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Athletics vs Red Sox: So Long AL West (for now)

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The A’s tried their absolute darnedest to get swept in back-to-back series in their final six games against AL West competition for the next month, but Matt Joyce’s dramatic ninth inning two run home run off of Steve Cishek allowed the A’s to sneak in an unexpected victory. While no other team in the American League has played more intra-divisional games than Oakland, one can be rest assured that the A’s 19 losses against their direct rivals is worst in the league, and the 12-19 overall record only edges out a few last place teams in terms of percentage of games won. But as the season reaches its one quarter-mark, the A’s are finally going to get a healthy dose of what the eastern reaches of baseball has to offer this year, beginning with facing the Red Sox at home for a four game set.

Leaving the AL West behind may be a blessing for the A’s, as they struggled enough against their rivals in the early going, and just now some teams are really starting to catch fire. Houston has won nine of ten games and has the best winning percentage in all of baseball, and Texas has won eight consecutive games to thrust themselves into second place and finally get their team record over the .500 mark. Even the Angels and Mariners have been more hot than cold, of late.

· Houston: 29-12

· Texas: 21-20

· Anaheim: 22-21

· Seattle: 19-22

· Oakland: 17-23

The Red Sox are coming into Oaktown having been struggling by their own lofty team standards, in third place in the AL East and hovering around .500 all year. Boston has plenty of star power, and all of their non-injured stars have been playing, more or less, like the incredibly talented athletes they are, but the stars are arguably getting offset by the scrubs, like a racecar stuck in first or second gear. Now without David Ortiz to agelessly buoy the lineup from the DH position, Boston has been experiencing a pretty dramatic power outage this season, and the lineup from top to bottom has been struggling to score with game-to-game consistency as a result. While the team’s OBP is in the top five of all of baseball, the Red Sox have only 34 home runs on the year (narrowly edging out San Francisco, with only 33, for last in the MLB) and have a team slugging percentage just over .400. Injuries at third base and on the pitching staff have revealed the lack of MLB ready depth the Red Sox have in their system. However, despite the frustrating start to the year for Boston, key players, like David Price, are poised to return from injury soon and it would be foolish to assume that some of the players in prolonged slumps will remain slumping all year.

Who’s Hot/Not

Last year Mookie Betts stormed onto the MLB stage and became one of the best overall players on the field, and he’s showing no signs of coming back down to Earth. He is walking more, striking out less, and hitting for more power than he did last year, and he hasn’t given anything back on the defensive side of the ball either. He just took AL Player of the Week honors home as well after a week in which he hit .400/.486/.967. Also dominating for the Red Sox is closer Craig Kimbrel, who has been about as shut-down as a reliever could get. Half of all swings against Kimbrel offerings have been swings and misses this year, and Kimbrel has a K-rate of 56 percent.

On the other hand, Xander Bogaerts has been getting on base and playing fine defense, but he’s yet to hit a home run this season and isn’t helping out the scuffling offense much. Rookie sensation Andrew Benintendi is marred in an 0 for 26 skid as he tries to adjust back to a league that quickly adjusted to him.

The Matchups

· 5/18 – Gray (0-1) vs Velasquez (0-0) at 7:05

· 5/19 – Graveman (2-2) vs Sale (4-2) at 6:35

· 5/20 – Manaea (1-3) vs Pomeranz (3-3) at 1:05

· 5/21 – Triggs (5-2) vs Rodriguez (2-1) at 1:05

All games are on NBCSCA and MLB.tv

How the A’s Win the Series

Luckily, there are a few factors going in Oakland’s favor entering this series, which is great because the team needs any break it can get right now. Boston is coming off of a Pyrrhic victory in St. Louis, in which they won the game 5-4 after a hard fought four run comeback, but had to play thirteen innings and use eight total relievers in order to bank that victory before taking a red-eye flight to Oakland. A sleepy Red Sox lineup that has already been struggling with power may be exactly what Sonny Gray needs to succeed as he takes on a pitcher making his MLB debut for Boston.

The middle two games should be tough for Oakland, as Sale is as dominant as a pitcher can be and will be taking the mound on Friday. Saturday’s matchup will be an intriguing one between the wild-but-electric lefty future ace the A’s have now against the wild-but-electric lefty chair-puncher the A’s gave up on. If Triggs continues his dominating ways, the Red Sox will struggle to do much against him on Sunday.

A’s will need their "A" game, though, to not further their latest hard-to-watch skid. And they need to be able to win games in non-dramatic fashion every once in a while. But it would be hard to complain about watching a few more walk offs over the weekend.