A flurry of injuries may finally be catching up with the Boston Red Sox, who sputtered offensively while losing three of four at home to begin the second half.
Few teams are running as smoothly as the Oakland Athletics, who will be looking for a sixth straight victory as the Red Sox begin a 10-game West Coast trip in northern California on Monday night.
With nine losses in 12 games, the Red Sox (52-40) have slipped 6 1/2 games behind New York and 3 1/2 behind Tampa Bay in the AL East, and appear desperate for reinforcements in their depleted lineup.
Dustin Pedroia(notes), Victor Martinez(notes), Jacoby Ellsbury(notes), Jason Varitek(notes) and Jeremy Hermida(notes) all remain on the disabled list - not to mention starting pitchers Josh Beckett(notes) and Clay Buchholz(notes).
The Red Sox still lead the majors in runs, but have plenty of concerns after totaling 11 in four home games against Texas over the weekend.
Boston would have been swept if not for a two-out comeback in the ninth inning of Saturday’s victory. Red Sox hitters struck out 14 times in Sunday’s 4-2 defeat.
Meanwhile, Oakland (46-46) has piled up 40 runs during its season-best five-game winning streak. Kevin Kouzmanoff(notes) had seven RBIs in a three-game sweep at Kansas City over the weekend, including a home run in Sunday’s 9-6 win.
“We did everything right in this series,” Kouzmanoff said. “We’re all feeling pretty good right now and we’re all taking advantage of our opportunities.”
Sheets, who missed all of 2009 following elbow surgery, has been mostly mediocre in his first season with Oakland, but his name has been mentioned in trade rumors after his strong conclusion to the first half.
“I’m just trying to go out there and pitch the best I can,” Sheets said. “Everything else takes care of itself.”
He’ll be opposed by another right-hander who has been slowed by injuries and inconsistency in recent seasons. Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) beat Sheets at Fenway Park on June 2, holding Oakland to three runs despite 10 hits in 6 2-3 innings of Boston’s 6-4 victory.
Matsuzaka (6-3, 4.56) has been sharp on the road lately, going 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last five starts away from Fenway. He beat Toronto on July 11 with six strong innings in a 3-2 victory.
His last visit to Oakland didn’t go as well. Matsuzaka was removed after allowing five runs in the first inning of Oakland’s 6-5, 12-inning victory over the Red Sox on April 14, 2009, then missed the next month with arm fatigue.
Boston has dropped 12 of its last 16 at Oakland, averaging 2.6 runs in those games. This is the first game of the season in an AL West venue for the Red Sox, who went 5-14 in road games against that division last year.
This is also the first game between the teams since the A’s traded outfielder Eric Patterson(notes) to the Red Sox on June 26. Boston will be reunited with outfielder Coco Crisp(notes), who has been injured for his teams’ meetings with the Red Sox since they traded him to Kansas City following the 2008 season.