The first-place Angels can move closer to their second straight West division crown when they start a four-game series against the Athletics at the McAfee Coliseum.
The Angels trailed the A’s by three games with nine to play last season before a 7-2 finish earned them the title. They won the first two games of a three-game set against the A’s on the final weekend to clinch the division on Oakland’s home field.
Los Angeles is in position to celebrate at the Coliseum for the second straight season. The Angels are four games ahead of the A’s and only need a split of this series to cement another trip to the postseason.
“You like to have a lead going into a big series, but there’s no coasting, no getting help from other teams,” Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said. “There’s not going to be any backing into the playoffs, and that’s the way it should be.
“The only way you can beat Oakland is with good pitching. You’ve got to match them pitch by pitch.”
Scioscia is hoping starter John Lackey will provide the good pitching on Monday. Lackey is 2-0 with a 3.31 ERA over his last five outings.
Lackey has excelled in his four-year career against Oakland, going 5-1 with a 3.27 ERA in 12 starts. The right-hander is 2-1 with a 2.91 ERA in four starts against the A’s this season.
“I just want to execute,” Lackey said. “I’m going to just worry about my game plan and what I need to do. I’m not much worried about anything else. I just want to make pitches.”
Los Angeles had its eight-game winning streak snapped with an 8-4 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. Bartolo Colon, a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young Award, lost for only the third time since the All-Star break after being tagged for six runs and 10 hits over five innings.
Despite the loss, the Angels’ hot streak has virtually ended the race in the West. The A’s have dropped seven of their last 12 to put themselves in the position of needing a sweep to get back into serious contention.
“You’re still breathing if you take three of four, but you need big help then,” Oakland manager Ken Macha said. “Tomorrow, we’re going to shoot all our bullets to win that game. Then you worry about the next day.”
Oakland suffered another blow to its hopes with a 6-2 loss to Texas on Sunday. The A’s left 10 runners on base in losing the decisive game of the series.
“The door’s still open,” said third baseman Eric Chavez, who went 0-for-4. “It’s a little crack, but it’s open.”
Starter Joe Blanton is 3-0 with a 4.42 ERA over his last three outings for Oakland. Blanton surrendered three runs and five hits over six innings last Tuesday in an 8-3 victory over Minnesota.
The 24-year-old right-hander is 0-2 with a 2.05 ERA in three starts against the Angels this season. Oakland has scored a total of six runs in those games.