Oakland is coming off its seventh straight series win after taking three of four from Minnesota.
Barry Zito won his eighth consecutive start and Eric Chavez singled in the go-ahead run to lift the A’s to a 5-2 win on Thursday. Oakland improved to 17-4 since the All-Star break and 34-8 since June 17.
The A’s have battled back from an 11-game deficit in the AL West to trail the first-place Los Angeles Angels by just one game. The A’s, who lead the New York Yankees by three games in the wild-card race, will open a nine-game homestand next week with three against the Angels.
The A’s have made a habit of late-season surges in recent years, but Zito said this year’s turnaround is the best he’s seen.
“The clubhouse chemistry is better than it’s ever been since I got here in July 2000,” said Zito, who struck out eight over eight strong innings on Thursday. “The team has just been unreal.”
Chavez, who also hit a solo homer Thursday, is 13-for-38 (.342) with three homers and 10 RBIs over his last 10 games for Oakland, which has won 18 of its last 24 road games.
Kirk Saarloos, who is coming off his second complete game in six starts, will take the ball for the A’s on Friday. In a 5-2 win over Detroit on Sunday, the 26-year-old right-hander allowed two runs and seven hits to improve to 6-2 with a 3.49 ERA in his last nine starts.
Not bad for someone who had to battle to make the back end of the rotation out of spring training.
“From spring training until now, he’s had the best stuff,” Chavez said of Saarloos. “He’s not a No. 5 starter. The way the guys we have are throwing, we have a bunch of No. 1s, No. 2s, and No. 3s.”
The A’s will be looking to avoid a letdown against the lowly Royals, who are coming off an 0-7 road trip, including an 11-9 defeat to Boston on Thursday.
“You can’t take any Major League team lightly. As soon as you do that, you’ll take a beating,” Athletics manager Ken Macha said.
“Our inexperience really showed,” Kansas City manager Buddy Bell said. “We were really pitching away from contact. You can’t do that.”