Opposite dugout: Not completely out of playoff race, Athletics need consistency to make late push

aslogo.pngManager: Bob Melvin (5th season)

Record: 47-59

Last 10 games: 3-7

Who to watch: RF Josh Reddick (.283/.334/.459 with 13 HR, 58 RBIs), C Stephen Vogt (.262/.343/.443 with 14 HR, 58 RBIs), CF Billy Burns (.298/.336/.385 with 19 RBIs), 3B Brett Lawrie (.275 with 42 RBIs), RHP Jesse Chavez (3.53 ERA in 114 2/3 IP)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (4-2 in 2014)

Pitching probables:

Aug. 3: RHP Tyler Wilson vs. RHP Jesse Chavez, 10:05 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 4: RHP Miguel Gonzalez vs. RHP Chris Bassitt, 10:05 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 5: LHP Wei-Yin Chen vs. RHP Kendall Graveman, 3:35 p.m., MASN

Inside the Athletics:

After three straight trips to the postseason, the Oakland Athletics find themselves at the bottom of the American League standings to begin the month of August. While 13 games back from the division-leading Astros and eight games behind the Twins for the final wild card spot, the A's are looking to rebuild for next year unless they can pull together a winning stretch to get back in the hunt.

Pitching hasn't been the issue for the A's. Oakland leads the AL with a 3.40 ERA, 62 quality starts and 13 shutouts. Opponents are only hitting .238 against Athletics pitching, good for third in the league. But this success is mainly attributed to right-hander Sonny Gray, who is second in the AL with a 2.12 ERA and tied for fourth with 11 wins, but won't pitch in this series. However, other major contributors to Oakland's pitching success aren't with the team anymore. Lefty starter Scott Kazmir (2.38 ERA) was traded to the Astros and right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard (2.79 ERA) went to the Mets. So it will be interesting the see how this rotation and bullpen react against the O's lineup with those departures and their ace resting.

The A's don't hit that poorly, either, slashing .251/.310/.383 as a club, just below the league averages. But they are tied for the third-fewest home runs in the American League (84). The Athletics' struggles become clear when you look at their season splits. They are only 6-9 since the All-Star break, and although they don't go to extra innings too often, they do have losing record in such games of 4-6, despite beating Cleveland yesterday in 10. The A's do well in blowout games (five-plus run difference), going 18-11, but can't come through in the clutch by going 11-25 in one-run games. So it's not so much they've lost some pitching or they're not that explosive on offense, but rather it's the Athletics not being consistent enough combining the two.

Oakland does have a good number of players having decent offensive seasons. Billy Burns isn't much of a power hitter in center field, but has been consistent at the plate. The switch-hitter is leading the team in batting average while slashing .298/.336/.385. Right-fielder Josh Reddick, however, is hitting well for power by knocking 13 home runs and 58 RBIs, and hitting for a .283/.334/.459 line. Third baseman Brett Lawrie is batting .275 with nine homers and 42 RBIs in his first season with the A's. The former Blue Jay is a .258 batter against the Orioles, and his 10 home runs and 29 RBIs against Baltimore pitching are his most against a single club.

Catcher Stephen Vogt leads the Athletics with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs while slashing .262/.343/.443. Shortstop Marcus Semien has appeared in all but one game so far this season for the A's. Semien is only a .247 hitter, but is tied for third on the team with nine homers while driving in 23 runs. Meanwhile, designated hitter Billy Butler has been a disappointment in his first season in Oakland. He has nine home runs and 47 RBIs, but is only batting .245, which is 50 points lower than his career average of .295 over his eight seasons in Kansas City.

Right-hander Jesse Chavez will start the series opener against rookie Tyler Wilson, who starts for the O's in place of Chris Tillman. Chavez started this season in the A's bullpen, but converted to a starter on April 23 against the Angels. He didn't allow a run in 6 2/3 innings pitched over four appearances as a reliever while also recording one save. In 18 starts, Chavez is 5-10 with a 3.75 ERA, for a 3.53 ERA on the season. But he is 1-4 with an ERA of 5.23 over his last six starts. He does fair slightly better at home than on the road, going 3-4 with a 2.33 ERA in 10 appearances (eight starts) at Oakland Coliseum. Chavez hasn't recorded a decision with a 6.75 ERA over 6 2/3 innings in four appearances against the Orioles.

Rookie Chris Bassitt will get the ball for the second game against Miguel Gonzalez. Bassitt came over with Semien from the White Sox in the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to Chicago this past offseason. Bassitt has been up and down with the A's and their minor league system this year. He too started in the bullpen during his time with the big league club, pitching 10 2/3 innings over five appearances for a 3.38 ERA. He has made five starts since June 30, but is winless while going 0-4 with a 3.00 ERA. Bassitt does post a 2.63 ERA in three starts over five appearances at home. The rookie throws a 93 mph fastball 61 percent of the time, an 86 mph slider 20 percent of the time, while mixing a 71 mph curveball and an 83 mph changeup. This will be his first time pitching against the Orioles.

Kendall Graveman will be the second rookie to take on the Orioles when he starts the series finale matinee against Wei-Yin Chen. He came over this past November with Lawrie from Toronto in a trade for third baseman Josh Donaldson. Graveman is 6-7 in 17 starts this season with a 3.84 ERA. But he has lost three of his last four starts with a 6.63 ERA, which includes allowing four runs in only 1 1/3 innings against the Giants on July 26. Graveman hasn't done as well at home this season as the two A's starters before him, going 2-4 with a 4.63 ERA in Oakland while going 4-3 with a 3.10 ERA on the road. The 24-year-old throws a 91 mph fastball 55 percent of the time and an 86 mph cut fastball 26 percent of the time, while mixing in an 83 mph changeup and 76 mph curveball. Graveman made two appearances against the O's last year when he was with the Blue Jays, allowing only one hit and no runs over 1 2/3 innings.

It wouldn't be fair to cut the Athletics completely out of the playoff picture with two months left to play. With the success of the Astros and Angels at the top of the division, winning the West may be out of the question. But only eight games behind, the last wild card spot could still be a slight possibility. A win streak to start August can put the A's right back within striking distance, and a good start would be taking this series against Baltimore, who is only one game behind the Twins for the last wild card spot. With 31 games left against division opponents, the A's can also look to improve on their 21-24 record against their West rivals in order to get back in the playoff race. It won't be easy, but it's not out of the question.

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