Boston Red Sox vs. Oakland Athletics

With just a few games remaining before the 2013 MLB All-Star break, the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics both sit in first place in their respective divisions. Earlier in the season, Boston won two of three at Oakland, their only previous series meeting so far this season.

With a 57-37 record, the Red Sox have the best record in the American League and in all of baseball. At 20 games over .500, the team is also four games ahead of the surging Tampa Bay Rays for the lead in the AL East. Boston is also coming off of winning two of their last three series including taking three of four from the Seattle Mariners and sweeping the San Diego Padres. Before the series started on Friday night against Oakland (July 12), the Red Sox were 7-3 in their last 10.

The Athletics meanwhile have been in a neck-and-neck, tight, race for the lead in the AL West. At 54-38, they are now just 1.5 games ahead of their nearest competition, the Texas Rangers. And like Boston, Oakland has played a strong start to the month of July, winning all three of their previous series. Again, like the Red Sox, the Athletics came into this final series before the All-Star break, winners of seven of their last 10.

Both teams are pretty hot and playing good baseball and both also want to keep control of what has been their sinking leads atop the division. Meeting head-to-head for just the second series this year, this time at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, it is clear both teams will be looking for a win. And both teams will also be looking to get away on Sunday, (July 14, 4:05pm ET) on a good note entering the break.

The Pitching Match-Up: (BOS) Brandon Workman vs. (OAK) Bartolo Colon

Starting pitching has not exactly been Boston’s strong suit this season. In fact beyond Clay Bucholz, who pitched his way into the All-Star Game with a blemish free 9-0 record and 1.71 ERA, their rotation has struggled to find any sort of consistency.

It is because of this that the Red Sox have already used seven different starting pitchers and are about to use their eighth on Sunday. As after stumbling to a 9.57 ERA in six starts and 26.1 innings pitched, Allen Webster will be giving up his starting spot in favor for rookie reliever Brandon Workman.

Workman, 24, made his major league debut in 2013, pitching just two innings in relief and giving up four hits and three earned runs. Before that however, Workman was a successful starting pitcher in the minors. His record was 24-17 in 67 starts, with a 3.50 ERA.

Most impressively however was probably Workman’s incredible ability to punch out hitters. In 370.2 minor league innings, Workman struck out 353 while walking just 88 for a total of over four K’s per walk, which is a fantastic ratio.

Workman will be pitching against a veteran in this league and one who has really had a resurgent year in 2013 in Bartolo Colon.

Colon at 40 years old is in his 15th year in the majors and is currently leading a decent Oakland starting pitching staff. His numbers, 12-3 with a 2.69, rank him third in the AL. His stats are also the best they have been since he went 21-8 in his Cy Young winning 2005 season.

Since that season, Colon who regularly pitched 200+ innings a season and started 30+ games, has yet to do either, maxing out at just over 164 and hitting the 20 start mark just twice. In short, before this season, Colon had been looking at the twilight of his career.

But with Colon’s success, he has garnered an All-Star nod and has helped the Athletics to stand atop their division. Against the Red Sox, his one-time team, Colon should have success. After all, he is already 1-0 against Boston on the season, having given up just three hits and striking out seven in what turned out to be a rain-ended seven inning complete game, when the teams met in April.

It is hard to accurately judge what Workman’s start might look like, but considering the way he seems to strike out hitters, the Athletics could have some problems. The team as a whole has struck out 692 times this season, which is sixth highest in the AL.

However even if Workman can bait the impatient Athletics hitters, Colon still has to have the advantage. He has the hot hand, winning his last start against a tough Pittsburgh Pirates offense and has been fantastic throughout the season. Facing him will be a challenge and one I don’t expect the Red Sox to win.

Offensive/Bull Pen Match-Up

The Athletics are very much a middle of the road team when it comes to their offensive production. They are just eighth in MLB in runs, 11th in OBP, 15th in SLG and 20th in AVG. Their best assets have been the pitching staff and bullpen.

Boston meanwhile has been one of the best offenses in this league this season, literally dominating at every turn. The Red Sox are second best in MLB in AVG, hitting nearly .280 as a team and are 1st in runs, OBP and SLG. The Red Sox are also first in doubles, triples, RBI and non-coincidentally, walks.

Colon is good but this offense has only gotten better since he first faced them. And the worst thing is, they can beat you at every turn and in a variety of different ways. There is nothing the Red Sox haven’t done well this season, except starting pitching.

I trust Boston’s offense to get the job done but Oakland has better starting pitching and a much better bullpen. In fact with a 4.19 ERA, Boston’s pen is actually 12th best in the AL whereas Oakland and their 3.14 ERA, which is over a run less given up per game, is fourth best.

Final Pick

Boston may have one of the best offenses in the league but Colon has the hot hand right now. He effectively neutralized one of the league’s best in the Pirates and will be looking to do the same against Boston. Plus, the Athletics have good backup for their starter if he does only go six or seven innings.

The Red Sox meanwhile will be throwing a rookie making his first start on the mound. And despite the inconsistencies of this Oakland offense, they should be able to at least get a few runs off of Workman and that will be all Colon really needs.

So back Oakland to get the win over Boston.