Who: Oakland Athletics vs. Chicago White Sox
When: August 31-September 2
Where:US Cellular Field (aka New Comiskey Park), Chicago, IL
The Oakland A's blow into the Windy City on the heels of a perfect 7-0 home stand. The A's have won 12 of 13 games and have extended their AL West Division lead to two games over the second place Anaheim Angels. The A's have struggled much of the year on the road, but have been playing well of late away from Oakland. They have had winning records on their last two road trips, posting a 7-4 mark and a 5-1 record. Oakland will have to continue to play well on the road this week, as both the Anaheim Angels and the third-place Texas Rangers have been red hot.
The Chicago White Sox were the mid-season favorites to win the AL Central, but injuries have ruined what started out as a great season for the Southsiders. Sluggers Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez have missed significant stretches of the season and are both out for the season. The White Sox made a lot of moves mid-season, acquiring Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras, Carl Everett and Roberto Alomar and shedding the ineffective and overrated Esteban Loaiza, but it hasn't prevented them from slipping into third-place in their division (8 games back of the first place Minnesota Twins). The A's have taken five of six games from the White Sox this season.
Despite their record, the White Sox are still a formidable team. Garcia has pitched pretty well for the Sox since arriving in a trade for minor league prospects and catcher Miguel Olivo, although Garcia was roughed up in his last two starts and was held out of a start last week to rest a tender right forearm. (UPDATE: The White Sox have now scratched Garcia for his Wednesday start, as well). Contreras has also pitched well for Chicago, showing signs of the pitcher he was hyped to be when the New York Yankees signed him before last season. The other pitcher the A's will see is Jason Grilli, a former Giants and Marlins' prospect who is pitching in the major leagues for the first time since the 2001 campaign.
Tuesday's game was scheduled to match Rich Harden with the aforementioned Grilli. With Garcia's late scratch, Grilli will be pushed back to Wednesday to pitch on regular rest. The White Sox will instead start rookie Felix Diaz. Diaz has spent much of the season in AAA Charlotte, where he has had an excellent season, going 10-2 with a 2.97 ERA and a WHIP barely over 1. Diaz has struggled in his major league appearances this season, however, giving up 27 runs in 27 innings. His record is 1-3 and he has made five starts and two relief appearances. The 23 year-old righthander made his major league debut for the White Sox against Baltimore in May, where he was shelled for 5 runs in 4.1 innings.
A's starter Rich Harden will be on the hill, sporting an 8-5 record with a 3.80 ERA for the season. Harden has been on a tear since the All-Star Break, and hasn't received a loss since June 25 against Anaheim. The A's are 7-2 in Harden's nine starts since the All-Star Break. In his last outing, Harden threw 8 shutout innings but received a no-decision in a game that the A's eventually won in the bottom of the 9th inning on a walk-off homerun by Marco Scutaro. Harden has faced the White Sox once this season, going 8 innings for the win. He gave up four hits and two runs (both coming on Ordonez's two-run homerun). It was his first start after the All-Star Break and it appeared to springboard him into his current run of success.
Injury Notes: Jermaine Dye and Mark Kotsay are both questionable for Tuesday with thumb and knee injuries, respectively. Look for Billy McMillon and Bobby Kielty to get at least one start in the series each.
Wednesday night's game would have reminded fans of past late-season pennant race battles between the Seattle Mariners and the A's, as Freddy Garcia was to match up with Barry Zito. However, with Garcia being pushed back indefinitely with the sore forearm, Jason Grilli will oppose Barry Zito. Grilli is 0-1 on the season, having made his season debut last week against the Cleveland Indians. Grilli went five innings, allowing six runs (five earned) in five innings. He was pounded by the left-handed hitters in the Indians' line-up and Ronnie Belliard nicked him for a three-run homerun. Grilli is a former number one pick of the San Francisco Giants and was traded to the Marlins in the Livan Hernandez deal. He was a Rule 5 pick by the White Sox and the White Sox were able to keep Grilli through a trade despite sending him down to the minor leagues. The A's have never seen Grilli.
Zito has been an enigma all season and he pulled out another puzzler last Thursday. He had made three solid starts in a row before allowing four runs in 5.1 innings against Baltimore. All four of the runs came in a horrific 48-pitch third inning and he seemed to settle down after that. In the post-game interview, Zito cited a lack of breakfast due to an alarm clock malfunction as the reason for that poor third inning. Wednesday's game is in the evening, so hopefully Zito will have had a solid breakfast and lunch before facing the White Sox. In all seriousness, Zito has had a strong August, posting a 3-2 record with a 3.48 ERA. He has had one start against Chicago this season and it was a good one: 7 innings and one run allowed with three strikeouts and only one walk.
Thursday's game will feature two of the most confusing pitchers in the league: Jose Contreras and Mark Redman. Contreras is the talented Cuban righthander who seems to be unhittable in one start and very hittable in the next outing. Contreras relies on a devastating split-finger fastball for his out pitch. He has made two starts against the A's – both as a member of the New York Yankees – and was great in one and torched in the other. In his start in Yankee Stadium, Contreras went 6 innings and gave up 1 run in beating the A's. In his next start, however, Jose failed to make it out of the third inning, as he allowed 7 runs (6 earned). Eric Chavez and Scott Hatteberg touched him up for a homeruns in that game. Bobby Crosby homered off of Contreras for the only A's run in Jose's first start against Oakland. Contreras seems to be in a pattern of alternating his good starts and bad starts, which could bode well for the A's, as he threw 6.2 innings (one run) in his last start.
Mark Redman will toe the rubber for the A's in what has become a comfortable position for him – pitching on the road. Redman, for reasons no one can comprehend, has pitched like Mike Oquist in the friendly confides of the spacious Oakland Coliseum and Greg Maddux everywhere else. Redman is sporting a handsome 3.01 ERA on the road and an abysmal 7.04 ERA at home. He only lasted two innings in his last start (on Friday), allowing six runs. His last start on the road was much more successful, as he went seven innings, allowing only two runs. Redman has been touched up for 25 homeruns this season. He has made two starts against the White Sox this season and despite both games having been in Oakland, Redmas pitched pretty well against the Pale Hose. In his first start against Chicago, he went 6 innings and allowed only a single run. He was in-line for a win until Chad Bradford and Jim Mecir combined to give up three runs in the final two frames. The A's won that game in extra innings (on Bobby Kielty's walk-off homerun), but lost Eric Chavez to a broken hand when White Sox reliever Damaso Marte hit him with a pitch in the 10th inning. In Redman's second start against Chicago, his line was misleading. He went 7 innings, giving up 5 runs. However, two of those runs were scored after Bobby Crosby failed to convert what should have been an inning-ending double play in the seventh. Aaron Rowand followed the failed double-play with a two-run homer. Redman caused some clubhouse controversy by showing his displeasure with Crosby while on the mound after that misplay.
Despite the White Sox's sub-.500 record, the A's will be in for a big test in this series. The White Sox still have a loaded line-up with Rowand, Carlos Lee, Paul Konerko, et. al, so the A's will have to continue to get strong starting pitching and timely hitting to pull out the series win. With Texas at Minnesota and Anaheim at Boston, the A's may have a chance to gain a game or two on their division rivals with a winning series. The A's will head to Toronto for three after Thursday's game.
Series Preview: Oakland A's vs. Chicago White Sox
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