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Red Sox at Athletics Series Preview

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Looking ahead to the weekend series in Oakland

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

Athletics Nation

The opponent in one sentence

The A’s are a rebuilding team who have gotten off to a rough start in 2017 thanks largely to a struggling pitching staff and an inability to win games away from home.

Record

17-23

Trend

Down. Things were going decently well for Oakland in the first month of the year, but things have fallen off in May. In particular, they’ve fallen off in the last two series. The A’s are just coming off a series in which they lost two out of three to Seattle, and right before that they were swept by Texas. If you go back eight games (arbitrary, I know), they’ve lost six of them. They are not playing their best ball right now, to say the least.

Pitching Matchups

5/18: Hector Velazquez vs. Sonny Gray, 10:05 PM ET

The series opener on Thursday will feature Velazquez’ major-league debut. If you’ll recall, the righty was brought in right before spring training after breaking out in the Mexican League last year. At 28 years old, the team was taking it a little slow with Velazquez to start the year because of a big workload that included work over the winter. He’s ramped things up of late, though, and he’s ready to make a major-league start. After last night, the Red Sox could use a lengthy outing, too. Velazquez won’t blow you away with his stuff, instead relying on command/control and not beating himself. If you’d like to read more about his repertoire, I’ll direct you to this scouting report from our friends at Sox Prospects.

It wasn’t too long ago that Gray was one of the elite young pitchers in the game. The last two years have not gone well, though, due to injury and a major backup in stuff. The 27-year-old has only made three starts this year, and they have not gone particularly well. His 3.78 ERA is fine, but it’s being backed up by a 5.09 FIP and a 5.32 DRA. Gray is currently striking out fewer than five batters per nine innings and has allowed three homers in his 16 23 innings of work. The former ace will induce plenty of ground balls, and relies on a low-to-mid-90’s fastball and sinker, a high-80’s changeup and a slow, loopy curveball.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

5/19: Chris Sale vs. Kendall Graveman, 9:35 PM ET

Friday is Sale Day, the best day of the week. The ace is coming off a rough start last time out, allowing two homers to the Rays. Well, rough for him. He did still allow only three runs in seven innings while striking out 12. He is ridiculous and there aren’t enough positive things to say about the lefty.

Graveman is something of an interesting pitcher. At 26 years old, it doesn’t really seem like he’s having all that great of a year. The righty has a 3.95 ERA through seven starts, roughly a league-average mark. He’s not really getting strikeouts (5.9 per nine), he’s allowing more than one home run per nine and is walking 2.4 per nine. He’s also getting ground balls on fewer than half of his balls in play despite throwing his sinker 77 percent of the time. Despite all that, his DRA is 3.12 and 32 percent better than the league average. I won’t lie to you: I don’t really understand this one. I will note that the sinker is impressive when it’s on and can reach the high 90’s. It is also worth noting that Graveman was spectacular in April but has a 6.35 ERA in May while allowing an .847 OPS.

5/20: Drew Pomeranz vs. Sean Manaea, 4:05 PM ET

This is a big start for Pomeranz. Not that I think they will make a change in the rotation if this one does not go well. However, they’ll start to think harder about it if he struggles for the third straight outing, particularly after he left his last outing with discomfort. Look for swings and misses against Pomeranz. If he’s getting those with both his fastball and his curveball, he’ll be good enough to succeed against this lineup.

Manaea is a former top prospect who has made six starts this season, and it’s been kind of confusing. On the one hand, he’s pitched to a 5.52 ERA while walking more than five per nine innings. That’s not great. On the other hand, the 25-year-old southpaw has a 3.65 FIP and a really impressive 2.09 DRA. This is mostly thanks to striking out more than ten batters per nine while also inducing grounders on 60 percent of the balls in play he allows. Boston will want to work counts against Manaea, who relies on a fastball/changeup/slider combination.

5/21: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Andrew Triggs

As I wrote in the recap of the series opener in St. Louis, Tuesday may have been the most impressed I’ve been with Rodriguez all season. His stuff was at its worst, and in the third inning it looked like he was on the verge of implosions with stuff that was less sharp than usual and his control going out the window. Instead, he came back out and was able to pitch six solid innings and keep his team in the game all year long. Part of being a great pitcher is getting good results even when you’re not at your best. Rodriguez has now shown an ability to do that in what continues to look like a legitimate breakout year.

Triggs has easily been Oakland’s best pitcher this year, making this the most intriguing pitching matchup of the weekend. This is the 28-year-old’s first full season in the rotation and second year in the majors. Throwing from the right side, he’s pitched to a 2.12 ERA, a 3.02 FIP and a 2.27 DRA. He only strikes out fewer than seven per nine innings, but he limits home runs, keeps the ball on the ground and just generally induces weak contact thanks to his sidearm delivery. Triggs is another sinker-heavy A’s pitcher who also throws a cutter and a slider and will rarely touch 90 mph with any offering.

Old Friends

Once upon a time, Jed Lowrie was the Brock Holt of the Red Sox — only without the ability to play outfield. He came up to Boston in 2008 as a utility man, and served that role for the next four years, flashing legitimate starter’s talent at times. He was sent to Houston before the 2012 season in the Mark Melancon trade, which was not the best deal for Boston. Since then, he’s shuffled back and forth between Houston and Oakland, settling in as the Athletics’ everyday second baseman and is having his best offensive season since 2013.

Boston Red Sox v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Notable Hitters

The scariest hitter in Oakland’s lineup is definitely Khris Davis, who has some of the realest raw power in all of baseball. His overall batting line doesn’t look all that impressive this year because of a low .207 batting average, but make no mistake. Davis is a good hitter. He’ll strikeout a ton, yes, but his batting average on balls in play will come up. The righty can also draw plenty of walks and, like I said, his power is legitimate.

Yonder Alonso is the latest success story of baseball’s swing revolution. That is, he’s adding more lift to his swing and it’s working out in a big way. Always one of the more mediocre first basemen in the league, he’s been one of the best in baseball this year. He’s striking out more thanks to his new uppercut swing, but he’s also raised his Isolated Power to .347, the eighth best mark in baseball.

Ryon Healy made his major-league debut last year and flashed impressive power to go with solid bat-to-ball skills that helped offset his inability to draw walks. He’s still not showing much patience while also seeing a slight dropoff in power and contact skills. He’s still a fine hitter, but not nearly as scary as others in this lineup.

Stephen Vogt was once one of the most underrated catchers in baseball, but his offense has fallen off fairly hard this year. It’s not one declining skillset, but rather small declines in just about every area of hitting.

Rajai Davis has been awful at the plate for Oakland this year, although it’s largely due to a low BABIP. He’s too fast for that too keep up, and if he is able to get on base this weekend he’ll be challenging Red Sox catchers as much as possible.

Trevor Plouffe, if you’ll recall, was a popular target to help Boston’s third base situation this winter. On the one hand, he’s been below average at the plate. On the other hand, he’s been much better than any of the other options the Red Sox have leaned on this year.

Bullpen Snapshot

Santiago Casilla is serving as Oakland’s closer this year after moving across the bay. The former Giant is having an....okay season. His ERA looks rough at 5.28, but much of that is because he allowed four runs in an outing last weekend. Still, he’s not striking many batters out, is allowing a good number of home runs and plenty of walks. He’s not the scariest reliever in the world, to be sure.

Ryan Madson also handles some closer duties at times and has been much more consistently effective this year. The former Royals reclamation project is back to striking out more than a batter per inning this year while walking fewer than two per nine.

Ryan Dull came out of nowhere last year to be an effective set-up man despite a fly ball heavy approach. He’s back in that role this year, but hasn’t been quite as impressive thanks to a huge increase in terms of walk rate. He’s walking over five batters per nine innings.

Daniel Coulombe is the lone lefty in Oakland’s bullpen right now and while he gets ground balls he doesn’t strike many batters out and struggles with control at times.

Injuries

When healthy, Sean Doolittle is one of the better left-handed relievers in the league. He’s been on the shelf since the start of this month with shoulder troubles and there’s still no timetable on his return.

Marcus Semien is one of the more underrated young shortstops in the game but has been out since the middle of April with a wrist injury. He’ll be out for the foreseeable future.

Chris Bassitt has been out since the beginning of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He’s on rehab assignments now, but won’t be back for this series.

John Axford hasn’t pitched for the A’s this year but is almost done with his rehab assignment and could be back serving in a set-up role for their bullpen as soon as this weekend.

Daniel Mengden is throwing rehab assignments now, but even when he’s done he’ll almost certainly be optioned to Triple-A.

Weather Forecast

It’s going to be a great weekend in northern California. The two night games the next two nights will be played under clear skies, although it will cool down into the low-60’s when the sun goes down. The afternoon games on Saturday and Sunday will be played in sunny, mid-70’s weather. Pretty much perfect.