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Red Sox-A’s series preview

05.02.14 at 10:22 am ET
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The Red Sox will look to bounce back from Thursday’s doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Rays as they kick off a three-game set with the AL West-leading Athletics.

Thursday was a day the Red Sox would rather forget. After a rainout Wednesday night, the AL East rivals were forced to play two, and the Sox lost both games by a one-run margin.

Jake Peavy delivered another solid performance in the first game, tossing 6 1/3 innings of two-run ball, but a season-high five walks came back to hurt him. Meanwhile, despite six walks issued by Rays starter Cesar Ramos, the Sox were unable to capitalize and came up with just one run. Their frustration came to a head in the seventh inning, when Dustin Pedroia raced home on a double from David Ortiz and was called out at the plate, presumably because his foot never touched home. Manager John Farrell challenged the call, but the decision was upheld. The Red Sox now have lost four of their five challenges on the season.

Things didn’t go much better for the Sox in the nightcap. Despite generating some offense off of Rays starter Chris Archer, The Red Sox couldn’t maintain a lead. Closer Koji Uehara gave up a leadoff home run to Yunel Escobar in the ninth, and the Sox were unable to push across the tying run in the bottom of the frame.

“I mean, we’re not out here trying to lose,” Mike Napoli told MLB.com. “Yeah, it’s very disappointing. But it was a tough day, and we’re going to have to regroup, get back out here tomorrow, get our game plan and get back after it again.”

With the two losses, the Red Sox fell to 13-16 on the season. They haven’t been able to reach the .500 mark since April 4, the fourth day of the season.

The A’s, on the other hand, have racked up the most wins in the American League with an 18-10 record. They stand alone at the top of the AL West thanks to a three-game sweep of the Rangers earlier in the week, a series in which the A’s allowed just four runs while the offense scored 25 times, including a 12-1 rout in the last game of the set.

“It seems like there’s carryover every game to the quality of our at-bats throughout the whole lineup,” manager Bob Melvin told MLB.com. “Everyone contributed, and some of the guys who weren’t getting the hits were walking and making their guys work. That’s when we’re at our best.”

Despite Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, two of Oakland’s best starters, requiring Tommy John surgery, the A’s are getting it done with pitching. The A’s have the best staff ERA in the majors at 2.78 and have held hitters to a .221 batting average. Even with the injuries, the A’s rotation had compiled a 2.85 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over the first month of the season.

The A’s continue to keep a steady stock of former Red Sox on their roster, with former Sox utilityman Nick Punto joining the likes of Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss and Jed Lowrie, signing a one-year deal with the club this offseason.

Here are the pitching matchups for the weekend series:

Friday: Clay Buchholz (1-2, 6.66) vs. Dan Straily (1-1, 5.14)
Saturday: Jon Lester (2-4, 3.10) vs. Tommy Milone (0-2, 4.56)
Sunday: John Lackey (4-2, 3.83) vs. Sonny Gray (4-1, 1.76)

WHO’S HOT: RED SOX

– Rays relievers Grant Balfour and Jake McGee impressed on Thursday, with each pitching in both ends of the doubleheader, but they weren’t the only ones. In the two losses, the efforts of Red Sox reliever Burke Badenhop might be overlooked. Badenhop pitched a clean inning against his former club in the first game and added a scoreless third of an inning in the second game. He hasn’t allowed a run over his last 8 1/3 innings, striking out five while allowing just four hits.

– Shane Victorino seems to be getting his timing back after missing the first 22 games of the season with a hamstring strain. The outfielder went 6-for-12 in the series with Tampa Bay, clubbing three doubles and driving in three runs. He kicked off the ninth inning of the nightcap Thursday with a double off the wall but ultimately was stranded at third. He’s 8-for-27 with five doubles over his first six games.

– Lackey is picking up where he left off last season. The righty looks as good as ever on the mound, delivering back-to-back eight-inning gems in his last two outings. A couple of six-run, 10-hit debacles skew his ERA a bit, but Lackey has been impressive in all four of his winning decisions. The 35-year-old has shown impressive command so far in 2014, walking an average of 1.8 hitters per nine innings while striking out just under a batter per inning.

WHO’S HOT: A’S

– Catcher Derek Norris is on quite a tear. He’s strung together five straight multi-hit performances, going 11-for-18 and driving in six runs over his last 20 plate appearances. Norris’ .386/.444/.579 line in 20 games is definitely impressive, but what’s even more eye-opening is the fact that he’s drawn six walks while striking out just eight times in 63 plate appearances.

Josh Donaldson, who finished fourth in MVP voting in his 2013 breakout campaign, has been a huge part of Oakland’s offense in 2014. He’s driven in 23 runs (tied for fourth in the American League) while clubbing 10 doubles and seven home runs, leading the A’s in both categories. He really began to heat up in the second half of the month, batting .324/.410/.603 in his last 16 games.

– As noted above, the A’s rotation has been getting it done. Gray has been downright dominant in his first full major league season and is coming off of a three-hit complete-game shutout against the Rangers. Scott Kazmir, who was signed in the offseason after a successful comeback bid in 2013, has proven that last season was anything but a fluke, walking just 1.6 batters per nine innings and posting a 0.939 WHIP through six outings this year. Jesse Chavez is the biggest surprise of them all, however. The 30-year-old had started only two major league games prior to 2014 and appeared in 35 games in relief in 2013 for the A’s. But Chavez has been as good as anyone this season, striking out 27.3 percent of hitters he faces (up from a 20.2 percent career mark) and posting a 1.89 ERA through 38 innings of work.

WHO’S NOT: RED SOX

– Setup man Junichi Tazawa was lights-out through his first 11 outings of 2014, but he’s faltered in his last two appearances. In the nightcap of the doubleheader, Tazawa gave up the tying run to the Rays, allowing a run on two hits in 1 2/3 innings, and was charged with a blown save. It was the second outing in a row in which Tazawa gave up runs; he was pitching on four days rest after allowing two earned runs on four hits to the Blue Jays on April 26.

– The Red Sox have been, for the most part, unable to come up with that big hit. The offense is just not clicking on all cylinders. The team has hit just .223/.314/.338 with runners in scoring position, and just .225 (though with a .359 OBP) in that same situation with two outs.

Xander Bogaerts has been hitting pretty consistently for the most part, but he had a tough series against the Rays, going 1-for-9 with a double (although he did draw four walks). In Thursday’s first game Bogaerts had a chance to keep things alive for the Red Sox with two outs in the ninth and runners on first and third, but he struck out looking. The young shortstop’s early defensive troubles have been readily apparent as well, but the Sox hope that once the weather warms up, Bogaerts will, too.

WHO’S NOT: A’S

– It’s tough to find a pitcher on the A’s staff who isn’t enjoying success in the early going of 2014, but reliever Sean Doolittle is an exception. The left-hander, who has been an important member of the Oakland bullpen for the past couple of years, has given up seven earned runs and 10 hits over his last five innings. While his 5.68 ERA is ugly, Doolittle has yet to give up a walk through 12 2/3 innings of work while striking out 15 batters.

– First baseman Daric Barton is one of the few members of the A’s lineup who hasn’t been hitting lately. Barton has reached base via a hit in only one of his last eight games, going 2-for-15 with a walk and three RBIs over that span. He’s hitting just .146/.222/.167 on the year.

– Eric Sogard also has had a tough time at the plate, batting .235 (4-for-17) with a double and four walks over his last seven games. He’s batting .217 with a .581 OPS through 20 games.

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