Series Preview; Oakland A's vs. New York Yankees

Two proud franchises limp into this weekend's series at Yankee Stadium looking to turn around disappointing starts to their respective seasons. The A's are struggling to find themselves after an off-season make-over that saw them shuffle 3/5 of the starting rotation, half of the bullpen and a chunk of the starting line-up. The Yankees are struggling under the weight of expectations born from an off-season that saw them acquire three top starting pitchers, including the legendary Randy Johnson.

Who: Oakland A's (13-15, L-3) vs. New York Yankees (11-18, L-3)
When: May 6-8, 2005
Where; Yankee Stadium

Series Preview: The best thing about this series for both teams is that they know one of them is going to have to win it. The A's and the Yankees enter the series on three-game losing streaks. Oakland had actually been playing well before they ran into a three-game buzz saw against the Texas Rangers. The A's began their 11 game home-stand by winning four of six, but their winning home-stand turned south quickly against the Rangers. Oakland's young pitching staff has been better than expected for the most part, but their offense has been far below expectations, to say the least. The A's offense has managed only a meager 665 OPS and they are in danger of breaking all sorts of records for ineptitude in situations involving runners on third with less than two outs. It's gotten so bad for the A's that their fans are longing for the days of Geronimo Berroa, Matt Stairs and Mark McGwire. Sure those teams couldn't pitch, but at least they could string together a few runs.

It has been the opposite problem for the Yankees. Their offense has been inconsistent but still ranks among the top scoring offenses in the American League. Their pitching, however, has been extremely disappointing. Free agent signee Jaret Wright posted a 9.15 ERA in four starts before landing on the disabled list with a shoulder problem. The Yankees' other off-season pitching acquisitions – Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano – have been, on occasion, decidedly average. The Yankees pitching staff as a whole has allowed a BAA of .308 and Mariano Riviera is the only regular Yankee reliever with an ERA under 4.00. To make matters worse for the Yankees, they were forced to rush two of their pitching prospects into the starting rotation this past week because of injuries to the starting rotation.

The Yankees are entering the series hoping that Thursday's loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays was the low-point in their season. The A's are aiming to snap out of their funk and extend the Yankees' misery at least three more games. Friday's game is the first in a string of 12 straight games for the A's against the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

Game One: Barry Zito (1-4, 5.84 ERA) vs. Carl Pavano (2-2, 4.24 ERA)

Barry Zito takes the hill against the Yankees looking to build on his last outing that saw him capture his first win of the season. Zito has pitched better then his record shows this season, but he still hasn't displayed the form that made him the Cy Young Award winner in 2002. Zito has had success against the Yankees in the post-season, but hasn't fared as well during the regular season during his career. He has a lifetime record of 2-6 with a 4.15 ERA against the Yankees. He has allowed 12 homers in those 11 games.

Zito has struggled against the middle of the Yankees order. Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi all have lifetime OPS over 1.000 against Zito. Hideki Matsui has six hits in 16 at-bats. Look for John Flaherty to get the start at catcher. Flaherty has three career homeruns against Zito, while the Yankees regular catcher, Jorge Posada, is hitting .160 against the A's southpaw.

Carl Pavano has never faced the Oakland A's. The National League lifer has seen a few of the A's while they were in the senior circuit. Only Jason Kendall has seen Pavano for more than a handful of at-bats. The A's catcher is a .348 lifetime hitter against Pavano, with eight hits in 23 at-bats. Pavano has pitched better on the road then he has at Yankee Stadium so far this season. Lefties have hit 70 points higher than righties against Pavano this season, so look for the A's to play their lefty-heavy line-up.

Game Two: Joe Blanton (0-2, 2.67 ERA) vs. Mike Mussina (2-2, 4.50 ERA)

Joe Blanton has been the definition of a hard-luck pitcher this season. Twice he has taken shut-outs into the seventh inning, only to come out on the losing end of the game. Blanton is coming off of the worst start of his major league career, having allowed four runs in 4.2 innings pitched in a game the A's would eventually win, 6-5. The A's rookie righty has done a remarkable job keeping runners off of the bases this season, posting a 1.15 WHIP. He has also kept his pitch count remarkably low by getting hitters to make outs early in counts. Blanton has a low K:9 so far this season, something that could come back to haunt him against the big lumber in the Yankees' line-up. The Yankees will be seeing Blanton for the first time.

Mike Mussina, on the other hand, is plenty familiar with the Oakland A's. Over the course of his career, Mussina has faced the A's 29 times, amassing a 14-9 record with a 4.13 ERA. Mussina has had an up and down 2005 campaign. His last outing was one of his best. He allowed only two runs in seven innings of work against the Devil Rays to earn his second win of the season. Eric Chavez is the only current A's player who has had any measure of success against Mussina. The A's third baseman has homered twice off of the Yankees' righty and has a life-time OPS of 912.

Game Three: Rich Harden (2-1, 1.82 ERA) vs. Kevin Brown (0-4, 8.25 ERA)

A's right-hander Rich Harden has been one of the best pitchers in the American League this season, but he has had little to show for it thanks to the A's stagnant offense. Harden threw his first career complete game in his last outing, but wound up on the losing end of a 3-2 game after the A's defense allowed two unearned runs to score. Harden has struck out 32 hitters in 34.2 innings pitched and has walked only 10 batters.

Harden has made two career starts against the Yankees and is 1-0 with a 5.14 ERA. The current Yankees line-up has had little experience against Harden. Tino Martinez and Hideki Matsui have each homered against the A's righty. Harden has allowed only one homerun this season, a solo homer to David Delucci in his last start.

Kevin Brown enters his Sunday start possibly pitching for his Yankees future. Brown got knocked around in his last start against the Devil Rays. He has struggled all season in the first inning. Brown would have likely been bumped from the Yankees' rotation weeks ago if Jaret Wright hadn't gone on the DL.

That being said, the A's could be the cure to what ails Brown. He has historically pitched extremely well against the green and gold. In 21 career starts, Brown is 12-5 with five complete games and an ERA of 2.86. Jason Kendall is the only A's player who has hit Brown well. The ex-Pirate has collected 13 hits in 31 at-bats against Brown, mostly while both were still in the National League.

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