Will White Sox Series be a Slump Buster for Athletics?

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May 14, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher John Jaso (5) prepares to tag out Chicago White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham (15) at home plate during the fifth inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The White Cleats vs. White Sox

The white cleats face the White Sox in a 4-game battle that will help decide the A’s playoff fate.

Oakland Athletics: 80-62, 35-35 on the road. 2nd place in AL West.

Chicago White Sox: 63-79. 34-36 at home. 4th place in AL Central.

Season Series: Oakland leads 2-1 (outscoring the White Sox 18-8 thus far). The teams last met on May 12-14, where the Athletics took 2 out of 3 in the series.

Schedule and Pitching Match-Ups 

Monday, September 8, 5:10 PM PST: Gray (RHP) vs Noesi (RHP)

Tuesday, September 9, 5:10 PM PST: Lester (LHP) vs Danks (LHP)

Wednesday, September 10, 5:10 PM PST: Samardzija (RHP) vs Bassitt (RHP)

Thursday, September 11, 11:10 AM EDT: Kazmir (LHP) vs Sale (LHP)

The White Sox are not having a good season (that’s an understatement). They are presently in 4th place in the AL Central, trailing the 3rd place Indians by 11 games. They have only two more wins than the last place Minnesota Twins. Obviously, March was Chicago’s best month, by far, as they went 1-0 with 1.000 win percentage. It went downhill from there. July was the only full month in which they had a winning record (14-12), and they split the month of May (14-14). The White Sox have allowed a whopping 674 runs, while only scoring 588. As bad as they’ve been on the road (29-43), they aren’t much better at home (34-36). What the A’s may be able to use to their advantage is the major run differential between what the White Sox score at home, and the runs they allow (a 48 run difference).

Prior to the start of August, scoring runs was never an area of concern for the Athletics. The team scored 535 runs from March through the end of July, while allowing only 373 during that time (a difference of 162 runs). Since the start of August, the A’s have scored 125 runs, while allowing 134. This is the first period of the season that the A’s have had a negative run differential, which is extremely concerning. The difference may be minimal, but it’s clear how much of an impact this has had on the team. Their road record is split at 35-35, yet the A’s have still outscored their opponents 313 to 265 runs.

Could a 4-game series with the White Sox be the slump buster that the Athletics so desperately need?

The struggling pitchers need to return to their former dominance. The team cannot not allow walks and runs must be kept to a minimum unless the batters have finally overcome their fear of hitting and driving in runs. Lester and Samardzija should continue to produce quality starts, and Kazmir and Gray may have shaken off their slumps. Since Adam Dunn is back on familiar ground in Chicago, he should shine.

Hitting

The White Sox rank 14th overall in runs scored, 11th in batting average (.255), 17th in getting on base (.312), and 7th overall in slugging (.401). Hitting has certainly not felt like the strong suit of the Athletics lately, and, in fact, it hasn’t been. They have been struggling to score runs, despite stellar pitching performances from their starters. Oakland is 4th overall in runs scored, 21st in batting average (.247), 9th in getting on base (.322) and 13th in slugging (.390).

Coco Crisp leads Oakland with his .260 batting average and .348 on-base percentage. Josh Donaldson leads the team with 26 home runs, 89 runs batted in, and 134 hits. With Crisp in and out of the line up with injuries, and Donaldson’s hot and cold bat, the A’s have really struggled offensively. Brandon Moss is practically an entirely different hitter since the middle of July. The acquisition of Adam Dunn could be a game(series) changer. Dunn came to the Athletics from the White Sox and should feel entirely comfortable to be back on that field. His familiarity should be a major advantage to the Athletics.

Chicago is missing the power of Adam Dunn but they certainly have other assets. If you are not very familiar with Chicago’s Rookie Jose Abreu, prepare for a quick and impressive introduction. He leads the White Sox in batting average (.320), home runs (33), runs batted in (99), on base percentage (.381) and hits (156). He is clearly the front-runner for the AL Rookie of the Year honors.

Pitching

The Athletics will send two southpaws and two right handed-pitchers to the mound this series. The White Sox will send also send the same. The series will feature two games of LHP vs LHP and two games of RHP vs RHP. Here’s an overview of how the teams have matched up vs a LHP and RHP.

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*Keep in mind Chicago’s stats include Dunn

The White Sox are 27th overall in ERA (4.38), 15th in quality starts (75), 28th in WHIP (1.41) and 27th for BAA (.265). Chris Sale is their ace. He leads Chicago in wins (11), ERA (2.09) and strikeouts (183). Keep an eye out for Relievers Jake Petricka (11 saves) and Zach Putnam (14 holds).

Oakland aces hit a rough patch but have been outstanding throughout the season. They rank 5th overall in ERA (3.30), 6th in quality starts (88), 2nd in WHIP (1.16) and 2nd in BAA (.233). Scott Kazmir leads the Athletics in wins (14) while Sonny Gray leads in strikeouts (151) and ERA (3.25). Sean Doolittle has recorded 20 saves, and will hopefully be healthy enough to return to the mound. His presence is deeply missed.

Reports have indicated that Doolittle is recovering and will throw a few bullpen sessions in Chicago before potentially returning from the Disabled List.

Monday, September 8, 5:10 PM PST

Sonny Gray, RHP  (3.25 ERA, 13-8) vs Hector Noesi, RHP (4.70 ERA, 8-9)

TV: OAK: CSNCA CWS: CSN

Radio: OAK: 95.7 FM The Game CWS: WSCR 670, 97.5 ESPN Deportes

Sonny Gray had been extremely consistent and dominant, but the 24 year old pitcher is showing signs of fatigue. Gray has already pitched 119 MORE innings than he threw last season. He’s started almost 3 times as many games compared to 2013. But August was particularly harsh to Gray. He started 6 games during that month, a game more than he’d pitched during each month all season. Over his 6 August starts, he compiled a disappointing 1-4 record. His issue wasn’t control of his pitches, as he walked the same amount of batters in August (13) as he did during June, despite pitching an additional game. His issue was allowing runs and earned runs, particularly off the long ball. Gray gave up only 1 home run over 5 starts in July, but 4 were hit off him in August. In July he was averaging only 1.2 runs per game, which increased to 3.5 runs in August. Most alarming was that he averaged over 3.1 earned runs per game in August, which had ballooned from under 1 run (.8) per game in July.

Gray has a 5.31 ERA over 20.1 innings in his last 3 starts, compiling a 1-1 record. He earned a loss from his last start against the Mariners, where he lasted only 5.0 innings, and allowed 7 hits and 6 earned runs. Oakland fans are anxious to see Gray return to his former glory, and Monday night presents a great opportunity for him to do so.

Noesi has been pitching well for Chicago after bouncing between various teams this season. He began the year with the Mariners, then had a short stint with the Rangers before eventually landing with the White Sox. His ERA was 14.21 when he left the Rangers, but has since declined considerably to 4.70 for the season. Interestingly, the White Sox acquired Noesi from the Rangers after he gave up 7 earned runs to the White Sox over only 1 inning. Noesi has had a 3.86 ERA over his last 3 appearances, consisting of 21.0 innings and a record of 1-1. He had a no decision for his last start in Minnesota on September 2nd. He pitched 7.0 innings, giving up 9 hits and 3 earned runs.

Tuesday, September 9, 5:10 PM PST

Jon Lester, LHP (2.59 ERA, 3-3) vs John Danks, LHP (5.12 ERA, 9-10)

TV: OAK: CSNCA CWS: CSN+

Radio: OAK: 95.7 FM The Game CWS: WSCR 670, 97.5 ESPN Deportes

Lester has been absolutely dominant since coming to the Athletics, but run support continues to be a major problem. His record is 0-2 over his last 3 starts, where he pitched 21 innings and compiled a 2.14 ERA.

Lester will be making his 8th start for Oakland, and looks to improve upon his 2.59 ERA. If the Athletics can manage to score 3 or 4 runs, that should almost entirely guarantee them a win considering the way Lester has been pitching this season.

While Lester will more than likely dazzle on the mound, his opponent Danks will attempt to merely survive. Danks has a 5.12 ERA and has started the same amount of games as Lester (28). Like Lester, Danks is also 0-2 in his last 3 starts. He pitched 15.2 innings, and compiled a 6.89 ERA. He lasted only 4.2 innings in his last start in Minnesota against the Twins. He allowed 11 hits and 7 earned runs. The Athletics certainly wouldn’t mind facing him if he has similar pitching troubles. Danks hopes to earn his 10th win, which would be his first since July 25th.

While Dankes has shown he his capable of pitching well, it would be humiliating for the Athletics to walk away from this game with without a blow out. They cannot waste another quality start from Lester by having no run support.

Wednesday, September 10, 5:10 PM PST

Jeff Samardzija, RHP (3.70 ERA, 4-5) vs Chris Bassitt, RHP (7.36 ERA, 0-1)

TV: OAK: CSNCA CWS: WCIU

Radio: OAK: 95.7 FM The Game CWS: WSCR 670, 97.5 ESPN Deportes

Samardzija continues to produce quality starts, but the theme remains: he has received no help from the offense. In his last 3 appearances he has pitched an impressive 23.0 innings and compiled a 2.74 ERA, but only has a 1-2 record to show for it. His last start wasn’t exactly amazing but certainly would have been more than enough if the A’s were hitting like they were early in the season. The Shark pitched 7.0 innings against the Astros, giving up 4 earned runs and 6 hits. Since joining the Athletics in July, he has gone 4-5 with a 3.70 ERA. Home runs have been and will be his kryptonite. He will more than likely produce another memorable start for the Athletics. The question will be whether the A’s will produce enough runs for him.

While Samardzija has established him as a quality pitcher, Bassitt is looking to prove he deserves to pitch in the majors. The rookie made his debut on August 30, 2014 after spending the last few years in the minor league system for the White Sox. He was brought up from Double A Birmingham and is struggling to adjust. Bassitt gave up 7 hits and 5 runs over 6.1 innings during his debut. He didn’t start during his next appearance, but during the single inning he did pitch, he gave up 2 hits and 1 earned run, and now has a 7.36 ERA.

No one expects much from Bassitt, as he is pitching to allow Chris Sale and Jose Quintana additional rest. If the Athletics remember how to produce runs, something fans are clamoring for, this game should be a blood bath.

Thursday, September 11, 11:10am PST

Scott Kazmir, LHP (3.42 ERA, 14-7) vs  Chris Sale LHP (2.09 ERA, 11-3)

TV: OAK: MLBN CWS: CSN, MLBN

Radio: OAK: 95.7 FM The Game CWS: WSCR 670, 97.5 ESPN Deportes

Like Sonny Gray, the usually impressive Kazmir is also showing signs of potential fatigue. Kazmir compiled a 2.05 ERA through mid-June, and concluded July with a 2.37 ERA. Kazmir’s ERA shot up to 3.39 when he lasted only 4.1 total innings in his two starts vs the Halos. It wasn’t just bad, it was a complete disaster. Kazmir is certainly better than giving up 13 earned runs and 12 hits in only 4.1 innings.

Kazmir has already surpassed his innings pitched from last year by 7.2, yet he still has several more starts before the end of the regular season. He has not pitched this many innings since 2007, and he did not pitch at all in the majors in 2012. It is a legitimate concern that he is potentially tapped out.Specifically, in his last 3 starts, his ERA is an unsettling 13.50, and he lasted only 10.2 innings. His last appearance against the Astros, however, did show signs of promise. He threw for 6.1 innings, giving up 3 hits and 3 earned runs, and resulted in a no decision. He carried a no-hitter into the 6th inning before the Astros’ bats woke up. Unfortunately, a similar start will most likely not be enough with Sale on the mound.

While Kazmir has sharply declined recently, Sale has been nearly flawless. Over 19.0 innings and 3 appearances, his ERA is a shockingly low 1.89. Luckily for the Athletics, run support is also an issue for the White Sox. If the Athletics can miraculously manage to score runs, and Kazmir produces a quality outing, they could potentially win. Sale will be seeking to lower his 2.09 season ERA and earn his 12th win after receiving a no decision on September 5th in Cleveland. He pitched 6.0 impressive innings, allowing only 1 earned run.

This match up could potentially be a nail biting game, or an absolute disaster if Kazmir falls apart as he did in August against the Angels. Kazmir appeared to have bounced back against the Astros and may use his start against the White Sox to prove why he should still be relied upon and considered an ace.

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