Photo: Samara Pearlstein

The Boston Red Sox (10-11) return to Fenway Park tonight after an almost perfect 6-1 road trip to take on the Oakland Athletics (11-12) in the first of a three-game set. The Athletics have played better than expected so far in 2012 but, as always, the question is for how long.

STARTING PITCHERSTommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and Brandon McCarthy

Tommy Milone (facing Clay Buchholz on Monday) was known for insane K/BB rates in the minor leagues: 155 Ks against 23 walks (6.74) in 2010 at AA, 155 Ks against 16 walks (9.69!) at AAA. As expected, those numbers have been tempered in the majors, with his K/BB rate at 3.75 in 2011 in 5 starts for the Nationals and 2.17 in 4 starts this season for the Athletics. Milone’s 4-seam fastball sits around 87-88 MPH, but he can also throw a 2-seamer just as fast, an 85 MPH cutter that he’s throwing more this year, a 75 MPH curveball, and an excellent 80 MPH changeup (he seemed to stop throwing his slider once he developed a cutter). Milone is known for his excellent control, which accounts for the high strikeout rates in the minors. A soft-tosser with excellent control? I thought we already did the Twins! Milone has to watch out for his fly ball rate in the majors – it was 49.4% last season and 31.6% so far this season, thus his xFIP shows that he should be giving up more homers than he has.

Jarrod Parker (against Felix Doubront on Tuesday) was traded from the Diamondbacks as the centerpiece of the Trevor Cahill deal. Parker’s stuff is his calling card, but his command is his Achilles heel. His fastball (both 2- and 4-seamers) sit in the 92-93 range, but he can dial it up to 97 when needed. His 81 MPH changeup is excellent, which he can use as an out pitch against lefties or righties. Parker is starting to throw his excellent slider with more frequency again after shying away from it after his return from Tommy John surgery. Although he has the stuff to succeed, Parker’s question is his control. At AA in 2011 Parker had 112 Ks against 55 walks (2.04) and 112 hits in 130.2 innings, but also had 11 HBPs and 7 wild pitches. If you mash up Parker and Milone you’d have one hell of a pitcher and one scrub.

Brandon McCarthy (versus Daniel Bard on Wednesday evening) reinvented himself with the Athletics after returning from his third shoulder fracture. Before 2011, McCarthy would typically throw around 62% 4-seam fastballs, with the rest spread between sliders, curveballs and changeups. However, after his third shoulder fracture, McCarthy changed his approach. In 2011 he threw only 39.3% 4-seam fastballs, 37.5% 2-seam fastballs, 3.7% cutters and 18.2% sliders. In 2012 he’s changed yet again, throwing 0.8% 4-seam fastballs, no 2-seamers, 47.6% cutters, 30.8 % sinkers and 18.0% changeups. As expected, this has reduced his flyball rate from around the 45% range to around 32%, and increased his groundball rate from the 34% range to the 45% range. In addition to that, McCarthy led the American League with a 2.86 FIP (versus a 3.32 ERA). This could be an excellent year for McCarthy if he stays healthy.

EXPECTED LINEUP

1. Jemile Weeks, 2B
2. Coco Crisp, LF
3. Josh Reddick, RF
4. Yoenis Cespedes, CF
5. Kila Ka’aihue, 1B
6. Jonny Gomes, DH
7. Kurt Suzuki, C
8. Brandon Inge, 3B
9. Cliff Pennington, SS

Seth Smith has been getting quite a few starts in left field, while Daric Barton has played a lot at first.

WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT

You’ve got to start this list with Yoenis Cespedes. The Cuban expatriate has put up a very respectable .253/.341/.494 triple slash line with 5 homers, 19 RBI and 4 stolen bases, with a .362 wOBA and a 133 wRC+. Other (relatively) decent starts for the Athletics has been old friend Josh Reddick (.267/.283/.444) and Jonny Gomes (.216/.356/.541). Those off to bad starts are Jemile Weeks (.187/.253/.319), Kurt Suzuki (.221/.228/.299) and Coco Crisp (.190/.266/.207).

In the bullpen, the story for the Athletics are two former Diamondbacks – Ryan Cook and Jordan Norberto. In 10 innings, Cook has surrendered no runs (the Blutarski ERA), and only one hit and five walks against eight strikeouts. Keeping the ball on the ground will do that – Cook has a 57.1% GB rate. Norberto has a 2.70 ERA and a 51.9% GB rate.

INJURIES

3B Scott Sizemore (torn left ACL) and RHP Joey Devine (Tommy John surgery) are out for the season. LHP Brett Anderson (Tommy John surgery) and LHP Dallas Braden (left shoulder surgery) are on the 60-day DL. Braden is expected to return in July, while Anderson may return in late July or early August.

AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?

Yeah, a 6-1 road trip will reduce foot traffic on the Tobin Bridge. The bullpen doesn’t suck and stink and suck as much anymore, Kevin Youkilis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are heating up, and the starting pitching is looking better. The Red Sox have won the games that they had to win. Let’s take advantage of the weaker teams while we can, hopefully gaining confidence to beat the stronger teams when we face them.

SUMMARY

Billy Beane keeps developing players then trading them for prospects to develop, only to trade those players yet again for more prospects to develop. When are the Athletics going to, you know, go for it? If the Athletics are merely treading water until they get a new stadium in San Jose, they may discover that if they build it, their fans won’t come.

Categories: Arizona Diamondbacks Boston Red Sox Brandon Inge Brandon McCarthy Brett Anderson Clay Buchholz Cliff Pennington Coco Crisp Dallas Braden Daniel Bard Daric Barton Felix Doubront Jarrod Parker Jarrod Saltalamacchia Jemile Weeks Joey Devine Johnny Gomes Jordan Norberto Josh Reddick Kevin Youkilis Kila Ka'aihue Kurt Suzuki Minnesota Twins Oakland Athletics Ryan Cook Scott Sizemore Seth Smith Tommy Milone Trevor Cahill Washington Nationals Yoenis Cespedes

Scott Candage is a long-time Red Sox fan. He recently came in third in the 127th annual Upperclass Twit of the Year competition. His best friend is a tree and he is a stockbroker in his spare time.

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