A’s reach the halfway point — what’s in store from here?

The A’s hit the halfway point of the season tonight with game # 81. So right off the bat, I’ll throw the question out to you: Do you have optimism that this team can make a second-half run to be a factor in the American League West race? Or is it time to once again start looking down the road to next year? This goes hand in hand with the decision the A’s face with the trade deadline approaching. Do they keep this core veteran group together and play for this season, perhaps even add a piece through a trade? Or do they sell off the marketable players they have (think outfielders and/or relievers) and try to get some prospects?

There’s a bit of pregame news …

–Tyson Ross will make a rehab start for Triple-A Sacramento on Thursday, with another one after that five days later.

–Josh Willingham is doing very well in his recovery from an Achilles injury. In fact, A’s manager Bob Melvin said he thought Willingham might be able to be activated tomorrow from the DL were he eligible. As it stands, Sunday is the first day he can return.

–Melvin said he believes he has several players worthy of All-Star consideration (Gio Gonzalez, Grant Balfour, TRevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey), but he said Gonzalez would have to top that list right now. Tough to argue w/him there. All-Star pitchers and reserves will be announced Sunday.

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s — Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Jackson 1B, Sweeney LF, Suzuki C, DeJesus RF, Sizemore 3B; Moscoso RHP.

Marlins — Bonifacio 3B, Infante 2B, Sanchez 1B, Ramirez SS, Morrison LF, Stanton RF, Dobbs DH, Buck C, Wise CF; Nolasco RHP.


New start time: 8:15 p.m.

Ben Enos filling in for Joe Stiglich

Obviously the game didn’t start at 7:30, eh? We’re now told 8:15 for first pitch, and both teams have begun to limber up. Walked down to the concourse and looked out the other side of the Coliseum and it doesn’t look like there’s any rain behind us. So, 8:15 first pitch.


Start time pushed back to 7:30

Ben Enos here, filling in for Joe Stiglich

UPDATE (7:05 p.m.): Well, the tarp is off the field and the rain has stopped. I’m thinking 7:30 might be a stretch, but it looks pretty good that there might be baseball played tonight. They’re pushing water around the outfield at the moment, and the warning track is well puddled but the kitty litter is out and in full use. I’ll keep ya posted.


Just as I finished my last blog post, we got word that first pitch for tonight’s game between the A’s and Marlins is now scheduled for 7:30 p.m. A quick glance at Diamond Vision reveals that “tonight’s game has been delayed until at least 7:30 p.m.”

Grab some cocoa. We’re gonna be here a while.


Rain, rain go away

Ben Enos coming at ya tonight, filling in for Joe Stiglich at the O.Co Coliseum.

Well, it’s a rainy and dreary night here in Oakland as the A’s return home for the start of a nine-game homestand that begins with three against the Marlins.

Or, at least they hope its the start of the homestand. Mother Nature may have other plans.

On a day where there’s plenty of news to report, the A’s may not have actual baseball to discuss. The tarp remains on, and save a brief moment where they took it off and then put it back on, it’s been on all afternoon. And, the rain doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. We haven’t had any kind of delay announced yet, but I’ll keep ya posted if we get one. Seems hard to imagine that not happening.

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A’s aiming for .500 on interleague road trip

It’s game six of the A’s six-game interleague road trip. If they finish this journey 3-3, it would be quite an accomplishment considering they would have beaten Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay in doing so.

–There’s nothing particularly essential to report from the A’s pregame scene. Pretty standard lineup, other than Landon Powell starting behind the plate in place of Kurt Suzuki. That’s the typical day-game-after-night-game scenario, and Oakland manager Bob Melvin pointed out that Suzuki has caught some long games in hot weather on this trip. But I’d expect to continue seeing more of Powell, especially if Suzuki continues to struggle at the plate. “I’m staying pretty consistent with the fact that I want to get him involved,” Melvin said of Powell. “He’s done a nice job.” Melvin did praise Suzuki on Saturday for calling a good game for Trevor Cahill.

–Grant Balfour is still bothered by a sore right oblique, and Melvin was assuming he wouldn’t be available today. He’ll also try to stay away from Brian Fuentes, who has either pitched, or warmed up to pitch, often over the past several days. Melvin has come to Fuentes’ defense this weekend, saying he didn’t fault him for giving up a chopper that went for the game-winning hit for the Phillies on Friday, and adding that Fuentes has been flexible and agreeable to whatever role he’s been asked to fill.

The lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Pennignton SS, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Jackson 1B, Sweeney RF, Sizemore 3B, Powell C, Outman LHP.

Phillies – Rollins SS, Polanco 3B, Victorino CF, Howard 1B, Francisco RF, Ruiz C, Ibanez LF, Valdez 2B, Halladay RHP.

–It’s been a good few days in Philadelphia, an out-of-the-ordinary stop for us on the road trip circuit. The cheesesteak at Pat’s King of Steaks was excellent. I give it a slight edge over Geno’s, the other landmark cheesesteak establishment located right across the street from Pat’s. I tried Geno’s on a non-baseball trip to Philadelphia a few years ago. You can’t go wrong trying either one. But Pat’s is a little grittier, the service is very no-nonsense, bordering on bossy. Somehow that adds to the authenticity of the experience, if that makes any sense.

I was told that the Courtyard by Marriott where I stayed was used for filming scenes for “The Sixth Sense” and “Twelve Monkeys.” That information came from a cabbie, who was a handy tour guide when he wasn’t spewing obscenities at the “crazy drivers” all around him.

And if you get to Philadelphia, you have to stroll through the Italian Market, where Rocky went for his epic jog while training for his second fight against Apollo Creed. This is the second “Rocky II” clip I’ve provided on this blog. Obviously, this movie has affected me deeply …


Chris Carter’s potential playing time, and a Grant Balfour injury update

Trevor Cahill takes the hill tonight looking to help the A’s snap a three-game losing streak. He matches up against Cole Hamels, one of the tougher left-handers in the game. Hideki Matsui is the only natural lefty hitter in the lineup against Hamels.

The starting nine(s):

A’s – Weeks 2B, Ellis 1B, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Jackson RF, Sizemore 3B, Suzuki C, Rosales SS, Cahill RHP.

Phillies – Rollins SS, Polanco 3B, Utley 2B, Howard 1B, Victorino CF, Ibanez LF, Brown RF, Ruiz C, Hamels LHP.

–Cliff Pennington gets a regularly scheduled day off, with Mark Ellis getting his second start at first base and batting second for a day.

–A’s manager Bob Melvin said he’ll try to get Chris Carter a DH start on the next homestand, preferably against a left-hander. With these final two games in a National League park, Melvin prefers Carter as a pinch-hit option. Why hasn’t Carter drawn a start yet if the A’s are struggling so much offensively? Remember that he’s still an unknown quantity to Melvin, who hasn’t had time to get familiar with the farm system. So far, in his only look at Carter, Melvin has seen him butcher a catchable pop-up, and that’s probably fresh in Melvin’s mind. Still, Carter has to get a couple starts – somewhere in the lineup – before he gets sent down. Otherwise it was pointless to promote him.

–Reliever Grant Balfour is dealing with a sore oblique. That left him unavailable last night, according to Melvin, and he might be sidelined tonight as well. One pitcher that Melvin says he will definitely try to work in is Andrew Bailey, who has gone a full week since his last appearance. “I have to get him in the game today,” Melvin said.

–Brandon McCarthy will next pitch Tuesday for Triple-A Sacramento and Rich Harden is pitching tonight for Sacramento and he’ll go again Thursday. Melvin said it’s possible that each pitcher is activated from the DL following those starts. So projecting it out, McCarthy could rejoin the A’s rotation July 3 against Arizona (in that scenario, he would take Graham Godfrey’s place). Harden’s potential return would fall on Cahill’s turn, so if the A’s see Harden joining the rotation, they’ll have to shuffle things somehow.

–Josh Outman takes the ball tomorrow in the series finale against the Phillies, the team that traded him to Oakland in July 2008 in a deal that sent Joe Blanton to Philadelphia. Outman was pitching for Double-A Reading (Pa.) at the time and said he hardly knows anybody in the current Phillies lineup. But he has some unique memories about pitching in Reading, an industrial town that supports their minor league club very well. Occasionally, the team played 9 a.m. games that were tailored for factory workers who were just finishing the graveyard shift.

Only in the minors …


Will Citizens Bank Park live up to its reputation?

This has been an enjoyable road trip from the standpoint of getting to see different ballparks for the first time. The first thing that comes to mind about Citizens Bank Park, here in Philadelphia, is home runs of course. It has a reputation of being a launching pad because the air is often so warm, and I’m interested to see how well the ball really carries. A regular Phillies observer told me during batting practice that on particularly cold nights, the wind sometimes blows in and it can be tough clearing the fence. But it was warm today and should be a pleasant night. A’s manager Bob Melvin said he doesn’t want his pitchers getting too caught up in worrying about home runs. “You keep the ball down, it (is effective) anywhere,” Melvin said.

The lineups:
A’s – Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Sweeney CF, Matsui LF, Jackson 1B, DeJesus RF, Suzuki C, Sizemore 3B, Moscoso RHP.

Phillies – Rollins SS, Polanco 3B, Utley 2B, Howard 1B, Victorino CF, Ibanez LF, Brown RF, Schneider C, Worley RHP.

–Coco Crisp is getting a day off to rest his sore heel and other physical ailments that have accumulated, Melvin said, without specifying what else was bothering Crisp.

–Might Hideki Matsui connect for his 500th professional homer here? He certainly has good memories of Citizens Bank Park. He hit a pinch-hit homer off Brett Myers in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series, on his way to winning MVP honors for the series. Matsui is playing left field tonight and Melvin said he’ll also play left on Saturday. But Melvin is undecided about Sunday. Roy Halladay will start Sunday for the Phillies, and though Matsui is hitting just .237 against him, he’s hit more homers against Halladay (four) than any other pitcher in his major league career.


Josh Willingham placed on DL; Chris Carter called up, but for how long?

Chris Carter showed up in the A’s clubhouse this morning, bleary-eyed from a redeye flight from Phoenix but back for a surprise stint with the big club. The A’s placed Josh Willingham on the DL, retroactive to June 18, and called up Carter to take his roster spot. Don’t get too used to seeing him in green and gold. Manager Bob Melvin didn’t say much specifically about Carter, but he hinted that Carter may just be up for the short-term until Willingham returns. Willingham is eligible to come off the DL on July 3, and he said he’s confident he’ll be ready by then.

How much playing time will there be for Carter, the A’s No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America? He’s played strictly first base for Triple-A Sacramento since coming off the DL on June 13 for a thumb injury, and Carter said he definitely feels more comfortable there than left field. “There’s nothing to press about” when playing first, he said this morning. But Conor Jackson has been swinging the bat well, and Melvin has him tapped as the regular first baseman for now (Mark Ellis is starting at first today with Jackson playing left field). I’m not sure the A’s would start Carter in the outfield right now considering how shaky he looked there last year during his big-league stint.

One interesting point Melvin made is that he’s considering giving Hideki Matsui time in left field after the A’s return to American League play after this road trip, and that could provide an opportunity for Carter to get DH at-bats. It’s sort of an awkward time for Carter to get called up. We always think of this guy in the context of him being an up-and-coming power bat that can help revive a sluggish offense. But the A’s have been playing good baseball lately – still not hitting a ton, but looking better – and it’s tough to identify an obvious role for Carter.

As for Willingham, he said his running didn’t go well Wednesday, which is why he became the A’s 11th DL transaction of the season. Willingham doesn’t consider the injury serious, but it’s also the latest in a string of injuries that have hampered him in recent seasons. You have to wonder how his health history will influence teams that view him as a trade target. And from the A’s perspective, I wonder how much they’re taking that into account as they weigh whether to offer Willingham a long-term extension.

–How would you like to be David DeJesus right now? The guy is obviously lost in the shuffle among outfielders (granted, his performance hasn’t demanded he be in there). And now that he’s finally playing today, he gets to face Mets lefty Chris Capuano. DeJesus is 7 for 56 (.125) against lefties this season, the lowest average in the American League against lefties.

–Injury updates: Brandon McCarthy is pitching today for Single-A Stockton in his first rehab start. Rich Harden will make a second start Saturday for Triple-A Sacramento, and Tyson Ross will throw a simulated game Saturday in Phoenix.

Today’s lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Crisp CF, Jackson LF, Sizemore 3B, Ellis 1B, DeJesus RF, Powell C, Godfrey RHP.

Mets – Reyes SS, Turner 2B, Beltran RF, Murphy 3B, Pagan CF, Bay LF, Duda 1B, Thole C, Capuano LHP.