Despite losing the last game 5-0 against the Bucs thanks to Tommy Milone forgetting how to pitch with two strikes, the A's have won five consecutive series including victories over the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals.
With only one opponent left before the All-Star break, Oakland draws another tough test in the Boston Red Sox. John Farrell's group comes into the O.co Coliseum hotter than the sun, winners of three straight and 12 of 16. Boston is an offensive juggernaut, topping the majors in runs, on-base and slugging percentage, and ranking second in batting average.
Undeniably, the A's will need to limit Big Papi and co. if they want to end the week on a high note before lounging for a few days in the California sun.
Lackey is no stranger to facing Oakland, a former member of the Los Angeles Angels (or is it Anaheim, or perhaps the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim?). This will be Lackey's 34th appearance against the A's, more than any team save the Texas Rangers. The large right-hander is rolling right now, allowing two runs or less in each of his last five starts while walking no more than one batter. However, Lackey is a much more hittable pitcher away from Fenway, sporting a 3.96 ERA compared to a 1.32 home mark.
Parker has also been terrific in recent times. The second-year starter has lowered his ERA in each of his past 13 starts, from 8.10 down to it's current 4.04. At the Coliseum, Parker is straining his neck less, surrendering four homers against 12 on the road. The youngster is also nails with runners in scoring position, with teams batting .203 in those situations.
Jon Lester (8-5, 4.60) vs. A.J. Griffin (7-6, 3.94)
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Lackey and Parker we find Mr. Lester. After enjoying a pair of sub-4.00 ERA months to begin the year, Lester has completely fallen apart. In his last six starts, the southpaw has given up at least four earned runs or more five times including five on three occasions and seven once. The gopher ball has been a main factor, with seven being struck off Lester in that span.
Griffin is one of the more unique pitchers in baseball. On one hand, Griffin too often allows home runs with 18 against him, ranking him tied for ninth worst in the majors. On the other, he holds opponents to a .236 average and has a 1.14 WHIP, which come in respectively knotted for 29th and 25th of all starting pitchers. The lesson here? If Griffin stays in the ballpark, he's likely smiling at game's end.
Undecided vs. Bartolo Colon (12-3, 2.69)
Following a demotion to top-prospect Allen Webster, the Red Sox have opened up a slot in the rotation which will either be filled by Brandon Workman or Drake Britton in the series finale. Webster was rocked versus the Seattle Mariners, forcing Farrell and the front office to send him back to Triple-A Pawtucket. Both Workman and Britton have very little time in the big leagues, having a combined three appearances.
Of course, experience isn't a problem for the 40-year old Colon. The Dominican continued his incredible year after being named an All-Star for the third time in his career, shutting down the Pirates to one run in seven innings. Colon is also being stretched out a bit more recently, and not because of a buffet. In his first 15 starts, Colon threw 100 or more pitches twice but has surpassed that plateau in all of his previous three outings.
Hitters to watch
David Ortiz is mashing in July, hitting .438 with an absurd 1.347 OPS. After missing the first two games in Seattle due to a wrist ailment, Jacoby Ellsbury bounced back in the final pair of contests to smack five hits in eight at-bats. Ellsbury has been hot since June, a month which he posted a .414 average and stole 11 bases.
John Jaso wears out Lackey, having five hits with a homer in 12 AB's. Jed Lowrie has proven to be a tough out at home with a .281 clip. Brandon Moss also commands respect with a team-leading 16 home runs this year, including two in July.
At 54-38, Oakland is poised to head into the All-Star break with its best record in decades at this point in the campaign. Holding a one-game lead over the Rangers, these are crucial games against a quality team with Texas on the road playing a tough Detroit squad.
After the short vacation, Oakland is immediately thrust into the divisional fire with seven of its next 10 against the Angels. If the A's can continue playing good baseball, they will be set up nicely to embark on a second half run which they hope will culminate in a division title.
Matt Verderame is a lifelong Oakland A's follower and has been published in the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin and also at SB Nation among other papers and websites. His twitter handle is @MattVerderame.
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