Baseball

START TIMES

Game 1: Tuesday 9/29 2:08 PM on ESPN

Game 2: Wednesday 9/30 2:10 PM on ESPN

PITCHING PREVIEW

 

Now we move onto the other side of the ball, the offense of the Oakland A’s. Just looking at the surface stats of the A’s offense, you’d be inclined to think that this is a team that’s built to be opportunistic with opponent’s mistakes and then sit back and let their plus pitching shut the rest down. Well dear reader, you’d be exactly right.

The A’s don’t score runs in bunches, sitting exactly in the middle of the pack in runs scored with 274 of them. Comparatively, the top two teams (one of which happens to be the Sox) mashed in upwards of 30 more runs than Oakland did.

The A’s walk more, strike out less, and steal more bases than the Sox. They’re exactly the kind of team we used to despise in Minnesota in the early and middle 2000s, with one major difference this time: they don’t have their one big monster hitter now. Three weeks ago their all star 3rd baseman Matt Chapman came up lame after ranging to his left on a hot ground ball and attempting to make a spinning throw to first. An MRI after the game revealed a strained hip flexor, which required season ending surgery.

Not only was Chapman 2nd on the team with 10 HR at the time, but he also led the A’s in extra base hits. On top of that, he was by far and away the best defensive 3rd baseman in the AL, with Fangraphs having him at 34 DRS last season, with a 14.8 UZR rating.

This is a huge blow to the A’s on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and a disadvantage the Sox should hopefully be able to take advantage of in a shortened series. After Chapman, the primary drivers of the A’s offense are as follows:

Mark Canha – LF/CF

2020 Stats: .246/.387/.795  5 hr, 33 RBI, 32 R, 33 BB, 127 wRC+

On the surface, Canha doesn’t seem to be anything super special here (which you’ll start to see is a pattern). He doesn’t hit for a ton of power, doesn’t knock in a ton of RBIs. What he does do is get on base at a prodigious clip, as his .387 OBP is 15th in the entire league, just behind Mike Trout. He sees a ton of pitches, and forces opposing batteries to show all of their weapons in one plate appearance. He’s like a human video session of a pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses.

The A’s currently have him hitting cleanup, which seems out of place as you’d normally like to have someone of his skill set hitting 1st or 2nd, but Bob Melvin has made it work consistently throughout this bizarre season. The Sox staff will have to be aware of what he can do, and try and make short work of him when he comes to the plate.

Marcus Semien – SS

2020 Stats: .223/.305/.679 7 hr, 23 RBI, 27 R, 25 BB, 91 wRC+

OLD FRIEND ALERT. Here we have yet another former White Sox prospect in the sweet swinging Marcus Semien. Traded from the Sox in 2014 along with Chris Bassett for Jeff “Not Here Anymore” Samardzija, Semien quickly found a home at short here in the bay area. Last season was his coming out party, as he slashed .285/.396/.892 with 33 HR and 92 RBI. He also scored 121 runs atop the A’s lineup and swiped 10 bags.

While this season hasn’t come close to what he put up in 2019, he’s still a very large threat atop the A’s lineup. Usually leading off, Semien has power to all gaps, and can lay down a bunt and beat it out if the corners are playing too far back. While he only stole 4 bases this season, the speed and ability is still something pitchers need to take account of. Bob Melvin also loves to hit and run when Semien is on base, easily creating a 1st and 3rd situation before the opposing starter has even settled in.

Ramon Laureano – CF/RF

2020 Stats: .213/.338/.704 6 hr, 25 RBI, 23 R, 24 BB, 108 wRC+

Possibly the most intriguing young player on the diamond for the A’s is Ramon Laureano. Bursting onto the scene last year slashing .288/.340/.860 with 24 HR and 67 RBIs, Laureano’s mix of speed and power made the AL west sit up and take notice. Unfortunately for him, his season has kind of gone off the rails since his suspension back in early August after he attempted to fight the entire Astros team to get to slimy shitball hitting coach Alex Cintron. He then had the quote of the year by saying this about Cintron: “I regret charging him, because he is a loser.”

 

Despite his down numbers this year, Laureano is dangerous in any count and can put the ball on the ground and beat it out with his plus speed. In addition, if you hang a piece of cheese in the zone, he has the power to make you pay for it.

Sean Murphy – C

2020 Stats: .233/.364/.821 7 hr, 14 RBI, 21 R, 24 BB, 131 wRC+

Sean Murphy has yet to experience a full major league season. Brought up as a September callup in 2019, he impressed the A’s front office by hitting 5 HR the rest of the way to go along with his 5 doubles. Brought along slowly in the A’s stocked minor league system, Murphy was always targeted as their catcher of the future. Thus far, the returns have been exactly what the A’s were hoping for.

Murphy thus far has shown an innate ability to hit for power, along with the patience that is the hallmark of the Oakland offensive system. The fact that he can hit for the power that he does while maintaining a .364 OBP speaks volumes to the kid’s eye. If he’s able to stay healthy behind the plate (he’s already missed time due to knee issues, which for a catcher is never a good thing), he should be the backbone of the A’s lineup along with Chapman for years to come.

Verdict:

As you can see above, the one tying link between all of those hitters is a sky-high OBP. This A’s team is maddeningly patient at the plate, and is completely willing to take a walk at the expense of pulling the trigger at a marginal pitch.

For the Sox rotation and bullpen to have success against the A’s offense, they need to stay within their game and throw strikes. Keep ahead of the A’s hitters in counts, and force them to make contact. There’s not a ton of pop there, but there IS an extremely high hitter’s IQ. Pound for pound, the A’s don’t match up to the sheer power the Sox can present, but they can drive a starter out of the game quickly if they start to nibble. Go right after them, and success can be had.

We’ve waited a long time for the Sox to reach the postseason, and there’s no reason they can’t make a lengthy run this year. The march starts now…

 

LET’S GO SOX

 

 

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: A’s 65-50   White Sox 51-62

GAMETIMES: Friday 2:10, Saturday 6:10, Sunday 1:10

TV: WGN Friday and Sunday, NBCSN Saturday

THE RIGHT GREEN AND GOLD: Athletics Nation

PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

A’s Spotlight

The A’s continue their rare week-long stay in Chicago as after an off-day they will decamp to the Southside for the weekend, after a perfectly even series at Wrigley that basically coin-flipped to the Cubs. Each had a blowout, and Monday’s tilt came down to a gust of wind/loud fart from the bleachers to keep Marcus Semien‘s game-winning homer in the park. The Sox meanwhile go from beating up on the remedial class in Detroit to playing a team with real stakes again, a transition that could cause whiplash in some.

Not much could have changed for the A’s in four days, obviously. They still have issues in the rotation, though Tanner Roark and his strike-heavy ways will try and change that again on Saturday. The Sox will see Mike Fiers, whom I will never believe is good but keeps putting up good numbers, including leading the league in batting average against when trailing in the count somehow. Is he the worst pitcher to have two no-hitters to his name? The A’s have two of the names in the discussion, with Homer Bailey still nursing the contusions and lacerations the Cubs put on him on Wednesday.

The pen took a couple bumps too, as Blake Treinen continued his season-long wander through the forest on Wednesday as well. Lou Trivino hasn’t seen last year’s heights either, and it’s mostly on what Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, and especially Liam Hendriks can do. The A’s sit only a half-game behind the Rays for the second wildcard spot, and it feels like if they’re going to make up that game hinges on whether they can find another arm or two out of the pen to be a blackout, or if they can get some more help from the rotation than just five innings of not setting any fires (no pun intended nor welcomed). Again, they’re still hoping that A.J. Puk and/or Jesus Luzardo, two kids that will be in their rotation next year, can recover from injuries and provide help from somewhere in the season’s dying embers. When you’re Oakland, this is the kind of thing you do.

The lineup remains fine, though barely. Matt Chapman is in something of a swoon, with a wRC+ of 0 the past couple weeks. Semien is picking up the slack of late, and Mark Canha has chipped in, but this is not a bash-and-crash outfit. They score just enough, they catch just enough, and the pen generally holds the lid down even if it’s popping up and pulsating. They get through by the skin of their teeth.

For the Sox, it’s basically about maintaining a couple rolls. Reynaldo Lopez has an ERA under 3.00 since the break, and everyone is hoping this is his coming out party. He shut out the A’s over six innings last time he saw them, and while walks have been an issue his past two starts he’s been able to dodge the alarms. Still, the Sox would like to see him complete the sixth instead of just get there as he has the past couple outings. Giolito has found his dominating best in the last two starts as well after getting brained by the Twins. The Mets and Tigers aren’t exactly dynamic offenses, but at the moment neither are the A’s.

Tim Anderson and James McCann had great series in Detroit, and McCann especially needed it. An odd Friday matinee kicks it off, and starts a stretch where the Sox will see a lot of playoff contenders. The Astros are in after this, and they’ll see the Twins twice and Braves once before August is out. Fine test if nothing else.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: A’s 64-48   Cubs 60-51

GAMETIMES: Monday and Tuesday 7:05, Wednesday 1:20

TV: WGN Monday, NBCSN Tuesday and Wednesday

WELCOME TO OAKLAND, BITCH: AthleticsNation

PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Spotlight: Billy Beane

In some ways, this is a Paula Abdul special, though we can’t find her cartoon cat (yeah, I know, dated. But that video was manna for any adolescent boy so go fuck yourself. We certainly did!) One team has a lockdown bullpen and doesn’t strike out much. The other has a forest fire of a pen that’s now hurt and strikes out a ton.

There are similarities too, as both teams are plus defensively (usually) and hit a ton of homers, and with the air hot the next couple days there shouldn’t be any shortage of that.

The A’s come in having just done the Cubs a favor by taking four of five from the Brewers and Cardinals last week, sending the Cubs into first place even though they were inserting various digits into their own anus for part of the week. They’re also a half-game back of Tamps for the second wildcard spot, and two-and-a-half games behind the Indians for the top one. They won’t catch the Astros (no one will, probably) and that’s generally where you find the A’s. Unable to run with the big boy finances but able to cobble together a team of misfits and whatsits to earn a best of the rest tag before those misfits and whatsits have to get paid and fuck off to other pastures.

This version of the A’s comes in with a pretty incredible infield defense, highlighted by Matt Chapman at third. He’s the best defensive 3rd baseman in the league, though his bat hasn’t quite followed this year as it did last thanks to some fiendish BABIP Kung Fu Treachery and a lack of line-drives. Marcus Semien has become quite the shortstop (it’s ok Southsiders, you have Tim Anderson and his cardboard hands now), and Matt Olson is no slouch at first. Jurickson Profar has not been the discovery they were hoping for at second though. The outfield isn’t quite up to par, especially with Laureano hurt as he is now. Piscotty has returned, but really, what does that mean? Oh that’s right, three homers for the former Cardinal because that’s the way of things.

Offensively the A’s hit a ton of homers and walk a lot, both top-10 in MLB. That’s kind of been their thing for what, 20 years? It’s more of a solid outfit than a spectacular one, but Semien, Chapman, Olson, and Canha make for a spiky top of the lineup.

The pitching is where it gets abstract. There isn’t a starter here you’d piss on if they were on fire, especially now that Frankie Montas is in PED Detention. Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson, Homer Bailey, Chris Bissitt, and Tanner Roark are basically asked to not burn the house down for five innings, and they’ll turn it over to their pen from there. This may change one day if Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk ever stay healthy, and both of them might buttress the staff in some fashion in September.

But it’s the pen that’s the real strength, and has remained so even though last year’s main star, Blake Treinen, struggled earlier in the year. Liam Hendriks and his vegamite have come to the rescue as closer, and along with Joakim Soria, Yusmeiro Petit, Lou Trivino, recent pick-up Jake Diekman, and a host of others the A’s can get nine to 12 outs from their pen on a nightly basis. And they usually have to. It’s not a strikeout/doomsday platoon out there aside from Hendriks, but they don’t walk guys and they let the defense do their thing. It’s clearly effective.

For the Cubs, more bad news on top of the piece that Willson Contreras is out a month. Craig Kimbrel felts some vermin in his knee on the weekend and he’s on the IL. So if you’re going to ask who is going to close games for the Cubs…please don’t. They’ll probably have to figure it out as best they can, and none of it is going to be pleasant. We’re all in this together.

The Cubs have been aces of the universe at home, going 10-2 since the break. But the A’s are hardly pushovers and have their own stakes, and then the Cubs head out on the road for 10, and there won’t be much of a margin for a mass fuck-up like last time. Should be a fun one on the Northside.