Milton Bradley (S)
LF - Shannon Stewart (R)
DH - Mike Piazza (R)
R - Marco Scutaro (IF)
L - Todd Walker (UT)
S - Bobby Kielty (OF)
S - Adam Melhuse (C)
R - Dan Haren
R - Joe Blanton
R - Rich Harden
R - Chad Gaudin
L - Joe Kennedy
R - Huston Street
R - Justin Duchscherer
R - Kiko Calero
L - Alan Embree
L - Jay Marshall
R - Jay Watasick
L - Lenny DiNardo
15-day DL: R - Esteban Loaiza, L - Mark Kotsay (CF), L - Dan Johnson (1B)
R - Shannon Stewart (LF)
S - Nick Swisher (1B)
S - Milton Bradley (CF)
R - Mike Piazza (C)
L - Eric Chavez (3B)
R - Bobby Crosby (SS)
R - Jason Kendall (C)
L - Travis Buck (RF)*
R - Mark Ellis (2B)
*Buck has been platooning in right field with Bobby Kielty, who is a switch hitter in name only. Thus Kielty should start both tonight and Sunday against Igawa and Pettitte.
And since I'm making notes down here, special shout-out to rookie A's manager Bob Geren, who, for a brief shining moment in 1989, was one of the most productive hitters on the Yankees, if you can believe that. Of course this is back when one of the season highlights was Geren losing a bet to Mel Hall and having to let Hall shave his head. Times was rough, I tells ya.