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Yankees vs. Athletics preview: Two struggling offenses meet in important series

The Yankees and A's begin a four-game series that could look more like a war of attrition. If the Yankees want to keep their heads above water, it's a series that they simply need to win.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first month and a half of the 2016 MLB season, the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics currently sit in the cellar of the American League in most offensive categories. Per FanGraphs, their collective fWAR for offense has them 14th and 15th, respectively, in the league with marks of 1.3 and 1.1. To put that into perspective, there are 33 individual hitters with a higher fWAR than 1.3 and 44 with a mark that is greater than 1.1. If you combine the two, you would still be 1.0 lower than Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw's total fWAR for the season, a lofty mark of 3.4.

No matter how you slice it, these two teams have struggled to produce offensively. Whether it's runs, batting average, OBP, SLG, wOBA or wRC+ both teams fall short of even league average marks in the aforementioned statistical categories. The upcoming four-game series between the two clubs is an important one for both teams looking to turn their seasons around.

Entering this series, New York is stuck in last place in the AL East while the A's meanwhile have made some traction as of late. They are winners of their last three coming into Wednesday, and pulled off a stunning win against division rival Texas on Tuesday night. Outfielder Khris Davis capped off a whale of a night at the plate by blasting a walk-off grand slam, which was his first career walk-off homer and also put a cap on his first three-homer game. Danny Valencia has recently broken out of a slump as well, despite having a three-homer game back on May 15 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

As a result the A's are in third place in their division, which is a spot that the Yankees would surely take at this point of the season as they continue to struggle uncharacteristically.

For the Yankees, though, solving those issues starts and ends with better performances on the road. Compared to their opponent, New York has not quite figured out how to consistently score away from Yankee Stadium. The Athletics' hitters have an OPS of .735 on the road, which is good for sixth in the AL. Yankee batters, meanwhile, have a league-worst .587 OPS. It should come as no surprise, then, that they are a woeful 4-12 on the road this season while the A's stand at .500 with an 11-11 record away from the Coliseum.

The Yankees' trip to Arizona has not gone as they would have liked it to with just five runs scored in the first two games of the series. The Diamondbacks have piled on, scoring 17 runs, including a 12-run outburst on Monday that was demoralizing for the Yankees to give up to a struggling offense.

The A's have scored at least six runs in three of their last five games, including eight against Texas on Tuesday night in Oakland. Their offense is coming together over the last week, including games away from Oakland, as they rattled off six- and seven-run outings against the Tampa Bay Rays at the Trop.

So the Yankees will have to follow in the footsteps of their soon-to-be opponents if they want to make headway on getting out of the AL East cellar. The problem, though, is that they are going to a ballpark that does not play well to hitters' strengths. The Oakland Coliseum has the lowest run rate in the AL to this point of the season according to ESPN Park Factors. Their home run rate is third-lowest in the AL and 26th in the majors. This trip to the Bay Area may not be what the doctor ordered for New York's sputtering offense, but the bats should be due to come alive on the road at some point to avoid digging the team into a deeper hole. The A's offense seems to be clicking more recently, so the Yankees may have to do some mimicking if they want to keep hanging around and avoid falling even further off the pace before the month of May ends.

A hitter for average like Starlin Castro may have to be called upon to try and use all of the ballpark to his advantage. Didi Gregorius' bat is slowly but surely coming out of hibernation, as he has fared better in May than in April like he often has in his career. It might not be producing any tangible results in the win column but if Didi continues to break out, then a big day at the plate could very well be in order.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that one of the Yankees' best hitters has also been the player with the best performance on the road. Brian McCann has an OPS of .745 in 46 plate appearances away from Yankee Stadium this season with a wRC+ of 112. Alex Rodriguez, too, has had success on the road and could play in this upcoming series even if it is not in the series opener. Rodriguez, in a small sample size of 35 plate appearances in 2016 road games, has an OPS of .942, a wRC+ of 153, and four home runs. Although he has shown his age, if he returns and keeps up his road success, his return could be huge for the Yankee lineup.

Whatever the case maybe, Thursday starts an important series for two teams that, to this point, are merely hanging around despite woeful performances on offense. If the Yankees are done in by the A's this weekend, then the hole that they have dug themselves a week before Memorial Day could reach double digits in the games back column. If that is the case, then there will be a whole new set of problems to worry about.