Every Red Sox fan — and even those casual baseball followers who saw the movie “Moneyball” — knows A’s general manager Billy Beane turned down a five-year, $12.5 million offer from Boston in the fall of 2002 to stay in Oakland.
It’s hard not to wonder “what if,” considering the Red Sox have won three World Series since then, and Beane’s A’s have won a single postseason series.
Still, the work Beane continues to do with the small-market Athletics, who visit Fenway Park for three games this weekend, is astonishing. They are the two-time defending American League West champions and the +140 favorites to win a third this year despite a payroll that is 25th in the majors. The AL West also is home to two of baseball’s big spenders in the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers.
The A’s entered Wednesday atop the West and with the best run differential in baseball. This despite losing their best pitcher from last year, Bartolo Colon, to free agency. Oakland also lost projected No. 1 starter Jarrod Parker this spring to season-ending Tommy John surgery. The team’s expected No. 2, A.J. Griffin, also has yet to pitch and now will have that surgery as well. Colon, Parker and Griffin combined for 44 wins in 2013.
No matter: The A’s are again among the pitching leaders in the majors. Beane signed Scott Kazmir away from the Cleveland Indians to replace Colon, and Kazmir has been tremendous. The Red Sox will miss him, as he pitched Tuesday in Texas. Another guy the Sox will miss is Jesse Chavez, who’s a typical under-the-radar Beane guy. Chavez is a 30-year-old journeyman who had two career starts entering this season, but he has a 2.32 ERA entering Wednesday.
The guy with the best stuff on the staff is 24-year-old Sonny Gray (4-1, 1.76), and he’s scheduled to start Sunday’s finale. He was good from the get-go as a midseason call-up last year and has carried that to 2014. Gray pitched a three-hit shutout in Texas on Monday for his first career complete game. All six of his outings have been quality starts. The Red Sox have never seen him.
Dan Straily (1-1, 5.14) is scheduled to start Friday for the A’s. The Red Sox have never seen him either. On Saturday, it’s lefty Tommy Milone (0-2, 4.56), who hasn’t faced Boston since 2012.
The A’s are fourth in the majors in runs despite not having a regular player batting .300. Shortstop Jed Lowrie, a Red Sox from 2008 to 2011, leads the team at .280. Third baseman Josh Donaldson has become the A’s best hitter, leading the team with seven home runs and 22 RBIs. He was a relative unknown himself entering 2013 but finished fourth in the AL MVP voting.
The Red Sox and A’s split six games last year, with each winning two of three at home. Donaldson hit .364 with a home run and seven knocked in against Boston. Napoli led the Red Sox against the A’s with a .389 average and six RBIs.
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