The Red Sox are back on track. They’re 10-2 in the month of June so far with a +30 Run Differential. Their +45 run differential is second in the American League so far.
Meanwhile, the A’s are proceeding as expected – terribly. Oakland is 1-10 this month with a -37 run differential, now having dropped to 21-42 on the season and in dead last place in the AL West. At least the Tigers and White Sox have been worse from a run differential perspective.
Boston is rightfully favored in this game, but is laying money blindly with the Sox the right call?
Let’s dive into the starting lineups, betting odds, and my prediction for this Saturday’s battle.
Oakland Athletics vs Boston Red sox Odds
The Red Sox should maybe be favored by more than -140. These are two teams heading in exactly different directions with huge discrepancies in true talent.
However, today’s starter is Paul Blackburn, and he’s the best player on the A’s. Literally, he leads the team in bWAR this season (2.6), having posted a 2.31 ERA over 12 starts.
Meanwhile, we’re getting the ever-elusive Rich Hill. Hill refuses to retire, having now reached 42 years of age, but also has the highest variance of any Boston starter. He’s capable of pitching a gem or blowing up at any time.
The total seems somewhat high at 9.5. But the wind is blowing straight out of the ballpark at over 12mph, and the Boston offense can explode at any point.
Let’s investigate further.
Oakland Athletics Starting Lineup
2B T. Kemp L
RF R. Laureano R
DH J. Lowrie S
C S. Murphy R
1B C. Bethancourt R
SS E. Andrus R
LF C. Pinder R
3B M. Davidson R
CF C. Pache R
Oakland Athletics vs Rich Hill
As mentioned, Hill is inconsistent. He has three shutout performances this year that he pairs with three five-run-or-more performances.
All-in-all, it evens out to an ERA, xERA, FIP, and xFIP between 4.27 and 4.38. His fWAR comes in around 0.6. All that sounds about right for a 42-year-old pitch-to-contact curveball guy.
Image credit: Baseball Savant
I think it’s important to realize that Hill is there to eat up innings and give the Red Sox a chance to win. He almost always pitches between four and five innings and, on average, gives up around two runs.
That’s good enough.
Well, the Sox are 6-5 in Hill’s starts this season while being 4-2 in his last six starts.
That’s good enough.
Plus, Hill shouldn’t be scared on Thursday. The A’s are the second-worst offense in baseball per OPS, wOBA, and wRC+. Things are slightly better over the last month, but it’s nothing to get excited about.
Only two (TWO!?!?) of the Oakland regular nine-man rotation have an OPS+ above 100. The starting center fielder, Cristian Pache, is slashing .162/.208/.225 this season with an absurd 28 OPS+.
That’s not good enough.
Boston Red Sox Starting Lineup
CF J. Duran L
3B R. Devers L
DH J. Martinez R
SS X. Bogaerts R
LF A. Verdugo L
2B T. Story R
1B F. Cordero L
C C. Vazquez R
RF J. Bradley L
Boston Red Sox vs Paul Blackburn
After years of struggling in spot start roles, Blackburn is finally clinching a place in Oakland’s future rotation.
The problem is that it might not be sustainable. He barely strikes out six batters per nine innings, and he has stranded an unsustainable 80% of batters while allowing an unsustainable .253 BABIP. Plus, his 6% HR/FB rate should come up to his career average of 11.7%.
He pairs his 2.66 wOBA allowed with a .304 xwOBA, and while Blackburn’s 3.35 xERA is promising, it might not be the ceiling for his future.
Expect a sinker-heavy approach from Blackburn, and expect a lot of ground-balls from his soft-tossing approach (91.8mph fastball velocity, 51.3% GB rate). Also expect a newly-developed cutter, which opposing hitters have slugged .633 off of.
Image credit: Baseball Savant
But there’s one pitch you have to watch out for, and that’s the curveball. He has ridiculous vertical movement on it, as it drops almost seven inches more than the average MLB curveball. That’s partly due to the fact he throws it less than 80mph.
As a result, Blackburn has posted a -8 Run Value on the pitch while allowing a .067 average against.
The good news is that the Red Sox are a top-10 offense against curveballs, ranking eighth in Weighted Curveball Runs Created (5.7).
The other good news is that the Red Sox are arguably the best offense in baseball. At the least, they are the hottest, having posted a league-high 132 wRC+ over the last 30 days.
Rafael Devers is absolutely raking right now, and he has worked his way into third on MLB’s fWAR list. He leads MLB in hits (84), doubles (23), and total bases (154), and his OPS is quickly approaching 1.000.
Not to mention Raffy has actually been effective at the hot corner this season. He’s 12th among MLB third-basemen in Outs Above Average, and he’s converting the past errors into outs. He might not be a Gold Glover just yet, but the improvement is staggering.
The whole defense has improved this year. The Red Sox are a top-10 defense by both Outs Above Average and Defensive Runs Saved, although the big defensive numbers have come from the outfield.
But back to the offense. Both Xander Bogaerts (fifth) and JD Martinez (ninth) are top-10 in MLB in hits alongside Raffy, and JD’s .345 average is third in MLB.
Trevor Story has started to slump a bit again, as he’s on a 4-for-33 stretch. But when the core of Raffy/Xander/JD is all raking, it’s really hard to beat the Red Sox.
Oakland Athletics vs Boston Red Sox Pick & Prediction
My picks: Over 9.5 (+100 at DraftKings Sportsbook)
I can’t help but play the wind in this one. 12mph straight out to center is huge in this game, especially when the Red Sox offense can break out for 10 runs in any given spot.
Hill can also blow up at any point, even against the lowly Athletics.
Plus, while Blackburn has been superb in the early season, he’s due for some regression soon. I think the Red Sox are in the perfect spot to break his lucky streak, especially since Boston can tee off on his best pitch.
I’ll happily take the over 9.5, especially at even money on DraftKings.