The Angels return home to begin a seven-game homestand when they take on the surging Athletics.
Last season, the teams battled into the final weekend for the AL West crown before the Angels prevailed. It seemed unlikely that there would be a pennant race involving the A’s this season after Oakland stumbled to a 17-32 mark through May 29, 12 1/2 games behind Los Angeles.
The Athletics have been on a tear since, winning 16 of their last 20 games to pull within 7 1/2 games of the Angels. Oakland is one-half game behind second-place Texas.
“We knew they had a much better team than they had at the beginning of the year,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
Oakland has finally gelled after losing starters Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder in the offseason. The A’s have received solid work from their replacements— Dan Haren and Joe Blanton—while their bullpen has also been impressive despite losing closer Octavio Dotel to injury.
“The whole team is totally different than it was in the beginning of the year,” Scioscia said. “They went from the three power starters to having good arms in the bullpen. The balance (in the bullpen) is terrific.”
Oakland’s bullpen was a major factor in a 5-4 win in 14 innings over Texas on Sunday. The relievers yielded just one run and seven hits over 7 2-3 innings, putting the A’s in position to win on Bobby Kielty’s leadoff homer in the 14th.
“We’re hot right now, really hot,” Kielty said. “It’s definitely better going on the road after winning a 14-inning game. Everybody seems to be pulling their weight right now. We’ve definitely molded together as a team. It just took a little bit of time.”
Oakland took three of four in the series to improve to 16-11 against AL West opponents.
Los Angeles has also become accustomed to close games, winning three of four one-run decisions at Minnesota over the weekend. Jeff DaVanon’s two-run homer was the difference in Sunday’s 2-1 victory.
“It seems like every game we play, it’s one hit that decides the game,” DaVanon said. “Fortunately, we got that hit today.”
Closer Francisco Rodriguez saved all three wins and has converted 20 of 22 chances. One of those blown saves came against the A’s on April 22 when he surrendered a pair of runs in the ninth inning in a 4-3 loss.
Vladimir Guerrero snapped an 0-for-15 skid with a single in the ninth inning Sunday. Guerrero is hitting just .189 (10-for-53) in 14 games in July.
“I’m very comfortable,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “I’m feeling as good as I usually do. Right now, the hits are not falling, and I’m not going to let that bother me.”
Guerrero is batting .409 (9-for-22) with five RBIs in six games against Oakland in April.