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1,223 words about the Boston Red Sox: An Oakland A's series preview

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The problem with the Red Sox is starting pitching. The problem with the A's is relief pitching. The optimist on my left shoulder says starters have more impact on a game. The pessimist on my right shoulder says this is a recipe for yet another bullpen loss.

Hanley Ramirez hits a home run against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Hanley Ramirez hits a home run against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Athletics (12-21) return home with the worst record in the American League on a five-game losing streak that included three one-run losses. Five of the seven losses sustained during the 10-game road trip were of the one-run variety. With manager Bob Melvin declaring to his team and to beat reporters, "We're going to start winning when we get home," we turn to Oakland's next opponent, the Boston Red Sox (14-17).

Boston travels to the West Coast from Toronto, where they salvaged the last game of a three-game set against the Blue Jays. The Red Sox have lost three consecutive series, and have not won consecutive games since April 20-21. They enter this week's three-game series against the A's in fourth place and 5½ behind the Yankees in the AL East. This is Boston's first trip outside of the East Coast this season.

Starting pitchers

Red Sox starters have been absolute wrecks this year, totaling an AL-worst 5.64 ERA. Rick Porcello leads Red Sox starters with a 4.38 ERA, and the A's have the misfortune of facing just one of their two starters with a greater than six ERA this week.

Monday

Monday
Rick Porcello vs. Scott Kazmir
4.38 ERA 2.75
4.28 FIP 3.84
3.73 xFIP 3.52
21.2% K% 25.3%
1.29 GB/FB 1.11

Rick Porcello starts against Scott Kazmir, with Porcello going pretty deep into games this year. His one horrific start was against the Baltimore Orioles on April 19, where he gave up eight earned runs and twelve hits in five innings. Porcello has been very good in his last two starts. On April 29 he gave up just one run, two hits, and two walks over seven innings against the Blue Jays. Then on May 5, he gave up no runs and no walks, but eight hits, in seven innings against the Rays.

Porcello's Brooks Baseball profile has him relying on his sinker and 92 mph fastball, with a curve, cutter, and palm ball. He mixes up his pitches, only throwing the fastball 29% of the time and sinker 33% of the time. Porcello's 21.2% strikeout rank is 12th among 49 qualified American League starters.

Tuesday

Tuesday
Justin Masterson vs. Drew Pomeranz
5.18 ERA 5.12
4.64 FIP 4.13
4.89 xFIP 4.23
15.2% K% 19.7%
2.12 GB/FB 0.88

Justin Masterson starts against Drew Pomeranz for the second game. Masterson's 2013 All-Star season appears to have just been a fluky year, with a 2014 ERA of 5.88 and more of the same in 2015. He could not get out of the fifth inning against the Rays, giving up six walks, seven hits, and four earned runs in 4⅓ innings. The walk rate of 11.9% is third worst amongst the 49 qualifying AL starters.

One issue is that he just has three pitches: an 89 mph fastball, sinker, and slider. The bigger issue is hardly anyone is whiffing on those pitches. His slider is at a career low 10.4% swing-and-miss rate, the sinker a career low 5.0%, and his fastball has never been a swing-and-miss pitch (5.5%). Masterson does induce a lot of ground balls and avoids hard-hit contact, but the defense behind him has not helped.

Wednesday

Wednesday
Wade Miley vs. Sonny Gray
6.91 ERA 1.65
4.31 FIP 2.67
4.53 xFIP 3.72
16.5% K% 22.9%
1.27 GB/FB 1.34

The Red Sox sent Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, and prospect Raymel Flores to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Wade Miley. He was never bad, and as Joon Lee wrote for Over the Monster when the trade happened, "Miley represents another pitcher similar to the mold of Joe Kelly. Both players represent young hurlers that present significant financial flexibility, room to grow and unrealized potential (to a certain extent)." The other way Miley turned out to be similar to Joe Kelly is that he also has an ERA over six.

Wade Miley spent the month of April twice failing to get out of the third inning, and twice failing to get out of the sixth, totaling a 8.62 ERA for that month. Miley has done a little bit better since then, making two starts and giving up three runs in seven innings and four runs in six innings, and only walking one batter between the two.

The Brooks Baseball report has Miley throwing a sinker, fastball at 92 mph, slider, circle change, and curve. Nobody is missing on Miley's fastball and sinker. Only 2.4% of swings miss his fastball, and 4.9% of sinkers. He is relying on his changeup a lot more, however, and as a swing-and-miss pitch it is very effective, resulting in a whiff 24.0% of the time. The only question is whether he can set it up before someone puts one of his non-breaking pitches into a power alley.

At the plate and in the field

Red Sox AL Ranks A's
9th (4.35) RS/G 6th (4.64)
12th (92) wRC+ 7th (101)
6th (34) HR 7th (31)
12th (.233) AVG 6th (.258)
7th (.317) OBP 9th (.315)
12th (.373) SLG 8th (.397)
9th (.140) ISO 10th (.139)
11th (13) SB 7th (19)
4th (17) Errors 15th (33)
12th (-10) DRS 8th (-4)
12th (-9.8) UZR/150 15th (-17.7)

Some 216 of 1,211 (17.8% of) non-pitcher plate appearances have been given to batters with a wRC+ at or below the Sogard Line (64 wRC+). Allen Craig, owner of 59 of those plate appearances, was optioned to the minor leagues on Sunday, with Jackie Bradley Jr. taking his place.

Hanley Ramirez leads the Red Sox with a 140 wRC+ that stems from 10 home runs and 17 singles, but he has no other extra base hits. Also hitting with a better than 100 wRC+ are Mookie Betts (107), Dustin Pedroia (123), Pablo Sandoval (129), and Brock Holt (135). David Ortiz just misses that list with a 98. He has four home runs, and three are on the road.

Relievers

Red Sox AL Ranks A's
3rd (108.1) IP 9th (99.1)
13th (3.90) ERA 15th (5.16)
15th (4.72) FIP 14th (4.44)
13th (4.40) xFIP 15th (4.50)

While the A's bullpen in high leverage situations is turning every opponent into Mike Trout, allowing a .411 wOBA, writes Dave Cameron for Fangraphs, the Red Sox are middle of the pack in allowing a .306 wOBA but are baseball's worst bullpen in low leverage situations (.346 wOBA). Their relievers are on the hook for four of Boston's 17 losses.

2015 Stats Recent usage (pitch count from www.rosterresource.com)
Player Hand IP ERA K% GB% FB% 10-May 9-May 8-May 7-May 6-May 5-May 4-May
Koji Uehara R 8.1 2.16 40.0% 35.3% 35.3% 15 13
Junichi Tazawa R 15.0 1.80 18.6% 37.2% 41.9% 19 19 29
Alexi Ogando R 13.2 3.29 20.8% 44.7% 44.7% 12 13 12
Craig Breslow L 16.0 2.81 20.6% 28.9% 57.8% 16 26
Matt Barnes R 3.1 2.70 11.8% 42.9% 28.6% 40
Tommy Layne L 7.2 3.52 18.2% 52.2% 30.4% 16 9
Steven Wright R 5.0 3.60 4.6% 50.0% 38.9% 106

The games

Can the A's beat this struggling team or will they continue to be the opening chapter of other teams' turnarounds?

Time (PT) Probable starters Television
Monday 7:05 PM Rick Porcello vs. Scott Kazmir CSN California
Tuesday 7:05 PM Justin Masterson vs. Drew Pomeranz CSN California
Wednesday 12:35 PM Wade Miley vs. Sonny Gray CSN California