Oakland A's: Five Things to Look for in Upcoming Series vs. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox recently returned from an eight-game road trip that included a three-game appearance out in Oakland last week. The A’s swept that series, shutting out the White Sox in two of those games.
Chicago will be looking for some redemption against the Athletics. They hope to turn around their season with this four-game set at home, where the they currently own a 13-11 record.
The Sox sit in fourth place in the Central Division, six games back of Detroit; while the A’s march into town having won 16 of their past 19 games, and are just one and a half games behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the West.
Forgive the White Sox if they appear a little sleepy-eyed in Thursday’s opener, however, as they are returning home from Seattle where they played a 16-inning marathon on Wednesday.Chicago used eight pitchers in a 7-5 victory, ending it's eight-game losing streak.
Will the team be jet-lagged and fatigued?
Look for the Athletics to try to take advantage of Chicago’s weariness and run their series unbeaten streak to eight (the A’s are 6-0-1 in their past seven series.)
Here are five things to look for in Oakland’s four-game series against the White Sox.
Taxed ChiSox Bullpen
As previously mentioned, the arms of Chicago's pitching staff—particularly the team’s relievers—may be a bit tired.
During the three-game series against the Seattle Mariners, the Chicago bullpen pitched 18.1 innings, while throwing a combined 280 pitches. Brian Omogrosso appeared in all three games, Nate Jones, Hector Santiago, Matt Lindstrom and Matt Thornton pitched in two of them and Jesse Crain and Addison Reed in one game each.
To say that the White Sox relief corps is taxed might be an understatement.
Chicago obviously will need some quality starts from their starting pitchers to alleviate some of the bullpen’s workload; this is especially important during a four-game series.
Fortunately for the White Sox, their relievers have only thrown a combined 173.2 innings on the season—10th-most in the American League.
If the Athletics can knock Chicago’s starters out early, they should wear the White Sox bullpen down even more. The White Sox bullpen sports a 7-11 record, tied for second-most losses in the league. And given that Chicago’s nine extra-inning ballgames this season are the most in the league, it’s in Oakland’s favor to extend the game as long as possible.
The A’s game plan in this series must be to get to Chicago’s bullpen early and often.
If they succeed, the White Sox will be too tired to put up a formidable fight.
Chicago’s Lefties vs. Oakland’s Right-Handed Hitters
The starting pitchers for Chicago, who will shoulder the brunt of the responsibility for going deep into ball games, will, amazingly, all be southpaws.
If the rotation plays out as it's currently set, the White Sox will pitch Jose Quintana, Chris Sale, John Danks and Hector Santiago.
Santiago replaces Jake Peavy in the team’s starting rotation. Incredibly, Santiago made two relief appearances during the last series against the Mariners. But with Peavy shelved for a few weeks with a rib injury, Santiago gets the nod.
Chicago’s lefty foursome poses an interesting matchup for the A’s, who notoriously feature platoons at nearly half of their positions.
This means that right-handed hitters Nate Freiman, Derek Norris, Adam Rosales and Chris Young will see plenty of at-bats during the series. It will be a good opportunity for the players to get some consistent playing time, and hopefully a chance for Young, in particular, to produce. Sadly, Young’s performance against lefties this season has resulted in a .143 batting average, with one home run and 13 strikeouts in 49 at-bats.
The Athletics are batting .264 against left-handed pitchers as a team this season.
The righty hitters Freiman (.340 batting average vs. lefties), Rosales (.294) and Norris (.266) will assumedly (hopefully) do wonders during this series against Chicago.
The A’s took down both Sale and Santiago during the two teams’ previous series in Oakland—but not because of tremendous offensive production.
Oakland’s record against left-handed starters is 12-8 this season. In order to escape with a series win or split, Oakland’s right-handed bats will have to produce at a high level.
The spotlight will be on Freiman, Norris, Rosales and Young.
Chicago's Poor Offense
What helped Oakland sweep three games at home against the White Sox last week, was the poor offense of Chicago.
It couldn’t get much worse for the White Sox than scoring three total runs and being shut out twice.
At least the White Sox scored in one of those games.
One look at the team’s offense and it’s easy to understand why they failed to produce against a formidable A’s pitching staff.
Chicago is lurking near the bottom in almost every offensive statistical category: 29th in runs scored, 28th in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and 26th in batting average. Additionally, the White Sox have the third-fewest extra-base hits and bases on balls.
Their lineup isn’t built to manufacture runs, either, as they have only managed four sacrifice bunts all season.
This does not bode well for a team facing a red-hot Oakland pitching staff.
The Athletics’ starters have pushed past a rough stretch and found their stride. Oakland’s pitchers rank fifth in the league in team ERA (3.75), second in quality starts (36) and second in opponents OPS (.692). They’ve given up the third-fewest walks in the AL, and opponents are batting only .246 against them.
Everyone knows that good pitching beats good hitting. If that mantra holds true, then good pitching should dominate terrible hitting.
This could be a long—and empty—series for Chicago hitters.
Which Dan Straily?
Two Oakland pitchers will be primarily responsible for keeping Chicago’s bats dormant during this series: Dan Straily and Sean Doolittle.
He has had four consecutive starts in which he has failed to reach the sixth inning, allowing 20 earned runs in just 19.1 innings in the process. He has since followed that up, however, with three straight quality starts, surrendering only two earned runs in his last 19 innings.
Which begs the question: Which Dan Straily will show up next?
The A’s hope it will be the Straily who allowed only one run in six innings against the White Sox just five days ago in Oakland. That Straily struck out eight hitters and did not issue a walk. He was efficient and worked quickly and ahead in the count. Sixty-seven of his 91 pitches were for strikes, and he threw a first-pitch strike to two-thirds of the batters he faced.
Amazingly, the A’s youngster has performed better on the road this season; he carries a 4.13 road ERA (as opposed to a 5.14 home ERA). Opponents are batting a skinny .195 against him on the road.
Given the combination of his streak of three-straight quality starts, the fact that he's facing a team he dominated a week ago, a sleepy Chicago White Sox offense and his penchant for away-game success, it’s very likely that Straily will perform well in his start on Thursday.
Can Sean Doolittle Rebound?
The other Oakland A’s pitcher who will be spotlighted this series is reliever Sean Doolittle.
It’s not often that a middle reliever gets a lot of attention, but given Doolittle’s recent track record, there is a good reason to keep a close eye on his performance over the next few games.
Doolittle was off to a torrid start this season, mowing down the opposition with swiftness and ease. On May 27th, after a scoreless two-inning relief appearance, his ERA was a narrow 0.78, and there was talk he could represent the Athletics in this year’s All-Star Game as a reliever.
But then he hit a bump—pothole—in the road.
His last three appearances have resulted in eight earned runs in only 2.1 innings. His ERA has escalated to 3.20, causing some serious concern about his performance.
Will he be able to bounce back against the White Sox?
A’s manager Bob Melvin says he’ll stay with Doolittle but try to put him in less pressure-filled situations. Hopefully that means plenty of late-game, big-lead appearances for the lefty. He needs to regain his dominating ways if the A’s hope to continue their recent success.
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