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Series Preview: Oakland Athletics @ Tampa Bay Rays

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This is our first two-game series of the week. Both games are scheduled for 7:05 PM starts. 

Tuesday, 4/27: RHP Ben Sheets vs. RHP Wade Davis

Wednesday, 4/28: LHP Dallas Braden vs. RHP James Shields

This Oakland team doesn't scare me on paper, but it's hard to argue with their results so far this season. Projected to be a .500 club (by CHONE, at least), the A's are currently playing much better than that, sporting one of the best run differentials in the majors (+27). How they're managing to do this...well, I really don't know. Their offense has scored only four less runs than the Yankees, yet their team wOBA (Weighted On-base Average) is an anemic .313. They've hit a total of 12 home runs all season and the middle of their line-up consists of Ryan Sweeney (.337 wOBA), Kurt Suzuki (.331 wOBA), and Eric Chavez (.313 wOBA). Not exactly an awe-inspiring combination there.

With a lackluster offense, their team strength has been run prevention. Their pitchers have posted a team 3.60 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), 5th best in the majors, and they've managed to outperform that FIP by .67 runs. Their defense has rated around average so far this season (-1.9 UZR; +6 DRS), and my guess is this improves as the season progresses. In particular, their outfield is going to be tough to beat - Gabe Gross, Ryan Sweeney, and Rajai Davis make for a formidable defensive trio.

More after the jump.

Questions for the Series:

  • Will Dallas Braden lose his mind yet again? It'd be fun to see him throw another tantrum, but at the same time I don't want the Rays to get involved with that mess.
  • How will James Shields pitch in the 1st inning? He started off his last start very slow but managed to buckle down and throw seven innings. I'd love to see him have better control from the beginning, though.
  • Will Lobaton actually get in a game? I'd like to see him get an at-bat for his cup of coffee in the majors, but I don't know if that's likely to happen. 
  • This isn't a question, but it'll be nice to see Gabe Gross again.

Series Projection:

Using Steve Sommer's new series simulator tool, the Rays project as having a 61.9% chance of winning the first game and a 64.7% chance of winning the second. Overall, that gives them an 86% chance of winning at least one game in the series, a 40% chance of sweeping, and a 14% chance of getting swept.