Series Preview: Red Sox vs. A's

The Boston Red Sox come to Oakland for the first time since last October. The A's and Red Sox are hoping to create more space between them and their playoff competitors in what promises to be an exciting series.

Who: Boston Red Sox vs. Oakland A's
When: September 6-8, 2004
Where: Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, CA

Overview: The A's return home to Oakland after a week-long roadtrip which saw them take four of six games and gain one game in the standings over second-place Anaheim. Oakland is coming off of a terrible loss to Toronto, which saw them play perhaps their worst defensive game of the season. Nevertheless, the A's have won 15 of 18 games and are playing as well as they have all season.

The A's will put their stellar home record (at 45-19, it's the best in the majors) on the line against two teams they have had little luck against so far this season: Boston and Cleveland. In two six-game roadtrips against the Red Sox and Indians, the A's twice went 1-5. The two series against Boston, in particular, have been tough, as the A's have endured three blow-out losses.

The Red Sox come in on a hot streak that has seen them win 11 of 12 games. They have cut the Yankees' AL East lead from 10.5 games to 2.5 games in little more than three weeks time. They recently finished a homestand which saw them take 5 of 6 games against the A's AL West rivals Anaheim and Texas.

Boston, like the A's, plays significantly better at home then on the road, so the A's may have an advantage playing the Red Sox in the Coliseum. The A's will send lefties Barry Zito and Mark Redman and righty Tim Hudson to the hill against the Red Sox, while Boston will counter with Bronson Arroyo, Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez. This is Boston's first trip to Oakland since Game 5 of last season's 2003 ALDS.

Game One:

The first game of the series will match the enigmatic Barry Zito with Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo, the Red Sox's fifth starter, has been up and down all season. The young righthander has turned in six quality starts out of his last ten outings and has posted a respectable 7-9 record with a 4.24 ERA. He was roughed up in his last start against Anaheim, when he gave up five runs (four earned) in 2.2 innings. Arroyo has had greater success pitching on the road and against righthanded hitters. Lefties hit him at a .291 clip, so look for the A's to stack their lefties against Arroyo. Arroyo does a good job of not walking batters. The A's treated Arroyo quite roughly in their only match-up so far this season, scoring 9 runs (6 earned) in 3 innings pitched, in the A's 15-2 victory. Eric Chavez homered off of Arroyo in that game and the A's also knocked five doubles off the righthander.

Arroyo's opponent, Barry Zito, is in the midst of what is easily the most frustrating season of his career. Zito's last start is emblematic of his struggles this season. Pitching with some of his best stuff all season, Zito entered the 7th inning with a 4-1 lead. He allowed a lead-off infield hit to Carl Everett and then walked Juan Uribe before retiring the next two batters on pop-ups. However, he was unable to finish off righthander Joe Crede, allowing a two-out RBI single. Zito was then lifted for the bullpen and could only watch as Chad Bradford and Jim Mecir allowed seeing-eye singles, which tied up the game. The result? A line for Zito (6.2/ 4 R) which wasn't at all indicative of how well he had actually pitched. Zito has pitched well in August, posting a 3-2 record with a 3.48 ERA. Zito was hammered in his one start against the Red Sox this season, giving up 7 runs (6 earned) in only four innings pitched.

Game Two:

The second game of the series will feature Mark Redman and Derek Lowe. Lowe, the former 20-game winner and the man who raised the ire of A's players with his antics on the mound after the final out in Game 5 of the ALDS, has been one of the most disappointing starters in baseball this season. His ERA has been over 5 for most of the season and he hasn't been able to put together a long stretch of good games. He has, however, managed to win a number of games lately, winning 6 of his last 8 decisions despite posting only two quality starts over his last ten outings. Lowe relies heavily on his sinkerball, so the improved infield defense of the Red Sox should help him down the stretch. Lowe was hit hard by the A's in his one appearance against them this season, giving up 5 runs in 6 innings pitched. However, he got the win, as the Red Sox took advantage of a big error on rookie Bobby Crosby to score 9 runs (5 earned) off of Mark Redman.

Redman has been Dr. Jekyl/ Mr. Hyde this season. On the road, Redman has been a Cy Young candidate, posting a stellar 2.98 ERA. At home, Redman has looked more like a candidate for a demotion, as he has compiled a horrific 7.04 ERA. Surprisingly, it has been the longball which has bit Redman in Oakland. Despite pitching in the normally homer-unfriendly Coliseum, Redman has given up only one fewer homerun in 40 less innings then he has on the road. He has also walked almost as many as he has struck out at home and is allowing opposing hitters to hit him at a .347 clip in Oakland. In his last home start, Redman allowed 6 runs in 2 innings pitched, causing some to ask Manager Ken Macha whether Justin Duchscherer would be considered as a replacement for Redman in his home starts. Redman, like most of the A's pitchers this season, has been hit around by the Red Sox in his two previous outings. In 8 innings pitched, he has allowed 11 earned runs and has been hit with two losses. Johnny Damon has owned Redman historically, gathering 10 hits in 17 at-bats in his career.

Game Three:

The third game of the series will feature the premier match-up of the three-game set. Diminutive starters Tim Hudson and Pedro Martinez will square off in a rematch of their stellar late-season match up of a year ago, when Hudson out-dueled Martinez by throwing a complete game, two-hit shutout. Martinez has struggled at times this season, which has caused his ERA to rise to an uncharacteristically high 3.55. However, for the most part, Pedro has been Pedro. He currently sits in the top-10 among AL pitchers in seven separate categories (W, SO, WHIP, BAA, IP, ERA, and Wpct). In addition, he has thrown seven quality starts in his last ten outings. Martinez has struggled a bit on the road this season, going 6-4 with a 4.13 ERA. Pedro won his only outing against the A's this season, allowing 3 runs (2 earned) in 7 innings.

Hudson would likely be pitching to improve his standing in the Cy Young race if he hadn't missed so much time with a strained side this season. Hudson ranks first in the AL in ERA and is in the top ten in three other categories (Wpct, WHIP, and CG). He has been stellar since returning from the DL, winning four of five decisions, including a complete game shutout over the Baltimore Orioles. Hudson has been nearly unhittable at home this season, going 6-0 with two complete games and a 1.63 ERA. He has held hitters to a .237 clip in Oakland and has only allowed one homerun. Hudson had has worst start of the season against Boston in late May, giving up 5 runs in only 4 innings pitched.

Outlook:

With Anaheim playing Toronto, the A's will have to maintain a winning pace despite the raised level of competition. With all that has happened against the Red Sox in the playoffs last year and earlier this season, it would be a big confidence booster for the A's if they could pull out two wins over Boston in the series. The Red Sox have no lefthanded starters, so the A's shouldn't miss Jermaine Dye's (sprained left thumb/ out indefinitely) presence in this series. Nick Swisher has impressed in his first two big league games, so look for him to get at least two starts, as he is much better defensively then Billy McMillon and Zito and Redman are flyball pitchers. The A's will see a different Red Sox team then they did earlier this season, as Nomar Garciaparra is gone and Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz have taken his place. The Red Sox Nation will be out in force, as usual, so look for a rowdy and healthy crowd for the entire three-game series.

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