The Oakland Athletics (along with the Orioles and Rays) have played the fewest games against the Cubs of any American League team since interleague play began -- just nine meetings (the Cubs winning five), and this weekend will be just the second time the Cubs have visited Oakland.
The last time that happened, 2013, the teams' positions were reversed. The Cubs were in Year 2 of the rebuild and on their way to 96 losses. The A's won 96 games and the A.L. West title, and won two of three in that July 2013 series.
Now it's the A's who are rebuilding and the Cubs likely on their way to (hopefully) a long postseason run. Given all that, I asked Alex Hall, editor-in-chief of our SB Nation A's site Athletics Nation, to tell us a bit about his team.
The Oakland A's are in the second year of their rebuild, after hitting the reset button post-2014. The hope was that getting started a year earlier than expected would hasten the process, or at least make the in-between years more bearable, but that hasn't been the case so far.
Last year the A's lost over 90 games for the first time in the Billy Beane era, going back to 1998, and they're on pace to lose 90 again this year. Throughout, they've been surrounded by that cloud of "everything that can go wrong will," whether that be a bad hop on the field leading to a tough defeat, or a player being lost to injury at the worst possible time.
In 2015 the biggest culprit was the bullpen, but this year Oakland fixed that weakness only to watch the rotation fall apart instead. Half of 'em got injured, and the other half just haven't been good, with even Sonny Gray mysteriously turning in a stinker of a year. A lot of them still have plenty of time to turn things around and become part of the next contending A's team, but this season has been a lot of three-inning outings and interminable mop-up relief. It doesn't help that they're pitching in front of the worst defense in baseball by a sizable margin.
The Cubs are scheduled to face Dillon Overton, Gray, and then Sean Manaea. Overton is a soft-tossing lefty who has helped usher in the return of the home run in baseball this year, though we hope he'll settle in as a solid No. 5 guy. Sonny is just an absolute mess and we don't know why. Manaea is a power lefty who entered the year as a Top 100 prospect, and he's starting to put things together in the second half. In the lineup, Khris Davis and Marcus Semien have combined for only one fewer homer than Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, while recent graduate Ryon Healy is the first of a promising group of hitting prospects to make the jump.
Fortunately, the A's have done a good job restocking their farm during these down years, with a handful of Top 100 prospects and a lot of pitching depth. They've probably collected enough talent to fill up a good 2018 roster, with an outside chance of getting lucky and arriving early next season. Until then, this has been the kind of campaign in which you have to appreciate the little things and celebrate the small victories, like a memorable if meaningless walk-off win or the emergence of a sleeper prospect like standout reliever Ryan Dull ... or perhaps beating up on Jon Lester, who doesn't elicit a lot of good feelings in Oakland!
These two teams have made 10 trades since 2006. Two of them involved the same player (Chris Coghlan). One was a big win for the A's (getting Josh Donaldson in the Rich Harden deal). Another looks to be a big win for the Cubs (the Addison Russell trade). Here's the entire trading history between the two teams going back to 1941.
Friday: Jon Lester, LHP (11-4, 2.95 ERA, 1.106 WHIP, 3.89 FIP) vs. Dillon Overton, LHP (1-2, 9.33 ERA, 2.182 WHIP, 9.30 FIP)
Saturday: Jake Arrieta, RHP (12-5, 2.75 ERA, 1.065 WHIP, 3.00 FIP) vs. Sonny Gray, RHP (5-10, 5.84 ERA, 1.523 WHIP, 4.79 FIP)
Sunday: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (10-7, 2.22 ERA, 1.058 WHIP, 3.33 FIP) vs. Sean Manaea, LHP (3-6, 4.68 ERA, 1.310 WHIP, 4.21 FIP)
Times & TV channels
Friday: 9:05 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago Plus
Saturday: 3:05 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago
Sunday: 3:05 p.m. CT, WGN
All three pitching matchups look favorable to the Cubs (Overton in particular has been awful), but I remember what happened the last time I predicted a sweep. (It wasn't good.) The A's are not having a good year, and the Cubs are. Two of three.
The Cubs return home Tuesday to take on the Los Angeles Angels in a two-game series at Wrigley Field.