Series Preview: A's (66-48) @ Sox (60-54)

The Sox aren't the only ones just out of first in their respective division. The Oakland Athletics come to Chicago this weekend for a 3-game series against the Sox, who have dropped 4 of 6 from the A's this season. Oakland comes in trailing Seattle by 3 games in the AL West, while the Sox are just 1 back of Kansas City in the Central.

Although the A's have had pretty good success against them this year, this is a completely different Sox team this time around. The South Side Hit Men offense is back in full force now that the second half of the season is well underway, and look to quickly dispose of the Oakland pitching staff, which is about as good as they come.

It will be a challenge for the red-hot Sox hitters, but one they will no doubt be up to this weekend. Probable Pitchers:

Friday: Mark Mulder (15-7) vs. Mark Buerhle (9-11)

Things were going perfect for Buerhle in his last start against Seattle until the fifth inning came. In it, Buerhle walked two of the first three batters before a Willie Bloomquist single loaded the bases. From their, it was all one big nightmare for the Sox lefty who allowed a 2-run single to Ichiro to open the floodgates. Prior to Sunday's loss, Buerhle had won a career-best 7 straight.

Mark Mulder leads the Oakland pitching staff with 15 wins and 118 strikes. His 2.92 earned run average is second only to Tim Hudson at 2.64. Mulder is a perfect 4-0 lifetime against the Sox with a 2.09 ERA in five starts.

Saturday: Ted Lilly (6-9) vs. Jon Garland (8-7)

If there's one game in this series that the Sox absolutely have to win, it would be this one. Lilly has struggled this season in the A's rotation with a 4.88 ERA. He has struggled mightily against the Sox in his career, sporting a 6.06 earned run average over the course of his three starts against them.

Despite a winning mark, Jon Garland still continues to struggle at times with the Sox this year. With a lifetime ERA of over 8.00 against the A's, look for this to be a high-scoring affair Saturday.

Sunday: Rich Harden (3-0) vs. Esteban Loaiza (14-5)

Sunday looks to be the premiere pitching matchup in this series as rookie Rich Harden faces AL-All Star Esteban Loaiza. Loaiza has actually faired pretty well against the A's lifetime. He is 5-4 with a 3.81 ERA. With his 8-3 mark at home this year, he would tend to have an advantage over the rookie Harden.

Harden is a terrific young product of the A's organization who is 3-0 in his four starts with Oakland this year. Harden has a terrific earned run average of 1.33 to go with 22 strikeouts and 9 walks in 27 innings of work this season.

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