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Athletics Series Preview: Battle by the Bay

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So....we gonna fight or what?

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals and Athletics meet up for the first time since their action-packed weekend in Kansas City back in late April. Kansas City took two of three that weekend, and the Athletics went into freefall, dropping 23 of their next 31 after that series. They have righted the ship a bit, but still stand at 34-41, nine games out of first place in the Western Division cellar.

Oakland's lack of success is a bit of a mystery. They are actually fifth in the league in run differential at +46, good enough for a pythagorean expectation of 42-33. They are 6-18 in one-run games and 0-6 in extra inning games, which perhaps explains much of their troubles as just being same bad luck coupled with the worst bullpen ERA in the league at 4.56. The A's are just 22-9 when leading after six innings, for a .710 winning percentage, much lower than the league average of .832 when leading after seven innings, and far below the Royals .943 winning percentage.

Closer Tyler Clippard has performed well with a 2.87 ERA, converted 13 out of 15 save opportunities, albeit with a high walk rate. Right-hander Evan Scribner has probably been the A's best reliever this year with over a strikeout per inning and just three walks in 37 innings. Lefty specialist Eric O'Flaherty has been very tough on lefties, but why on earth would you let a right-hander hit against him when they're hitting .517/.600/.628 against him?

The A's still have the second-best ERA in the league at 3.49, thanks to the best starting rotation in the league at 3.08. Jesse Hahn, acquired from the Padres last winter, isn't a big strikeout pitcher but has gotten decent results thanks to a solid two-seam fastball. Lefty Scott Kazmir has increased his strikeout rate but has also spiked his walks to their highest rate in three seasons. Old friend Jesse Chavez has a 3.25 ERA in 229 innings over the last two seasons and has featured the second-best cutter in baseball this year.

Oakland's problems have not come from offense despite injuries and some disappointing performances. They are fourth in the league in runs scored at 4.55 per game, are fifth in on-base percentage, and seventh in slugging-percentage. They are a better hitting team at home, scoring 4.76 runs per game, but have just a 14-20 record at O.co Coliseum.

The A's have found some cheap hitting gems like Stephen Vogt, who will split time between catcher and designated hitter. Former White Sox catcher Josh Phegley has begun grabbing more playing time, hitting .383 with four home runs over his last 15 games. Speed demon Billy Burns, acquired from Washington last year, has emerged as a terrific leadoff hitter. The bigger names hitters have been the disappointments either through injury like Ben Zobrist or in performance like old friend Billy Butler. Outfielders Craig Gentry and Coco Crisp have been nursing injuries on the disabled list.

Enough time has lapsed that things may have simmered down between the Royals and A's. As Royals public enemy #1 Brett Lawrie said:

"I think we’re just going to play a baseball series and that’s about it, and that’s all it should be,"

The Royals have indicated they too, are ready to move on. But it only takes one incident to reignite flames. Hopefully the Royals can let their play do the talking and walk out of Oakland with a series win against a team down on their luck.