The A’s were three outs away from winning a road series over a team tied for the lead in the vaunted American League East, but squandered away the opportunity when they allowed two base runners get into scoring position by way of two infield hits and a throwing error, ultimately leading to Wilson Betemit’s walk-off home run.
Luckily for Oakland, they have a quick turnaround when they travel to Boston to take on the rebounding Red Sox. After starting 4-10, Bobby Valentine’s team has won six of its last seven on the road before returning home to take on the offensively challenged A’s, who bring their major league-worst .205 average to Fenway Park.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, are second in baseball, scoring more than five and a half runs a game with a .280/.335/.462 slash line. Their 797 team OPS is third-best in the majors, after averaging 6.57 runs per game during the team's recent hot streak.
The club lost outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a dislocated shoulder earlier this month in Toronto, but DH David Ortiz has put the team on his back, collecting 16 hits in his last 11 games, giving him a .395/.444/.654 line with nine doubles, four home runs and 18 RBIs. With Ellsbury out for at least another month, former A's outfielder Ryan Sweeney has made the most of his early opportunities, hitting .373 with 11 doubles in 18 games.
Boston has seven players with an OPS above 800, while Oakland has two in Jonny Gomes and Yoenis Cespedes. Right fielder and former Red Sox Josh Reddick brings a four-game hitting streak to his former home field, going 7-for-18 in that span. His 727 OPS is hampered by the fact that he only has one walk, but he is getting pitches to hit with the powerful Cespedes protecting him in the lineup.
On Monday, the A's announced the signing of infielder Brandon Inge. Inge will add a veteran presence to a young clubhouse. The 12-year veteran was released by the Tigers last week after the team had little use for him with slugger Miguel Cabrera making the switch to third base during the off-season. Inge struggled with a .197/.265/.283 line in 102 games last year and spent the first couple weeks of 2012 dealing with a groin strain.
Inge brings a .234/.304/.387 career slash line to Oakland. The A's hope he can be an upgrade at the hot corner after getting very little production from Josh Donaldson, who has since been sent to Triple-A, and Eric Sogard, who the better fits as a utility player.
The A's (11-12) have remained relatively competitive this season thanks to its pitching staff. The A's 3.11 team ERA is good for eighth in baseball and third in the American League. Lefty Tom Milone (3-1, 2.00) brings his team-best ERA to Fenway where he takes on Clay Buchholz (2-1, 8.87) in game one of the series. The promising right-hander is off to a disappointing start for Boston early and hasn’t allowed less than five earned runs in his four starts.
Buchholz' career numbers against the A’s aren’t much better. In 20.2 innings, he’s allowed 34 hits with a 7.84 ERA and a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Half those innings have come at the O.co Coliseum, where he has a 9.58 career ERA, but Oakland’s habit of taking pitches has worked against Buchholz in his five appearances.
Milone has been a pleasant surprise for the A’s early on. As expected, his walk rate has been very good, but his ability to miss bats has been a revelation. In 27 innings, he’s allowed just 17 hits, holding hitters to a .185 average and .205 BABIP. He has shown an ability to throw to both sides of the plate despite his below-average velocity, doing a good job of mixing in a cutter and changeup. Monday’s start could be his most challenging to date, as he’ll face quality right-handed hitters with the Green Monster looming just 310 feet away.
With one start with his new club under his belt, fellow rookie Jarrod Parker (0-0, 1.42) throws in Tuesday’s game two against lefty Felix Doubront (1-0, 4.09). Parker was very good in his first outing against the White Sox, wiggling out of tough situations and only allowing one earned run in 6.1 innings. Parker brings his five-pitch arsenal Fenway and will need to plant his two-seam fastball down in the zone should he expect to be successful. But the real key for the youngster will be to stay within himself, pitch to his strengths and not try to do too much on the big stage.
The 24-year-old Doubront is spending his first season in Boston’s rotation after making 23 appearances in relief the two years prior. He has shown good stuff and the ability to miss bats with 22 strikeouts in 22 innings this year. Doubront relies heavily on his plus fastball and features three off-speed pitches. He throws his curveball the most, but at a rate of under 14 percent.
A's staff ace Brandon McCarthy (1-3, 3.23) faces off against the promising right arm of Boston's Daniel Bard (2-2, 3.72) in Wednesday’s series finale. Bard is another Red Sox pitcher to make the transition from bullpen to starting rotation in 2012. He made 192 appearances in relief from 2009 to 2011, featuring a blazing fastball averaging above 97 MPH.
Now in the rotation, Bard’s velocity is predictably down, but not much, to just under 94 MPH. He’s also throwing sliders and changeups at a considerably higher rate. His slider is his best pitch when it’s effectively worked off his good fastball. He also strikes out hitters at a good rate. It will be important for the A’s to stay out of two-strike counts to avoid his slider.
Against Baltimore on Friday, McCarthy earned his first win of the season by going seven innings, allowing two runs with four strikeouts. In his six starts so far, the 6’7” righty has been efficient in his pitches and worked deep into games. But he’s walking a hitter more per nine innings this year than last, while averaging a strikeout less. His 2011 FIP was also noticeably lower last season at 2.86 compared to 3.66 this year. That being said, the A’s have scored just 1.33 runs in each of his losses.
McCarthy has struggled in his career against the Red Sox, going 1-3 with a 6.29 ERA in 24.1 innings. He hasn’t pitched terribly in Fenway, though, allowing a .244 batting average against in 10.2 frames.
The A's loss on Sunday in Baltimore took the wind out of the team’s sails after starter Bartolo Colon was able to throw eight shutdown innings. But the sour taste that game left could be rinsed clean should Oakland find a way to win two games in one of the toughest ballparks on visiting teams. Getting two wins would put the club at 3-3 in the first two stops of its East Coast swing and would have to be considered a positive given the team’s offensive struggles. Momentum is paramount on long road trips and the A’s do not want to head to Tampa Bay later this week having gone 2-4 or 1-5 before taking on the talented Rays.