In their first four games since returning from the All-Star break, the Red Sox struggled at home as they lost three of four at Fenway against the Rangers. Now they have to try to get it together on the road.
The Sox, who embark on a grueling 10-game West Coast road trip, will kick things off in Oakland with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz all slated to toe the slab.
Boston’s history on the road, and particularly in Oakland, doesn’t bode well. The Red Sox have gone 5-9 in their last 14 road games and only 8-15 in the last five years at Oakland Coliseum.
Despite having the top-ranked offense in baseball, the Red Sox are falling fast in the AL East. They have scored five runs or fewer in 10 of their last 11 games, eight of which were losses.
On Monday, the Red Sox will start a three-game series against the A’s, who are catching steam in the second half. Coming off a road sweep of the Royals, the A’s have won five straight, and 12 of their last 18 to bring their record up to .500 for the first time since June 15.
For some insight into the series, we brought in Joseph Lopez of Swingin’ A’s to share his thoughts.
NESN.com: The A’s are currently seven games behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the AL West, what do they need to do to get back in the running in the division?
Joseph Lopez: Playing catch-up is never easy, and it won't be for the A's. The A's are going to have to get healthy, which means having Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden back in the rotation. Anderson, who has quality stuff, would be a huge lift for Oakland's rotation. The fact that Anderson has made two trips to the DL this year is not an encouraging sign for the A's, but those trips to the DL could be easily forgotten if he has a good second half.
Pitching is obviously the A's strength, but if the team is to get back in the thick of things out west, the offense will need to improve.
The team does not possess any power hitters, which means the A's have to be aggressive and manufacture runs with their speed. The A's have Coco Crisp, who has performed well since coming back from the DL, and Rajai Davis, who leads the team in stolen bases with 27. If the A's can improve upon their rather inconsistent offense, they could make some noise in the second half.
NESN.com: The Red Sox have dealt with a ridiculously high number of injuries this season. The A’s have fared better but have lost starting pitchers Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson, who are due to be back in the rotation soon — what kind of an impact will their return make?
J.L.: Having Braden and Anderson back in the rotation would do wonders for the banged-up A's. Braden is a solid pitcher who has performed well this season (4-7, 3.83 ERA), but having Anderson back would be even better. Anderson (2-1, 2.35 ERA), who signed a four-year extension earlier this year, has the potential to be Oakland's ace of the future. Prior to this season, I said that Anderson and Trevor Cahill could potentially combine to win 25 games or more this year for Oakland. Unfortunately, Anderson has made only six starts, but having Braden and Anderson back for the second half would help the A's tremendously.
NESN.com: Rumors suggested that pitching ace Cliff Lee would end up with the Yankees before the trade deadline, putting Red Sox Nation on edge. Instead, he went to the Rangers in the West. What does his addition to the division mean for the A’s?
J.L.: Adding Cliff Lee was a great move by Texas. Texas has been quite the surprise this season, simply because their pitching staff has been holding its own all season. Usually, when you think about the Rangers, you think about great offense and not-so-great pitching. However, this season, the Rangers have proved to be a very balanced team. The Rangers currently own baseball's second highest batting average (.278) and are ninth in the league with a 3.91 team ERA.
Obviously adding Lee will help the Rangers tremendously in the second half, and it will make things difficult for teams like the Angels and A's to catch up in the division. Compared to Texas, Oakland owns a .264 team batting average, and has the league's seventh-best ERA (3.83). Pitching depth has been a plus for the A's this season, as guys like Gio Gonzalez (8-6, 3.63 ERA), Cahill (9-3, 3.19) and Vin Mazzaro (5-2, 3.50 ERA) have shown a ton of growth this season. The A's have young, talented pitching, but without a consistent offense, Texas is going to be tough to catch.
NESN.com: Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre reportedly turned down a multiyear offer from the A’s, for a one-year contract with the Red Sox because Boston had a better chance to “put a ring on [his] finger." What kind of reaction should he expect from the fans in Oakland?
J.L.: When Oakland tried to go after Adrian Beltre during the offseason, many A's fans were somewhat excited at what he could potentially bring to the table. However, after Beltre's turndown, A's fans were somewhat irked by his decision to go to Boston instead of Oakland. Obviously every player wants to win, and Beltre felt that Boston gave him the best chance to win a championship. In fact, during the offseason, Oakland was aggressively pursuing Marco Scutaro as well. The A's offered Scutaro, an ex-Athletic, more money than Boston did. It'll be interesting to see how fans react to both Beltre and Scutaro. I wouldn't expect a warm, welcoming crowd.
NESN.com: Something Red Sox and A’s fans have in common is a mutual dislike for the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez. But even Dallas Braden, who inspired the "Get Off My Mound" t-shirts, thought the A’s’ decision to make and sell them was in poor taste. How do A’s fans feel about what the organization did?
J.L.: The A's and Yankees may not have that same rivalry that Boston shares with New York, but it's safe to say that Oakland and New York don't like each other very much, either. The two teams are distinct opposites of each other: one has money, and the other one doesn't. When Braden confronted Alex Rodriguez about one of baseball's unwritten rules, it was just another example of David standing up to Goliath. The whole "Get Off My Mound" T-shirts thing is yet another way to stick it to the Yankees. Was it in poor taste? Maybe. But fans in Oakland sure do like those shirts.
A big thanks to Joseph Lopez for his expert insight from Oakland. Be sure to check out his Swingin’ A’s blog.