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Red Sox at Athletics Series Preview

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A look at the four-game set in Oakland.

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Athletics Nation

The Opponent in one sentence

The A’s surprisingly won 97 games in 2018 thanks to shocking production from a seemingly subpar rotation and great offense with big power throughout.

Record

3-3

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 0, Athletics 0

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Up. Oakland got off to a rough start this year, losing both of the season-opening games in Japan. They recovered once they got back to the States, though, winning three of four over the division rival Angels over the weekend. That series included more great pitching from the A’s as they allowed an average of 2.25 runs per game.

Pitching Matchups

4/1: David Price vs. Aaron Brooks, 10:07 PM ET

David Price is nominally the number five starter in the Red Sox rotation, though we all know that isn’t true in practice. The lefty suffered from an illness late in camp which put him behind schedule, which in turn forced him to the back end of the rotation. With the way the first four starts have gone, perhaps it’s not the worst thing in the world to have Price in a position to stop the bleeding. The veteran lefty, of course, came into his own in the second half last season as he finally adjusted his style and worked more with his secondaries and less with a fastball-heavy repertoire. It will be interesting to see how much that carries over in 2019 and whether or not there were more adjustments made over the course of the offseason. Price made one start against Oakland last year, allowing four runs in 7 23 innings with six strikeouts and one walk.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Chicago Cubs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Brooks is a really interesting pitcher who had a couple of years in a row of having a decent workload back in 2014 and 2015 before sort of disappearing for a while. The righty missed most of 2016 with a hip injury, then spent all of 2017 in the minors. In 2018, he once again spent most of his time in the minors before making three appearances at the end of the year with Oakland. Now, suddenly, he’s part of the A’s rotation. His numbers in Triple-A haven’t been super impressive over the last couple years, and given how little we’ve seen of him at the highest level over the last three seasons it’s hard to know exactly what to expect. Brooks seems to lean mostly on a low-90s two-seamer along with a changeup and a slider.

4/2: Chris Sale vs. Mike Fiers, 10:07 PM ET

Sale will be the first starting pitcher on the Red Sox to make his second appearance on 2019, and it will be tough for it to go any worse than the first. The most obvious thing people will be looking for is his fastball velocity, a topic we discussed earlier this week. It’s not crazy to be looking at that, of course, but for me the command is going to be more important. If he’s able to hit his spots with all of his pitchers and show more consistency with the slider, he’ll succeed even if his fastball is sitting around 92-93 mph. One thing to keep in mind is that Oakland has a very right-handed heavy lineup, so if Sale make more mistakes up in the strike zone he could very easily be punished yet again. In 2018 he made two starts against the A’s and pitched to a 3.75 ERA over 12 innings with 19 strikeouts and five walks.

Fiers will be making his third appearance of 2019 since he took the mound over in Japan for Oakland’s first game of the year. The righty struggled in that one, lasting only three innings against the Mariners, but came back with six shutout innings against the Angels last Thursday. Even in that big game, though, he didn’t have standout strikeout and walk numbers, instead relying on weak contact to allow just one hit. Over his nine innings of work he has five strikeouts while issuing five walks. Last season Fiers spent most of the year in Detroit before a late-season trade to Oakland and overall he pitched to a 3.56 ERA over 172 innings with average strikeout numbers but great control. Red Sox hitters got shutout by Fiers last year in a start that lasted 6 13 innings. He’ll feature a high-80s/low-90s fastball, a similar sinker, a cutter, a changeup and a curveball.

4/3: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Marco Estrada, 10:07 PM ET

Nathan Eovaldi, just like Sale, was very frustrating in his first start with the Red Sox. Somehow his five-inning outing was actually the longest of any Boston starter in Seattle, but that’s not much to celebrate. Eovaldi proved to be far too hittable, striking out just three batters in that first appearance while allowing eight hits, three of which were home runs. That’s not great! Look for him to get more movement on his pitches in this outing on Tuesday night and produce more weak contact even if he doesn’t get the whiffs. Eovaldi tossed six-innings of no-hit ball against Oakland with one walk and four strikeouts.

Red Sox fans should be fairly familiar with Estrada, who spent a good chunk of his career as an underrated member of the Blue Jays rotation. The righty has also made two starts already this year, allowing three runs over five innings in Japan before tossing six shutout innings against the Angels this past weekend. Like Fiers, the peripherals haven’t been there (four strikeouts and two walks) but he has always relied on not allowing hits. With a flyball-heavy approach, Estrada can be hurt by the long ball but if hitters aren’t consistently squaring up his pitches it can be very hard to luck into hits with the righty’s approach. Look for the Red Sox to show some patience and await a pitch they feel they can crush. Boston had plenty of success in 2018 against Estrada, scoring 13 runs over 14 23 innings in three games. He will feature a high-80s fastball and a changeup.

4/4: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Brett Anderson, 3:37 PM ET

All eyes are going to be on this Thursday game as Rodriguez was the one Red Sox pitcher who received the public scorn from both his manager and his pitching coach. That has been the case over the last two years as Rodriguez has maddeningly taunted us with his talent. In his first start he got into old habits in which he failed to attack hitters he was ahead of in counts and that resulted in poor results and inefficiency. Apparently he also immediately got away with the gameplan that was laid out before the evening had started. Rodriguez needs to take a step forward soon, because it seems those in charge are as frustrated as all of us. The southpaw allowed three runs over five innings against the A’s last year with four strikeouts and no walks.

Anderson has always been the type of pitcher everyone pointed to with big potential that never had a chance to put it together. A former A’s prospect, he’s dealt with injury after injury, and it seemed people had finally put hope aside for him heading into last season. Because baseball is the weirdest, he was able to put it together. Granted, Anderson only tossed 80 13 innings but they were very good, particularly towards the end. In his final two months he allowed a .605 OPS with a 3.63 ERA with impeccably control. In his first start this year he tossed six scoreless innings against the Angels. The Red Sox did not see the southpaw in 2018. Anderson will feature a pair of low-90s fastballs (the two-seamer is used more) as well as a slider and a changeup.

Old Friends

Frankie Montas was signed by the Red Sox as an international free agent back in 2009 and made his way through the lower minors in Boston’s system. In 2013 he made his way into the top 20 on Sox Prospects’ organization rankings but was traded later that year in the deal that brought Jake Peavy to Boston. Montas eventually made his way to Oakland and is a member of their rotation to start this year.

J.B. Wendelken is a former 13th round pick who was never super highly regarded in Boston’s system. He was also part of the trade that brought Peavy to Boston and is one of the final players in Oakland’s Opening Day bullpen.

Notable Position Players

Matt Chapman took a leap into the national consciousness in 2018 and Oakland fans hope 2019 will be the year he moves into legitimate standing among MVP candidates. Perhaps the best defensive third baseman in baseball, Chapman isn’t too shabby with the bat either. He hit 24 homers last year, will hit for a solid average and draws walks at an above-average rate.

Khris Davis is perhaps the most underrated slugger in all of baseball, because all he does is hit home runs. The DH has hit at least 40 homers in each of the last three years, peaking with 48 in 2018. He’s also finished with a batting average of exactly .247 in each of the last four seasons.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics
Khris Davis
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Jurickson Profar came over from Texas in a trade over the offseason coming off a solid 2018. The former top prospect in baseball is likely not going to produce a high average but Oakland hopes he can find his power and draw some walks.

Stephen Piscotty had a big 2018 despite an aggressive approach thanks to an ability to put balls in play, and usually with authority and for big power.

Kendrys Morales was traded to Oakland right before Opening Day after the A’s lost first baseman Matt Olson. He’ll be playing in the field consistently for the first time in a while, but Oakland is more focused on what he’ll bring with the bat.

Robbie Grossman doesn’t provide much power but he’ll hit at the top of Oakland’s lineup a lot thanks to great plate discipline.

Marcus Semien hasn’t turned into a power threat like some thought he would, but he’s a solid hitter at a premium position who can also provide some value on the bases.

Ramon Laureano had the throw of the year last year but the young outfielder’s bat should be slept on because he had a big 2018, though one that was lifted by a high BABIP.

Mark Canha is a platoon bat, but with the Red Sox using three lefties in this series expect to see a lot of him in a corner outfield spot or at first base.

Bullpen Snapshot

Blake Treinen was perhaps the best reliever in all of baseball in 2018 after coming over from Washington the previous season in the Sean Doolittle trade. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be that good again this year, but his power sinker is one of the most absurd pitches in the game and that alone gives him a very high floor late in games.

Joakim Soria and Fernando Rodney both came in as free agents this past winter and will serve as the primary set-up arms in a very talented Oakland bullpen. Soria has been underrated in terms of consistency over the last few years while Rodney is perhaps the most boom-or-bust player in the game.

Ryan Buchter is the primary lefty for Oakland and is a true LOOGY. He plans on sending a note to the commissioner after the announcement of the three-batter rule change to be implemented in 2020.

Injuries

Matt Olson, as mentioned above, was hurt in the Japan series. The power threat broke a hamate bone in his hand and is expected to be out for at least 4-6 weeks. Even after he returns, these injuries can linger for a power hitter such as himself.

Sean Manaea, who of course no-hit the Red Sox last year, underwent shoulder surgery towards the end of last season. He’s started throwing again but he won’t be back in action until at least around the All-Star break.

Jharel Cotton is another starter recovering from a major injury, with Tommy John being the culprit here. He’s at least another two months away.

Chris Bassitt suffered a leg injury in Japan, but is only expected to miss a couple weeks with the injury.

Chris Herrmann was hoping to be the backup catcher for Oakland but underwent knee surgery and will miss at least a couple months.

Daniel Gossett is coming back from Tommy John but he’ll probably miss the entire 2019 season.

Nick Martini suffered a leg injury early in spring training and is likely still a few weeks away from returning.

Weather Forecast

It’s going to be a bit of a wet week in northern California. There are showers in the forecast tonight, Tuesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon. It doesn’t appear to be a cause for major concern at this point, but it’s something to watch for in this series.