Oakland a threat in AL West

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:27 AM ET

In a season in which the American League West was supposed to be a two-horse race between the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers, it has been the surprising Oakland Athletics that have stunned the pundits.

The Angels are showing some signs of righting the ship, having rallied to earn a split in the four-game series with Toronto, but still are 61/2 games back of Texas and three back of Oakland and residing in the basement of the AL West.

Oakland has assumed the role of the Rangers' greatest threat early on, with a nice combination of solid starting pitching, a brilliant bullpen and good team speed to help take advantage of some timely hitting.

The Athletics' team ERA of 3.48 is third in the American League behind just Baltimore and Texas. The only starter that has really been hurting the Athletics is Tyson Ross, who has lost his past two decisions to fall to 1-2 with an 8.55 ERA.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin has been able to get plenty out of his bullpen with Grant Balfour nailing down seven of nine save opportunities and the middle and long relievers (led by Ryan Cook and Brian Fuentes) flirting with perfection most nights.

Melvin, though, deserves accolades himself for mixing and matching his low-budget lineup to get the most out of this group. In a win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, Melvin used his 26th different lineup in the first 29 games.

Offensively the one off-season extravagance the Athletics allowed themselves, centre fielder Yoenis Cespedes, has tailed off somewhat lately after a hot start, but Melvin has found ways to score regardless.

The A's will add the bat of one-time dominant slugger Manny Ramirez at some point after his 50-game suspension ends on May 30.

Ramirez, though, wasn't even a shadow of his former self in a short stint with the Rays last season, and it remains to be seen whether he can still dominate opposing pitchers after his lengthy time away from the game and at the age of 40.

For now, the A's are doing a pretty fine job without him.

BLUE JAYS AT ATHLETICS

TUESDAY 10:05 p.m. LHP Ricky Romero RHP Brendan McCarthy

WEDNESDAY 3:35 p.m. RHP Brandon Morrow RHP Jarrod Parker

OAKLAND'S HOT PLAYERS

OF Jonny Gomes went 5-for-14 (.357) against Tampa Bay on the weekend, with a home run and four runs scored.

SS Cliff Pennington is hitting .308 in his past 26 at bats.

RHP Ryan Cook has yet to allow a run in a game this year. Cook has been on the mound for 14 2/3 scoreless innings so far. He has allowed just three hits.

OAKLAND'S COLD PLAYERS

Former Cuban national Yoenis Cespedes is off to a slow start in May, hitting just .227 with one extra base hit in five games this month.

Second baseman Jemile Weeks did not play Sunday, in part to get him a mental day away from his struggles at the plate. For the season Weeks is hitting just .174. He is just 2-for-24 in his past six games.

GANTER'S TAKE

With Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow on top of their respective games right now, it could be a rough couple of days for an already anemic offence in Oakland. Neither Romero nor Morrow have lost to Oakland in their careers. Combined they are 7-0 lifetime against the A's. Brandon McCarthy was a big part of Oakland's success on its recent road trip, picking up wins over Baltimore and Boston in the 5-4 trip. Jarrod Parker got his first ML win in his second start in the pros last week against Boston. So the A's hurlers have it going too.

PREDICTION

We'll go out on a limb here and predict a two-game road sweep for the Jays, despite Oakland's recent success.


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