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Series Preview: Red Sox vs. Athletics

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A look ahead to the Red Sox’ return to Fenway

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Oakland Athletics Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

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Athletics Nation

The Opponent in one sentence

The Athletics started off a bit better than many expected them to be this year thanks to some surprising offense but they are starting to fall off as the season goes on.

Record

19-21

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 1, Athletics 2

Trend

Down. Like I said, the A’s have started to fall off recently, and that has basically been since the very end of April. Since the last series of that month against the Astros, Oakland is just 6-9, and half of those wins came from a sweep of the Orioles. They are also coming off a series in which they dropped two of three to the Yankees, which immediately followed a sweep at the hands of the Astros.

The Red Sox are heading back home following a long, ten-day trip and are looking to build a little momentum back in the friendly confines. They are also looking for revenge against the team that slowed down their tremendous run in April and the pitcher who held them hitless for an entire game. Grab tickets here and head out to Fenway to root on the good guys.

Pitching Matchups

5/14: Rick Porcello vs. Sean Manaea, 7:10 PM ET

For the most part, this has been a phenomenal season for Porcello as he has had all of his pitches working and his command has been on another level. He was, of course, a total wildcard heading into the season but he’s been at the highest end of any reasonable expectations. That being said, he’s coming off his worst start of the year in which he allowed five runs to the Yankees in just 5 13 innings of work. Rough outings are going to happen here and there even for pitchers having great seasons, especially against great offenses like the one in New York. The key is to not let them snowball, so this will be an interesting start for the 2016 Cy Young winner. Porcello didn’t pitch when these two teams met in April.

I think most of us remember Manaea, yeah? The A’s young righty had a hell of an outing against the Red Sox back in April when he held them without a hit, and really that was the start of what’s been a more pedestrian run for the Red Sox lineup. He’s been outstanding pretty much all year with a 2.11 ERA, and though the peripherals aren’t that good his elite control gives him a relatively high floor and he induces some weak contact. His no-hitter against the Red Sox slowed down the offense for a while, so maybe this time around he’ll be the guy to get them to click again and get them looking like it’s early April. Manaea throws a low-90s fastball along with a changeup and a slider.

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

5/15: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Daniel Mengden, 7:10 PM ET

As is the case pretty much every year, it’s been an inconsistent and frustrating season for Rodriguez. He has certainly shown what he’s capable of here and there, and the potential is there for him to dominate any lineup on any day. That said, he still has a 4.58 ERA on the season and allowed five runs in two of his last three starts. The good news is that his last outing may have been his most impressive of the year when he tossed five shutout innings against the Yankees while allowing just one hit. Hopefully that is the catalyst for a strong run for the southpaw. Rodriguez, like Porcello, missed Oakland when these two teams last met.

Mengden is hoping to make this his first full-season in the majors (he’s pitched partial seasons the last two years), and he’s pitching fairly well en route to that goal. His ERA is a little over 4.00 and a little better than average (105 ERA+), and while he doesn’t miss a lot of bats he also doesn’t put guys on for free and his flyball tendencies can limit hits. The question is how much playing in Oakland keeps his home run rate in check, and whether or not the Red Sox can take better advantage in Fenway. They didn’t take advantage in Oakland, scoring just one run off the righty over 6 13 innings when they saw him in April. Mengden throws a low-to-mid-90s fastball along with a slider, a changeup and a curveball.

5/16: Chris Sale vs. Kendall Graveman, 7:10 PM ET

Wednesday is Sale Day, and the excitement of Sale Days are starting to pick up recently. His last two starts have been his best of the year, and perhaps coincidentally (or perhaps not), Sandy León has been behind the plate for both of them. His last outing looked a little rough until they adjusted their signs, and then the ace flipped the switch. He’s allowed four runs over 16 innings (2.25 ERA) over his last couple of starts with 27 strikeouts and just one walk. When he faced Oakland earlier this year he allowed three runs over seven innings with ten strikeouts and a walk.

Graveman has long been a solid, league-average pitcher for the A’s, but he has been far from that in 2018. The righty has made seven starts for Oakland this season and his ERA is way up at 7.60 despite a career-high strikeout rate. While he’s missing more bats, he’s also walking more batters and allowing a ton of home runs. Frankly, this is a matchup that the Red Sox have to take advantage of, particularly considering who they have on the mound. They did well in April, scoring six runs off Graveman over five innings. The righty throws a mid-90s two-seamer, a changeup, a cutter and a curveball.

Old Friends

Jed Lowrie is the one old friend on the Athletics roster, and the former utility player who was traded for Mark Melancon was also a trade target for Boston this winter. That obviously never came to fruition, and now the switch-hitter is mashing for Oakland. He got off to a hot start, but he’s never really slowed down as he’s still hitting for power and making consistently good contact for the month of May.

Notable Position Players

Khris Davis is one of the best right-handed power hitters in the game, though there is some swing-and-miss in his game. He has a BABIP of just .179 over his last 30 days, but he’s still a threat to leave the yard in any given plate appearance and expect the Red Sox pitchers to be very careful with him.

Matt Chapman started out the year as one of the best players in the game, but he’s fallen off lately with a lack of power, a high strikeout rate and little success when the ball is in play. He’ll turn it around eventually, and in the meantime he’s still one of the better defensive third basemen in the league.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Olson is another player who has fallen off a bit, but the young first baseman also has some big power to be aware of at all times.

Marcus Semien has never really lived up to his potential at shortstop but when he is making contact at the plate he is going to do some damage at the top of Oakland’s lineup.

Dustin Fowler is a former Yankees prospect who was severely injured last year during his major-league debut. He just joined the A’s roster and will be in the outfield this week.

Jonathan Lucroy has been enjoying something of a bounce-back year for the A’s with big-time on-base skills at the plate. If he keeps hitting like this and the A’s keep sliding you can expect him to be involved in some Red Sox trade rumors this summer.

Mark Canha has quietly been one of the better power hitters in the game over the last month or so hitting towards the bottom of this lineup.

Bullpen Snapshot

As someone who covers closers for another webpage, Blake Treinen is one of my favorite late-inning arms in the game. He’s been inconsistent in the past, but he’s off to a huge start this season and has a ridiculous power sinker that should be impossible to hit when it’s working correctly.

Santiago Casilla is the primary set up man for the Athletics, and the former Giants closer has had a rough year as his strikeout stuff starts to dissipate as he gets older.

Yusmeiro Petit is another key right-handed arm for this A’s team and he’s up there among the best multi-inning relievers in baseball not named Josh Hader.

Daniel Coulombe is the only lefty in the Athletics bullpen, and as long as he’s keeping the ball in the yard he is effective in his role.

Injuries

Stephen Piscotty could be back this week after spending the weekend on the bereavement list following the passing of his mother. If he is back in action, he’ll be part of Oakland’s starting outfield.

Jharel Cotton hasn’t worked out as an exciting young starter, and he underwent Tommy John surgery back in March.

Trevor Cahill has been great in four starts for Oakland, but he’s out right now with an elbow injury. There was a chance he’d be back for the third game of this series, but that doesn’t appear likely at this point.

Ryan Buchter is a part of the back-end of Oakland’s bullpen, but he’s been out since the end of April with a shoulder injury, and his timetable is unclear.

Liam Hendriks is another late-inning arm, and he’s been out since April with a hip injury and his timetable is also unclear.

Boog Powell was a part of Oakland’s regular outfield, but a knee injury has kept him out for the better part of a month and it’s not clear when he’ll return.

Paul Blackburn is a depth arm who is out with a forearm injury and can’t return until the end of May at the earliest.

Weather Forecast

It could be a rough few days in Boston, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll have trouble getting the games in. Monday is going to be on the colder side, but showers should hold off until after the game is over. Tuesday isn’t going to be too bad either, though there are thunderstorms in and out of the forecast all day. Wednesday is going to be cool and rainy, but that is during the day and it should clear up before first pitch.