What we're watching: Dice-K returns vs. Halos

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– Now up five games over the Rangers in the loss column, the Red Sox have some margin for error in the wild-card chase. However, making tonight’s game particularly important is that Daisuke Matsuzaka will be rejoining the rotation and facing likely ALDS opponent Los Angeles. Matsuzaka last pitched in the majors on June 19, when he lost to the Braves to fall to 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA. Dice-K is expected to make four starts as he auditions for a spot in the postseason rotation, which is currently slated to include Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox would also surely like to stay in John Lackey’s head. The Angels ace is 3-6 with a 5.54 ERA against Boston in the regular season and 0-2 with a 3.66 ERA in three postseason starts.
– Adam Wainwright can take another step forward in his Cy Young bid by beating the Marlins. If he can notch his 19th win, he’d go three ahead of teammate Chris Carpenter for the NL lead. He’s gone 6-0 in his last seven starts. Trying to put up a fight for the Marlins will be big left-hander Sean West. The Marlins have won the 23-year-old’s last four starts, though all came against second-division teams. He’s 6-5 with a 4.81 ERA in 17 starts this season. His only win over a postseason contender came on June 8, when he shut out the Giants for eight innings.
Game of the Night
Colorado vs. San Francisco – Tim Lincecum’s impressive outing Monday allowed the Giants to pick up their second game on the Rockies in two days, but tonight’s matchup would seem to favor Colorado, assuming that Ubaldo Jimenez’s hamstring is sound. Jimenez, who was pushed back three days because of the injury, is turning in perhaps the strongest season ever for a Rockies starter. He’s 6-1 in his last eight starts and 13-10 with a 3.32 ERA for the season. Against the Giants this year, he’s gone 2-2 with a 2.48 ERA. Starting for San Francisco will be Barry Zito, who allowed two runs — one earned — over 14 1/3 innings in back-to-back starts against Colorado on Aug 24 and 29. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been as sharp since. In two starts this month, he’s allowed five runs and walked seven in nine innings.

Matt Boyd earns No. 5 spot in Tigers’ starting rotation

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Matt Boyd has earned the No. 5 spot in the Tigers’ starting rotation, which means veteran Anibal Sanchez will pitch out of the bullpen, MLB.com’s Jason Beck reported on Wednesday.

Boyd, 26, pitched well this spring, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 21/0 K/BB ratio in 21 2/3 innings. The lefty’s numbers in the majors last year weren’t nearly as good.

Sanchez, 33, is coming off of the worst season of his career and overall didn’t have a great spring, putting up a 5.03 ERA with a 20/4 K/BB ratio in 19 2/3 innings. He came on strong at the end, however, tossing 14 consecutive scoreless innings. Manager Brad Ausmus didn’t rule out the possibility of Sanchez returning to the rotation at some point.

2017 Preview: Oakland Athletics

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The A’s aren’t gonna be that great this year, you guys. Sorry about that, but it’s true. In this it will be much like last year.

But it will look a bit different than last year at least. The A’s signed Santiago CasillaMatt JoyceTrevor Plouffe and Rajai Davis to a combined $33.25 million in contracts. I don’t see how that makes them appreciably better, but they will be different.

Khris Davis is the biggest offensive weapon. He hit 42 homers last year. Marcus Semien hit 27. And despite those heroics, the A’s offense was dead last in the AL in 2016. Rajai Davis gives them a stolen base threat and Joyce had nice resurgence in a little under 300 plate appearances, but I’m not seeing how this crew is all that better than they were. I mean, I’m sure Trevor Plouffe is a nice young man, but he’s not an offensive difference maker. The biggest chance for improvement comes from a full season of Ryon Healy, who hit quite well in 72 games last year. He was also moved off of third base for Plouffe and into the DH role at the age of 25, so temper your expectations.

Turning to the rotation, Sonny Gray at the top of things looked great heading into last season, but then he regressed badly, posting an unsightly 5.69 ERA in 2016. The A’s don’t need him to be be third in the Cy Young voting again, but they certainly need him to be their ace, and last year he wasn’t that. He’ll get a late start to the season due to a back injury — he may miss the entire first month — so things are already starting off badly.

After Gray comes Sean Manaea, who debuted last year and improved as the season went along. Kendall Graveman was serviceable last year, but he doesn’t miss many bats and it’s hard to pitch well in this league when you’re striking out as few batters as Graveman does. Jharel Cotton is an intriguing fourth starter. He came over in the Rich Hill deal and continued his excellent work in the minors before a late season callup. He is homer-prone but doesn’t walk a ton of guys. Definitely a guy to watch for the future. Andrew Triggs is a swingman who was pressed into the rotation late in the year. The A’s liked what they saw, but he has been a reliever all through the minors. Organizations tend to do that to guys who they don’t think will be decent starters, so I’m not sure what a few starts at the end of a season really mean.

If Gray bounces back to 2015 form, Graveman continues to be lucky on batted balls and the other guys deliver on their small-sample-size promise, hey, things aren’t too bad! But when was the last time that kind of five-for-five gamble paid off? Odds are on a nice surprise here, some stasis there and some regression and/or growing pains mixed in to form a pretty meh rotation. And given that the A’s defense was terrible last year and doesn’t look all that better this year, look for a lot of unearned runs. And earned runs that should’ve been unearned.

The bullpen features some notable names — Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, John Axford and Santiago Casilla have all been closers in the past — with Ryan DullLiam Hendriks and Raul Alcantara providing more depth. Dull is anything but his name. His excellent K/BB ratio last year — 73/15 in 74.1 innings — is downright interesting. These guys will inherit a lot of deficits instead of leads, however, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the A’s trade off a one or two of the ~Proven Closers~ at the deadline as well.

The A’s won 69 games last year. There are three contenders in the division who are significantly better and an Angels team that employs some considerably more talented players despite its obvious flaws. The A’s have just as many flaws and top out with Khris Davis, a rebound candidate starting the year on the DL as their best starter and some interesting young arms. All of that adds up to a long, long summer from where I’m sitting.

Prediction: Fifth place, American League West.