OK, Oakland has been baseball's big post-All-Star break story, but now the A's embark on a six-game road trip that starts at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. So is it time to worry? Not at all. Fact is, the A's have enjoyed life on the road during their 22-game run into the American League postseason battle. They are 15-7 since the break, allowing them to move atop the AL Wild Card standings, and that includes a 9-2 road record. What's more, once they finish up with the White Sox this weekend, the A's have what figures to be a nine-game scheduling respite -- three games at Kansas City and then three each at home against Cleveland and Minnesota.
While the White Sox are hosting Oakland, Detroit is in Texas this weekend, and facing the Rangers is a challenge for the Tigers anywhere, much less in Arlington, where the Rangers will ask Scott Feldman to get them off to a good start on Friday night. Feldman has won his past six decisions, the first pitcher to open a season 0-6 and then run off six wins in a row since Doyle Alexander in 1983.
Feldman wasn't in the rotation when the Rangers played Detroit in April, but did work 5 2/3 scoreless innings in relief against the Tigers in the AL Championship Series last year, and another 1 1/3 innings against them in relief in April. The Rangers knocked off the Tigers in six games in the ALCS and have followed that up with five wins in seven games this year. Oh, and the Tigers' starter in the 15-5 loss in Game 6 last October? Max Scherzer, who lasted only 2 1/3 innings and happens to be getting the call Friday against a Rangers team that has 13 of its next 20 games at home. The Rangers, by the way, have an AL-best home record of 34-21.
Devil of a time:
Just when the Angels get their major offensive addition of the offseason, Albert Pujols, headed in the right direction, their primary addition to the pitching staff, C.J. Wilson, falls to pieces and the Halos suddenly find themselves in third place in the AL West, behind the Rangers and A's, and scuffling to catch up in the battle for the second Wild Card spot.
The Angels went into the All-Star break in second place, four games back of Texas, which was feeling the heat. But the Halos are 11-15 since -- 1-5 in the starts by Wilson, who gave up six runs in five innings in a 10-4 loss at Oakland on Tuesday. The Angels, who had slipped a half-game ahead of the A's with a win on Monday, followed up Wilson's struggles with a 9-8 loss on Wednesday.
Tampa Bay managed to hang around for 98 days while Evan Longoria was sidelined with a hamstring tear. Longoria returned this week, helping the Rays sweep Toronto and putting Tampa Bay in the middle of the AL Wild Card race. The Rays joined Oakland, Detroit, Baltimore and the Angels clustered with a game of each other for the two bonus spots.
Longoria's return is a major boost for an offensively challenged Tampa Bay. How major? Well, he drove in two runs in Thursday's completion of the sweep of Toronto. How big of a deal was that? Real big. It was only the third time in 80 games that the Rays' cleanup hitter had multiple RBIs. And the fact the two other times the cleanup hitter with more than one RBI was Drew Sutton (May 23, also against Toronto) and Jeff Keppinger (July 3 against the Yankees) says volumes about the struggles manager Joe Maddon had putting a lineup together without Longoria.
In the Pitts:
After two decades of losing, Pittsburgh keeps trying to find the missing pieces to ensure a winning season. A year ago, it was Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick who were added prior to the July 31 Trade Deadline with hopes they would spark the offense. That didn't work. This year, it is left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, acquired from Houston to supplement the rotation.
So far, not so good. The Pirates split a four-game series against Arizona this week, and it was Rodriguez, with a chance to wrap up a series win, who took the 6-3 loss in the finale. The Bucs are 5-6 since his arrival, and he is 0-2 in three starts with a 4.73 ERA, nearly a run higher than the 3.79 ERA he had with Houston.
A year ago, Lee hit .337 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs in 28 games for the Pirates, but he went on the disabled list after appearing in only five games. Pittsburgh went 9-15 in the 24 games Lee missed and faded into oblivion. Ludwick? He hit .232 and drove in only 11 runs while striking out 37 times in 112 at-bats.