Scouting the opponent: Oakland A's

ARLINGTON, Texas -- With two games left in the series this weekend, it's not too late to get a quick glance at the A's and what they are up to these days. We talked to Joe Stiglich of the Oakland Tribune (he's on twitter at @joestiglich) about the A's. Here are some of his thoughts:

Q: Give us an update on how the A's have done in the last three weeks since the clubs last met. What has been good, what hasn't been so good?

JS: It's all about looking ahead to 2012 for the A's. They've played .500 ball since they last saw the Rangers. The offense has continued to show some life, however, since the All-Star break. A bright spot has been the emergence of first baseman Brandon Allen. He actually got called up and made his A's debut in that last series against Texas. His numbers (.253, 3 homers,10 RBIs in 24 games) don't look great, as he's cooled off recently. But this guy has impressed with the bat and glove. The A's got him from Arizona as part of a trade-deadline deal for reliever Brad Ziegler. The A's have been searching for a young first baseman who has some pop in his bat, and they may have found one.

Overall, the pitching hasn't been nearly as good in the second half as in the first, though they got a gem from former Ranger Guillermo Moscoso on Wednesday. It's been a tale of two seasons -- standout pitching and little offense in the first half, and good hitting with declining pitching since the All-Star break.

Q: Josh Willingham leads the club in homers and RBIs, though his average is still around .250. The numbers show he's been fairly consistent with run production all season. What has made him so consistent in that category and are pitchers starting to try to pitch around him at all?

JS: Yeah, Willingham has really been a steady run producer in the cleanup spot -- something the A's had lacked for several seasons. I really think that's why they need to make a push to re-sign this guy. He's eligible for free agency for the first time this winter. He's just a prototypical pull hitter who really hasn't been affected by playing in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark. He's got big-time power, so his homers would clear the fence in any stadium. He does strike out an awful lot (131 K's, sixth-most in AL), and I'm amazed how many third strikes he takes right down the pipe. That's one reason teams haven't been pitching around him.

Q: Who has been the biggest surprise in the second half? Who's been the biggest disappointment?

JS: Allen has been a revelation, as I mentioned. But Brandon McCarthy (remember him??) has really stepped up and bolstered the rotation. He entered Friday with seven wins since the break, tied for second-most in the AL. McCarthy's shoulder problems are always a concern, as Ranger fans well know, but he's really positioning himself for a spot in the 2012 rotation. His performance has been important, because Opening Day starter Trevor Cahill has continued to struggle after a 6-0 start. He's 4-13 with a 5.19 ERA over his past 22 starts. Yikes ... And it's pretty shocking given he was an All-Star and 18-game winner a year ago. Walks, wild pitches, high pitch counts, they've all hurt Cahill.

Q: How do things shape up for the A's next season? Who are some young players -- maybe some already with the club as September callups -- that Rangers fans should keep an eye on for 2012?

JS: The right side of the infield holds promise with Allen and second baseman Jemile Weeks. Weeks has made a ton of errors, but he's a dynamic presence in the leadoff spot and has great speed. Outfielder Michael Taylor was called up when rosters expanded and he's a name A's fans have been very curious about for a while. He's built like a tight end and is thought to be a multi-tool player. But he didn't exactly terrorize Triple-A pitchers, and scouts have their reservations about him. If he plays well in the final weeks, he could set himself up as next year's starting right fielder.

Q: How has the bullpen and Andrew Bailey performed since he returned?

JS: It's been a mixed bag for this bunch all season. And the 'pen has been particularly shaky of late. That includes Bailey, who was linked to the Rangers before the trade deadline. He's allowed a run in six of his past 10 appearances. He hasn't blown any saves, but he's made it adventurous. Overall, it's been a decent year for Bailey. There just aren't a ton of save opportunities. Brian Fuentes was really shaky early in the season but has steadied himself somewhat. Another lefty, Craig Breslow, was a workhorse in 2009 and 2010, but he's been very hittable this year.

Q: Anything else about the A's we should know for this weekend?

JS: This team tends to tease fans in September, doing some encouraging things to ignite hope for the next season. The problem is, the A's dug themselves such a hole in the first half that they never really had a chance in the second half. But players like interim manager Bob Melvin, and I'd bet money he'll return in 2012.