The Red Sox had a May to remember. After playing some truly horrendous baseball in April, the Sox managed an 18-11 record in May, beating some of the best teams in the league and reasserting themselves as contenders in a stacked AL East. Now, if they want to keep that momentum going into June, they'll have to start by taking a 3-game series from the Athletics.
While the Athletics sit atop the weak AL West with a 28-24 record (1 game worse than the Sox'), they are not necessarily a team to strike fear into the Red Sox. Their record has actually come on the back of a -7 run differential, and a 10-15 road record.
Instead, if the Sox have something to worry about, it's their own team, or more specifically, who they're sending to the mound. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, who have carried an otherwise ineffective rotation with their strong performances, will not be making appearances in this series unless the Sox choose to skip a start using the day off. Instead, they will have John Lackey (4.84 ERA), Daisuke Matsuzaka (5.77) and Tim Wakefield (5.68) making starts. Not necessarily a recipe for success.
Luckily for those pitchers, they're not going to have to face much in the way of bats, as the Athletics come in with the 5th worst offense in the league by wOBA. They don't walk much, and they strike out a decent amount. More importantly, though, there's just really no more than 2 players that the Sox have to worry about much. Daric Barton at first base is their best bat with a line of just .280/.396/.429. His wOBA (adjusting for the giant stadium that is the Colosseum) of .368 is more impressive, but still not what you're hoping for out of your big bat. Mark Ellis is also solid at .298/.385/.404, while everyone else is below average.
The strong Red Sox offense, on the other hand, will have to contend with one of the better starting staffs in the majors. But the actual product we see from the A's might not be as impressive as the team's 3.72 starter ERA suggests. Their first opponent, Gio Gonzalez, might have some regression towards his mid-range 4.22 xFIP in the cozy confines of Fenway. Their second, Ben Sheets, has been underwhelming in his return to action, facing some walk issues. Other than a couple of meltdowns, though, he can be generally depended on for a solid start—just not necessarily an impressive one. The final starter, Brett Anderson, has not seen much action this year, having just come off a month-long DL stint. Anderson does not walk batters, gets a few strikeouts, and makes hitters pound the ball into the ground. If he can keep it going against the Sox, they'll have a very tough time scoring.
Out of the pen, the A's have a very middle-of-the-road group. Ironically, their best reliever by xFIP—Jerry Blevins—has given up a good few runs based on a huge BABIP of .410. Hopefully this is enough to scare the A's manager away from using him, though given who's actually in charge of the Athletics, I doubt it. At the back end of the pen, Andrew Bailey and Craig Breslow have been effective if not dominant, and Breslow especially could be hurt by pitching in Fenway.
The Oakland defense is a really hit-or-miss affair depending on who is playing. Recently, Mark Ellis has been playing a lot of second base—a definite target for the Sox, as Ellis can't field at all. If Adam Rosales takes over at second, though, don't expect much to get through. If there's one real constant in the Athletics' fielding, it's that Kevin Kouzmanoff will be playing a very solid third base. On the other side of the field, Daric Barton shouldn't do much in his own zone, but can erase errors with the best of them.
With the question being "Which is worse: the Red Sox starters, or the Oakland offense," it's a little hard to handicap this series. What it will probably come down to is whether or not the Sox starters can stay out of their own way. If they don't give up free passes, and if Wakefield doesn't throw meatballs, then the weak Oakland hitters can be depended on to get themselves out, while the strong Sox offense will likely be able to score at least a few on most pitchers. Hopefully, those few will be enough to get them a series win.