If there are any remaining questions about the Oakland A's -- you know, if a 36-12 run hasn't been enough -- they could be answered this week when baseball's hottest team returns home for a big pair of three-game series, against the Mariners and Astros.Remember when the A's were 11
If there are any remaining questions about the Oakland A's -- you know, if a 36-12 run hasn't been enough -- they could be answered this week when baseball's hottest team returns home for a big pair of three-game series, against the Mariners and Astros.
Remember when the A's were 11 1/2 games out of first place and going nowhere in mid-June? They've got the deficit down to just 2 1/2 games as the Mariners arrive at the Coliseum on Monday.
The Mariners? Oh right, them, too. Just when they seemed to be slip sliding away, they finished off a four-game road sweep of the Astros on Sunday at Minute Maid Park.
Seattle is just four games out of first place in the American League West, creating a scenario in which these three teams -- the Astros, A's and Mariners -- could slug it out for an division title and a Wild Card berth.
Or two Wild Card berths? The Yankees' once invincible hold on the top AL Wild Card slot is down to 4 1/2 games. With an eye on the suddenly fascinating AL playoff race, let's check out the best game each day this week:
MONDAY: Mariners at A's (10:05 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
No team needed a good weekend more than the Mariners, who'd lost 18 of 27 before arriving in Houston. But they stopped their slide with four straight quality starting pitching performances along with airtight work from a newly upgraded bullpen. As for the A's, what's there to say? Their bullpen has an MLB-best 3.01 ERA during the club's 36-12 run. Their starting pitchers have a 1.89 ERA since July 30 (tops in baseball) and have allowed fewer than three runs nine times in those 11 games.
TUESDAY: Brewers at Cubs (2:20 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
These two teams play eight times over the next month after sitting within three games of one another in the standings the past month. The Brewers have MLB's highest staff ERA (7.16) this month. Cubs second baseman Javier Baez entered play Sunday night with three home runs and a .982 OPS this month while playing his way into the National League MVP picture.
WEDNESDAY: Nationals at Cardinals (8:15 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
Given the tight NL playoff race, these two teams have little margin for error, even as both have played their way back into contention. The Nationals had won 11 of 17 entering Sunday night to better resemble the club that was supposed to win the NL East by miles. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have ridden a bunch of young pitchers and an insanely hot Matt Carpenter to a 9-2 start to August.
THURSDAY: Rockies at Braves (7:35 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
The Rockies are in a stretch of playing 30 of 48 games against the NL West. They're 25-13 since June 28, the best record in the NL, and their starting pitchers have a 3.35 ERA in this stretch. Braves left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. has eight home runs and a 1.073 OPS since being moved into the leadoff spot after the All-Star Break.
FRIDAY: Astros at A's (10:05 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
The Astros are 6-0 at the Coliseum this season and 9-4 against the A's overall. So going on the road might be a good thing for a team that has lost eight in a row at home but has been baseball's best road team (41-18). They begin the week having lost 10 of 16 thanks to a .221 batting average. A's outfielder Khris Davis has 13 home runs in 21 games since the All-Star break.
SATURDAY: Rays at Red Sox (7:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
The Red Sox need to go 21-21 in their final 42 games to break the franchise's single-season record of 105, which was set during Fenway Park's first season (1912). The Red Sox have won 100 games three other times, mostly recently 1946 (104-50).
SUNDAY: Angels at Rangers (3:05 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
The Rangers have won 10 of 16 after loading their lineup with young talent. Shin-Soo Choo's 202 times on base rank third in the AL, trailing only Michael Trout (221) and Jose Ramirez (208). He's the 10th player in Rangers history to reach base 200 times in the team's first 119 games. The Angels have been hit so hard by injuries this season that they've used 31 different pitchers, including catcher Francisco Arcia for an inning on Saturday.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.