Despite coming off their worst loss of the season, the Oakland Athletics have taken control of the AL West by winning four consecutive series.
They have good reason to believe that run will continue.
Oakland (62-52) has won 11 of 14, a stretch which includes a series win over Toronto and one apiece against each of its division opponents. That surge has given the A’s a 3 1/2 -game lead over the second-place Los Angeles Angels, as well as a five-game edge over Texas and a six-game lead on Seattle.
Tampa Bay (47-68), the AL East’s last-place team, might have trouble slowing down the A’s. Besides the Devil Rays going 1-12 away from home since the All-Star break, including a three-game sweep at Seattle this week, the team is 8-31 all-time in Oakland.
The A’s, though, had a six-game winning streak snapped Wednesday with a 14-0 defeat to Texas. It was their most lopsided loss of the year and their biggest home shutout loss in Oakland.
“I’d like to be able to wash that one away and go get them, and hopefully that will happen,” Oakland manager Ken Macha said. “We haven’t had a game like that in quite some time.”
Macha hopes his lineup has a better day when it faces Kazmir (10-7, 3.36 ERA), who is being activated from the disabled list after being sidelined by left rotator cuff inflammation.
This will be the 22-year-old left-hander’s fourth attempt to surpass his win total from last year, his first full season in the majors, but he might be limited by a pitch count as a precaution.
“I’m just going to try and stay within myself,” Kazmir said. “I want to just continue to try to just throw strikes and stay ahead of hitters. I know I’m going to be a little rusty at the beginning, maybe, just from the fact that I haven’t been out there in so long.”
In his last appearance on July 23, Kazmir allowed two runs and struck out 10 in seven innings, but did not get a decision in a 4-2 loss to Baltimore. He is 0-2 with a 3.72 ERA in his last three starts.
“I think the main thing is to stay within myself,” said Kazmir, who is 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA in four career starts against Oakland. “I know that I’m probably going to feel a little more amped up than usual. You know, feel comfortable and feel strong.”
Kazmir will be opposed by Dan Haren (9-9, 2.67), who looks to push his record above .500 for the first time since mid-June. He’s 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA over his last three starts.
The right-hander didn’t feel he had good control while warming up in the bullpen before his start at Seattle on Saturday, but he allowed two runs and four hits while fanning seven in seven innings of a 5-2 win.
“Sometimes, I fight myself,” Haren said. “I just felt a little off, but we got some runs and I just told myself to be aggressive and then settled in and threw more the way I like to throw there at the end.”
Haren is 1-1 with a 1.69 ERA in two career starts against the Devil Rays, including a five-hitter in a 10-1 win on May 31, 2005 the last time he faced them.
He’s facing a Tampa Bay team which scored only five runs in three games against the Mariners this week, getting swept for the third time since the break and fifth time this season.
Tampa Bay’s Jonny Gomes has batted .065 (5-for-77) with two homers, four RBIs and 24 strikeouts in 22 games since the All-Star break.
Bobby Kielty is 6-for-10 with a homer against Kazmir.