Home Runs the Story as A's Face Rangers

Will Tommy Milone allow Texas to be masters of the Long Ball?

This weekend, the Oakland A's will play their most important regular season series so far this year. After taking three of four games from the Angels last weekend and building a strong six game lead over the Rangers, the A's faltered against the Blue Jays. The division lead is down to 3.5 games, and now Texas is coming into town.

On Sunday, Oakland is going to end its home stand with a lead in the AL West that could be as small as half a game or as large as 6.5 games. The potential for that sort of swing in a division race doesn't come around often, and both the A's and Rangers know it. Neither team wants to lose this series, but a sweep would be devastating for the loser.

Death by Home Run

The A's have lost six of the 10 games they've played against the Rangers this year. Part of the reason for those struggles is a pitching staff that has allowed Texas to score 4.1 runs per game, above the A's season average of 3.86 runs allowed. But digging a little deeper into the stats, it's slightly puzzling that Oakland is underperforming against the Texas lineup.

The Rangers have hit .236 against the A's and posted an on-base percentage of .280. Those are lower numbers than what Oakland typically allows. Furthermore, A's pitchers have walked Texas hitters only 16 times all year (4.6 percent walk rate) and posted a WHIP of 1.057 against the Rangers.

Across the board, the Oakland pitching staff has been better against Texas than most teams. Except in one key area - the long ball. The Rangers are hitting home runs in 3.4 percent of their plate appearances and slugging .391 against the A's. That has been the biggest reason for Oakland's relative struggles against the Texas offense.

The bad news is that the three starters scheduled to go for the A's in this series, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, are the most susceptible to home runs of any pitchers on the staff, all allowing home runs to more than three percent of opposing batters.

Meanwhile, In the Batter's Box...

On offense, the A's have averaged 4.30 runs per game against Texas, slightly below their season average of 4.45 runs. And the lineup is also having trouble with the deep fly, as they're simply not hitting home runs.

Oakland has an OBP of .327 against Texas, above its season average of .320. That's thanks in large part to walking in 10.1 percent of their trips to the plate. And despite the Rangers above average ability to strike out opposing hitters, that hasn't been a problem for the A's, who have struck out in 19.6 percent of PAs against Texas, less often than most of the Rangers' foes.

But Oakland's season average 2.6 home run percentage drops to 1.8 percent against Texas, while its slugging percentage dips from .393 to .379.

The A's have left 84 runners on base against the Rangers this year, while Texas has stranded only 48 runners against Oakland. Why? Texas is getting extra base hits, particularly home runs, to drive runners in, while Oakland is not. And the A's have still outscored the Rangers 43-41.

The A's could be a couple of mighty swings away from taking a commanding lead in the West. They could also be a couple of mighty swings away from allowing the Rangers to close the gap to just a half game. Either way, this series should be a blast.