The Oakland Athletics come into town in second place, with an 11-12 record that has them 5.5 games out in the AL West already. For comparison's sake, the Red Sox might be in last place, but they are just 3.5 games out, and they aren't chasing the team that's been to the last two World Series.*
*When footage from the Boston/Baltimore Game 162 on September 28, 2011 is found in the distant future by an intergalactic civilization scouring Earth for clues of the past, they will surely confuse the celebrating Orioles for World Series winners, though.
The A's have lost two in a row to fall under .500, and because it's a three-game series, just one of these teams will be able to escape over that mark. Since it's the Athletics, they aren't expected to do much hitting this series, although they can certainly have their moments. Yoenis Cespedes, in his first month in Major League Baseball, has hit .253/.341/.494 with five homers. He's struck out 23 times already against eight walks, but if this is what he does in his first taste of American baseball, it's going to be fun to watch him once he knows the league.
Other than Cespedes, the A's have old friends Josh Reddick, who has spent his time on the west coast making opposing runners look silly, and Coco Crisp, who has spent most of his season recovering from illness. Reddick's line looks weak, but thanks to the wonders of park effects, his .267/.283/.444 showing is actually league-average. Crisp has yet to get going, but he can be forgiven for that given he was sick. At the least, his glove in left is unfair.
Game 1: Tommy Milone (27 IP, 2.2 K/BB, 204 ERA+) vs. Clay Buchholz (22-1/3 IP, 1.1 K/BB, 49 ERA+)
Game 2: Jarrod Parker (6-1/3 IP, 5.0 K/BB, 300 ERA+) vs. Felix Doubront (22 IP, 2.2 K/BB, 106 ERA+)
Milone pitched for Washington last year, but came over in the Gio Gonzalez deal this past winter. He's just 25 years old, and the 2008 10th-round selection has some impressive K/BB numbers during his four seasons in the minors. That includes a 9.7 mark in 148 innings at Triple-A last year. His command should serve him well in the major, but like any other pitcher, he'll need to have it to shut down the powerful and patient Red Sox lineup.
Then again, maybe he won't have to if all he's looking for is a W, as Buchholz hasn't exactly inspired much confidence. He can't command his change-up, and his April velocity is typically low -- combine the two, and his walk rate, lack of strikeouts, and the laser homers he's been giving up make a whole lot of sense. He was tolerable against the Twins, and the A's are similarly-lacking in punch, so if Boston isn't lucky enough to get Buchholz back to where he should be, having him do just enough again would be acceptable.
Jarrod Parker came from the Diamondbacks in the Trevor Cahill deal, and his first start in the American League went splendidly. He faced the same White Sox lineup the Red Sox just left behind in Chicago -- things are likely to be a bit different this time, as these Sox hit just a bit more. He'll take on Doubront, who walked one more batter than he struck out on Thursday against Chicago, but induced nine groundball outs to compensate.
Last, we get the prime match-up of the series, with Brandon McCarthy going against Daniel Bard. If not for the signing of Bartolo Colon, McCarthy would be the elder statesman of this rotation at 28. He doesn't miss a ton of bats, but he gets more grounders than flyballs, and his walk rate has been under control since he came back to the majors last year.
Bard's last start against the White Sox wrapped up his first month as a starter, and he gets a relatively-weak lineup to kick off May. Watching him carve up the A's lineup before a day off would make for both an entertaining Wednesday night and Thursday.
As it always feels like with the A's, this series will come down to pitching, and whether or not they can contain the Red Sox offense. It's kind of a weird place to be where the expected game to lose is Clay Buchholz against a rookie, and not Doubront or Bard, but that's where the direction the first month of the season has taken us in.