‘Tough stretch’ a good test

A decent road trip east will be a big suc­cess

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By Jerry McDon­ald jm­c­don­ald@ba­yare­anews­group.com

The Ath­let­ics are headed east with­out the de­sired mo­men­tum, and even in the game-at-a-time view of their man­ager Bob Melvin, it’s a rough road.

“A tough stretch … prob­a­bly the tough­est stretch that we’ll see all year,” Melvin said. “I know the guys are ex­cited about go­ing east and play­ing in ball­parks that are ba­si­cally mu­se­ums as far as base­ball goes. We’ll see how we stack up. It’s a good mea­sur­ing stick for us, and we’re ex­cited about it.”

Af­ter mak­ing a run to get over .500 fol­low­ing a three-game sweep over the strug­gling Bal­ti­more Ori­oles, the Ath­let­ics got a dose of re­al­ity in los­ing three straight to the ul­ti­mate mea­sur­ing stick — the de­fend­ing World Se­ries cham­pion Houston Astros.

In fin­ish­ing their home­s­tand at 3-3, the Ath­let­ics left anum­ber of ques­tions unan­swered head­ing into this trip.

Truth be told, at 18-19, if they’re within strik­ing dis­tance of .500 when they re­turn, it’s a suc­cess. Any­thing above that and let the way-too-early play­off spec­u­la­tion be­gin.

The al­ter­na­tive is Ath­let­ics fans spec­u­lat­ing about which player swill be sold off in the com­ing weeks to le­git­i­mate con­tenders.

Five ques­tions which bear watch­ing as the Ath­let­ics play three games in New York against the Yan­kees, three in Bos­ton and then four in Toronto be­fore re­turn­ing home to face Seattle on May 22.

1. CAN THE MATT S GET GO­ING? »

In­field cor­ner­stones Matt Olson (first base) and Matt Chap­man (third base) are strug­gling.

Counted on for much of the punch in the Ath­let­ics’ lineup, Olson hit .136 on the last home­s­tand (3 for 22) and Chap­man .100 (2 for 20).

Nei­ther has pro­duced the kind of power and run-pro­duc­ing abil­ity they did last sea­son upon break­ing into the lineup.

You can throw out­fielder Matt Joyce, 5 for 41 in his last 14 games, into the mix.

Melvin said it’s not one player, but a team-wide is­sue. But Chap­man and Olson must pro­duce for the A’s to con­tend. 2. WHAT’S UP WITH TREVOR CAHILL? » Cahill was pitch­ing some of the most over­pow­er­ing ball of his life, strik­ing out 12 in his six­in­ning stint against Bal­ti­more and 31 in 24 in­nings since sign­ing with the A’s af­ter Jharel Cot­ton was lost for the sea­son with Tommy John surgery.

Melvin was com­par­ing him to Bran­don Webb, who be­came a strike­out pitcher in Ari­zona af­ter adding a changeup that helped him bet­ter to set up hit­ters.

Cahill is on the dis­abled list be­cause of an el­bow im­pinge­ment. Maybe he will miss just one start, like the A’s are hop­ing.

But even Cahill admitted the el­bow is new ter­ri­tory.

“With it be­ing a new area, it’s cau­tion­ary to take a step back and re­group,” Cahill said.

3. CAN DUSTIN FOWLER PRO­VIDE A SPARK? »

The player the A’s in­sisted on when they dealt Sonny Gray to the Yan­kees has been hit­ting and run­ning bases with abandon at Triple-A Nashville af- ter knee surgery a year ago, when he crashed into an out­field wall be­fore he ever got his first ma­jor-league at-bat.

He’s not com­ing to the big club to sit the bench. If Fowler pro­duces, he’s not leav­ing. Cen­ter field will be his po­si­tion.

The A’s face Gray on Fri­day, and Fowler is ex­pected to be in the lineup.

“It’s just a per­fect story,” Fowler said. “The guy I get traded for, (I) get to face him. It will be fun, nice to play in NewYork and play in front of that crowd, play in front of a bunch of guys I know.”

Melvin said he doesn’t ex­pect to put Fowler im­me­di­ately at the top of the lineup, but his base run­ning and base steal­ing abil­ity are another di­men­sion the of­fense is lack­ing. 4. CAN SEAN MANAEA GET SOMEHELP? » Manaea could sue for lack of sup­port. He has a 2.11 earned-run av­er­age and a 4- 4 record. His next start will be in Fen­way Park. Last time Manaea faced Bos­ton, he threwa no-hit­ter. The A’s have scored three runs or more in three of his starts.

The last thing the Ath­let­ics need on this trip is to see their bell cowslip below.500. 5. DE­FEN­SIVE IN­DIF­FER­ENCE? » The Ath­let­ics have made at least one er­ror in five of their last six games and have given up 18 un­earned runs, third most in the Amer­i­can League. Op­po­nents have stolen 26 bases, most in the Amer­i­can League (al­though their to­tal of 12 base run­ners thrown out at­tempt­ing to steal is ranked sec­ond).

TED S. WAR­REN – THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A’s third base­man Matt Chap­man strug­gled dur­ing the team’s re­cent home­s­tand, hit­ting just .100(2for 20).

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