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Red Sox-A’s series preview

07.12.13 at 9:22 am ET
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It’ll be a showdown of the two best teams in the American League, as the Red Sox head to Oakland to wrap up the first half of the season before the All-Star break begins on Monday.

It was an offensive explosion for the Red Sox in Seattle, with the club scoring a total of 34 runs over the four-game set, taking three of four and leaving Seattle with a three-game win streak. The 57-37 Sox improved to 26-21 on the road with an 8-7 10-inning victory over the Mariners on Thursday, and sit atop the AL East with a 3½-game lead over the second-place Rays. The club’s 57 wins are the most in the majors, while its winning percentage is good for the best in the American League.

Boston’s high-scoring series shouldn’t be much of a surprise, since the Red Sox offense ranks second in the majors in batting average (.279), first in OBP (.353) and first in slugging percentage (.449) while leading all teams with 492 runs scored, 28 more than the team with the second-highest total. Red Sox hitters have shown a lot of patience at the plate, drawing more walks than any other team in the majors with 352.

The Red Sox pitching staff has been middle of the pack all year, but the bullpen ranks in the bottom third of the majors with a collective 4.19 ERA. While Boston starters struggled in the series with the Mariners, their 3.84 ERA is good for second in the American League.

Thursday’s win, the Red Sox’ fourth extra-innings victory in seven games, was impressive for a few reasons. The resilient Sox were down early and clawed their way back into the game, despite starter Ryan Dempster going only 3 1/3 innings. “I think, fortunately and unfortunately, we were down early, but that allows plenty of innings to get back and more opportunities to do so,” said Daniel Nava, who delivered the hit that scored the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”

With the 3-1 series victory over the Mariners, the Red Sox have taken a league-leading 18 series, only one less than their total number of series wins in 2012.

The Red Sox will face a formidable foe in the A’s, who come in with the second-best winning percentage in the American League and a one-game lead in a tough AL West division. The A’s, who are 54-38 on the year, may have been shut out in the finale of their series with the Pirates, but they come into Friday playing very good baseball.

The A’s have been a remarkably consistent team, winning exactly 16 games in each of their first three months. With a win on Tuesday, they moved to 17 games above .500, their highest mark of the season. They’ve won five series in a row after taking two of three from the Pirates.

Despite the success the A’s have had, they’ll be sending only one representative to the All-Star Game in Bartolo Colon, who has had an incredible season.

“It’s nice to make the All-Star team and everything,” said starter A.J. Griffin, “but at the same time we’re a big family here and we have our eyes set on the goal of the Fall Classic rather than the Midsummer Classic. We’re just trying to continue to play good baseball as a team and not worry about stuff like that.”

The A’s have relied on an impressive pitching staff, one that owns the lowest ERA in the AL at 3.68. Both the rotation and the bullpen have been extremely consistent for Oakland. with the staff as a whole allowing the second-fewest runs in the league. The offense is average, coming in seventh in the American League in runs scored and sitting between sixth and 11th in average, OBP and slugging percentage.

The Red Sox got the better of the A’s the last time the two teams squared off at Fenway back in April, taking two of three. But the one game the A’s did win was one the Red Sox and their fans would like to forget: the 13-0 stomping the Sox endured on April 23.

Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game set.

Friday: John Lackey (6-6, 2.80) vs. Jarrod Parker (6-6, 4.04)
Saturday: Jon Lester (8-5, 4.60) vs. A.J. Griffin (7-6, 3.94)
Sunday: TBD vs. Bartolo Colon (12-3, 2.69)

WHO’S HOT: RED SOX

‘€¢ David Ortiz has been as hot as anyone in the majors this season, and continues to put up stellar numbers at the plate. The slugger, who became the all-time leader in hits by a designated hitter, passing Harold Baines with his 1,689th hit on Wednesday evening, has hit .407/.500/.729 since June 22. In that time, he is second in the majors in on-base percentage and fifth in slugging percentage, clubbing seven doubles and four home runs in those 16 games. Overall, Ortiz ranks third amongst qualifiers with a .629 slugging mark, fourth with a .412 OBP, and fifth with a .327 batting average. His 19 home runs and 65 RBIs lead the Red Sox.

‘€¢ It wasn’t a pretty start to the season for Felix Doubront, but as of late, he’s been one of the most consistent arms in the Red Sox rotation. Doubront has allowed only seven earned runs in his last 33 innings, good for a 1.91 ERA over his last five starts, while opposing batters are hitting the starter at a .188 clip over that stretch. But the lefty has been solid for longer than just the past month; he’s posted a 2.70 ERA over his previous 11 starts and 66 2/3 innings. One of the keys to Doubront’s success has been inducing more ground balls and limiting the amount of home runs he allows, cutting his home run rate almost in half compared to last season. He’s also become more efficient recently, something that has proven to be a big challenge for the 25-year-old. He’s gone six or more innings in each of his last three starts, while eight of his last 10 outings have been six innings or longer.

‘€¢ Brock Holt has been coming through in big spots for the Red Sox since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket. Despite a costly error that led to three unearned runs on Thursday, Holt was a big part of the Red Sox’ come-from-behind victory, producing a clutch two-out single to spark a fourth-inning rally and laying down a beauty of a bunt in the 10th to advance runners into scoring position. Holt, who is capable of hitting for a high average but doesn’t produce much power, has hits in five of six games since joining the major league club, including his first multi-hit day for the Red Sox on Thursday. Holt has managed to draw three walks in six games while striking out only once. He’s produced a .316 average and .375 OBP since being recalled, though he doesn’t have an extra-base hit to his credit.

WHO’S HOT: ATHLETICS

‘€¢ Colon is enjoying one of the finest seasons of his career at 40 years old. The big right-hander is tied with Seattle ace Felix Hernandez for the lowest ERA in the American League at 2.69, and leads the Oakland staff with 12 wins and only three losses. Colon, who received All-Star honors for the third time in his career, has been as solid as they come for Oakland this season, allowing more than three earned runs in only two of his 18 starts while going seven or more innings in five consecutive outings. He’s whittled his ERA down to 1.71 over his past 11 starts, good for the second-lowest ERA in the majors since May 14 (an interesting coincidence: He beat the only man who owns a lower ERA in that time span, Jeff Locke of the Pirates, in his last outing on Wednesday). Though the Red Sox lead the majors in walks, drawing free passes may be difficult against Colon, who walks an average of 1.1 batter per game.

‘€¢ Josh Donaldson is considered one of the biggest All-Star snubs this season, and for very good reason. The third baseman is having a fantastic year in his first season as a full-time player, and has been especially productive as of late, hitting .362/.446/.745 in his last 14 games despite going hitless in the last two games of Oakland’s series in Pittsburgh. Donaldson ranks at the top of many offensive categories for the A’s this season, including games played (90, already a career-high for him in his third season), hits (104), RBIs (58), walks (40), batting average (.313), OBP (.384) and slugging percentage (.524). If that weren’t enough, he’s also tied for the lead in doubles with 23, while coming in second on the club with 15 home runs. American League All-Star team manager Jim Leyland acknowledged that Donaldson deserves to be an All-Star, saying, “I’ll go on record as saying this kid is an All-Star this year,” but adding that the third base position is a deep pool of talented players this year.

‘€¢ Holding down the A’s impressive bullpen is closer Grant Balfour. Balfour has recorded 24 saves in 24 opportunities, and has only one loss on the season. The Australian-born pitcher has allowed runs in only five of his 38 appearances, while giving up multiple runs only once. The closer hasn’t allowed a run in six straight appearances after receiving his first loss back on June 23, and comes into the series with a 1.72 ERA and 1.064 WHIP while recording 37 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings.

WHO’S NOT: RED SOX

‘€¢ With Clay Buchholz sidelined until after the All-Star break, the Red Sox have been forced to replace one of their best starters. That hasn’t been an easy task so far. Allen Webster has struggled in the majority of his starts and has been sent down to Triple-A, leaving a 9.57 ERA in six starts behind. Alfredo Aceves has been available to make a spot start in the past, but he was optioned back to Pawtucket after leaving Tuesday’s game after two-thirds of an inning. Steven Wright was being considered for Sunday’s start, the last time a fifth starter will be needed before the break, but pitching 5 2/3 innings of scoreless ball on Thursday has put his availability in question. The Red Sox could look to options like Brandon Workman, who made his major league debut on Wednesday, giving up three runs in two innings, or Drake Britton, who scuffled in his first and only outing for Pawtucket. Either way, the fifth starter slot has proven to be a rough spot in the rotation for the Red Sox lately.

‘€¢ Though he does have two home runs and two doubles to his credit in July, double the amount of extra-base hits he had in 21 games in June, Mike Napoli is having a tough time at the plate in the last week or so. The first baseman is 3-for-19 and batting only .188 in eight games in July while striking out 15 times. Napoli ranks second in the majors with 118 strikeouts. His batting average dropped to .254 after a 1-for-5 day on Wednesday, the lowest it’s been since April 21, when it dipped to .243. Napoli has 11 home runs and 23 doubles, though he’s doubled only three times since June 1.

‘€¢ After a promising start at home against the Padres, Jon Lester struggled in his most recent outing, giving up five runs on nine hits to the Mariners while lasting five innings. He took the loss, his fifth of the season and first in his last four games. Through his last six starts, Lester has compiled a 7.08 ERA, walking 16 while striking out 30, while he’s given up eight or more hits in four of those six outings. The lefty owns a 4.60 ERA and 1.366 WHIP on the season, allowing 14 home runs in 119 1/3 innings.

WHO’S NOT: ATHLETICS

‘€¢ Yoenis Cespedes has been a major disappointment for Oakland in his sophomore season, hitting only .221/.283/.421 through 76 games after a sensational rookie campaign. The power-hitting outfielder hasn’t hit a home run in his last 16 games, but when he does hit long balls, they tend to come in small bunches. Since June 1, Cespedes has homered in only three games, but he clubbed two home runs in each of those contests. He’s experienced a real power outage lately, though, knocking only three extra-base hits in his last 18 games. The 27-year-old has struggled mightily this month, batting .176/.243/.176 in his last nine games, and is without an RBI in July.

‘€¢ Cespedes is part of an outfield that has been extremely underwhelming for the A’s. Coming into the season, it seemed Oakland would have an excess of productive outfielders, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case. As a collective, A’s outfielders are hitting only .225/.299/.390. Former Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick is following his fantastic first season in Oakland with a mediocre campaign, batting .219 with 18 extra-base hits and 32 RBIs in 240 plate appearances. Chris Young, who serves as the fourth outfielder, has scuffled all season, coming in with a .189 average and 54 strikeouts in 225 plate appearances. Another former Red Sox, Coco Crisp, has been the most reliable of the bunch, but even he is losing steam lately, with his average falling to .267 after batting .283 for the first two months of the season.

‘€¢ Brandon Moss, one of the A’s many former Red Sox, has hit a rough patch at the plate recently, hitting .188/.212/.406 over his last 11 games, striking out 12 times while drawing only one walk. He hasn’t taken ball four in nine games (25 plate appearances). Though Moss is struggling and is hitting a modest .223/.314/.469 on the season, he does lead the A’s in home runs with 16, while he’s second in RBIs with 44.

Read More: bartolo colon, David Ortiz, felix doubront, josh reddick
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