The Oakland A's are returning home after finishing their seven-game road trip on a mini two-game losing streak. Oakland was able to take the first two against Chicago, but the offense hit a wall as the team dropped the final two games of the series, combining to plate just three runs.
After the first day off in more than two weeks, the A's return home to play the New York Yankees, who are making their first and only visit to the Bay Area in 2013. They'll be playing an A's team with a reasonable amount of momentum having won 18 of 23, despite losing its last two.
The two clubs met in early-May in the Bronx with the A's winning the series, two games to one.
The Yankees come to Oakland having lost just once in their last six games. Their recent run comes on the heels of a tough stretch where they lost seven of eight, including all four games to the Mets in the annual Subway Series.
Per usual, the Yankees (37-26) are competing in the American League East and find themselves two games back of the first-place Red Sox despite dealing with a litany of injuries to some of their best players. Derek Jeter remains out of action while his broken ankle heals. Curtis Granderson broke his right forearm after getting hit by a pitch in spring training, only to break a knuckle in his left hand two weeks after returning. He's expected to be out until later this month.
Alex Rodriguez remains out of action as he works his way back from hip surgery, but he might be facing a 100-game suspension when he's eligible to return after reports allegedly have him linked to the Biogenesis Clinic in Miami that allegedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs to a number of ballplayers.
The good news for the Bronx Bombers has been the recent return of Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis, who are coming back from lengthy stints on the disabled list while dealing with a wrist strain and bulging disk, respectively.
Given the injuries to position players, the theme for New York has been getting production from the next man. Those men have been unlikely contributors Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, although Wells has fallen off considerably since his hot start to the season. He has just three hits in his last 30 plate appearances.
It has been the pitching that has carried the majority of the load for the Yankees, as the team has four starting pitchers with an ERA+ better than 100, including Hiroki Kuroda, who has a 2.84 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 13 starts. And even in his final big league season of one of the most storied careers in baseball history, Mariano Rivera has converted 23 saves in 26 tries, with an ERA of 1.48.
June's arrival has been welcome for Yoenis Cespedes, who appears to finally be finding his rhythm after getting off to a slow start to the season. He's hitting .324/.375/.676 in June after going just .223/.294/.452 prior. It's no coincidence that he's started to heat up while the A's have faced a slew of left-handed starters. He has a 1025 OPS against southpaws compared to a 693 mark against right-handers. Luckily for him, he will get to face a left-hander in the series opener Tuesday.
After being as far back as seven games behind the first-place Rangers on May 15, the A's find themselves in back of Texas by just half a game after their recent run.
The A's will send former Yankee Bartolo Colon (7-2, 3.14 ERA) to the hill against East Bay native C.C. Sabathia (6-4, 3.74 ERA) on Tuesday night, as the pair of aging veterans hope they can continue to pitch well. Colon has won his last four starts, yielding just three runs in 30 innings, despite allowing 28 hits and a BABIP of .311.
The right-hander might be throwing as well as he has in years and his ERA is the best it has been since 2002 when he was with Cleveland. Even in his Cy Young season in 2005, his ERA was 3.48, almost half a run worse than his mark for 2013.
Sabathia continues to see a decline in velocity, especially with his fastball. After averaging over 92 last season, that pitch is coming in just over 90, leading to an increase in the use of his changeup.
But perhaps a bigger concern for the Vallejo native is the decline in usage of his breaking pitches. He's throwing his slider and curveball far less frequently, which might indicate a potential arm issue. That wouldn't come as much of a surprise, as Sabathia has thrown 1,251 innings dating back to the start of 2007.
Sabathia has won his last two starts, striking out 19 in 16.1 innings in the process.
Wednesday's game will feature a pair of right-handers when Phil Hughes (3-4, 4.80 ERA) takes on Dan Straily (3-2, 4.67 ERA). Hughes is coming off a solid performance in Seattle last week when he yielded just three hits and an unearned run over seven innings in his team's 6-1 win.
It has been an up and down season for the former 23rd-overall pick in 2004, but he got the lone win against the A's when the two teams met back in May by throwing a masterful eight innings of shutout ball. He allowed just four hits and struck out nine.
Hughes has been outstanding in Oakland in his career, allowing just three runs over 16 innings with a 0.69 WHIP there.
Straily had his worst outing in four starts his last time out in Chicago. He allowed four runs over seven innings. Three of those runs were strung together in the third inning, thanks to three hits and a wild pitch. He got the no-decision prior to the A's winning 5-4 in 10 innings thanks to Adam Rosales' home run.
Straily faced the Yankees in New York and got the win on May 5, making just his second start in the rotation after Brett Anderson was sidelined. Straily will look to get back to his winning ways, although he's pitched far better on the road than at home.
Thursday's series finale will also see dueling right-handers when Jarrod Parker (5-6, 4.68 ERA) sqaures off against Hiroki Kuroda (6-5, 2.84 ERA). Parker has gotten hot, pitching into the seventh inning in his last six starts, allowing just 25 hits in 40.2 innings and a 2.43 ERA. His .200 BABIP should bring caution, but there's little doubt Parker is over his early season struggles.
Kuroda has been a very solid starter for the Yankees since arriving before the start of 2012. So far, his 1.7 WAR puts him ahead of last season's pace where he had a 3.7 mark, which trailed only Sabathia. This year, his ERA+ of 144 is far and away the best on the starting staff.
The 38-year-old native of Osaka, Japan has also slightly reinvented his game in 2013, but in a way most pitchers don't. He's actually increased the usage of his split-finger fastball by nearly six percent, a pitch that's becoming more and more antiquated given the stress it puts on arms.