While the AL West-leading Oakland Athletics have the best record in the majors since the All-Star break, winning at Tropicana Field hasn’t come easy.
Ace Barry Zito takes the mound in Sunday’s series finale, and Oakland tries to avoid losing its third straight series at Tampa Bay when it meets the lowly Devil Rays.
The Athletics (81-60) have gone 36-17 since the break to surge to the division lead, but has dropped four of their last seven games and are just 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Los Angeles Angels.
Oakland followed Friday’s 8-6 win with a 9-6 defeat on Saturday. Tampa Bay’s 18-35 second-half record is the worst in baseball, but it has won seven of its last nine home games against the A’s.
Zito (15-9, 3.79 ERA) is 3-2 with a 5.28 ERA in five career starts at Tropicana Field yet has been inconsistent in 10 career starts against the Devil Rays (57-85).
Zito has allowed two or fewer runs in seven of those starts, but seven or more runs in the other three. He allowed a run in seven innings but did not factor in Oakland’s 3-2 win over the Devil Rays on May 6, and is 6-3 with a 3.68 ERA in his career against them.
After allowing a combined six runs in 22 2-3 innings during a three-start win streak from Aug. 19-Aug. 30, the 2002 Cy Young Award winner looks to rebound from one of his worst starts of the year.
The left-hander matched a season high by allowing seven runs and six hits and six walks in 5 1-3 innings of an 8-1 loss to Texas on Monday.
“I didn’t feel too good mechanically,” Zito said. “I was trying to do too much with my pitches instead of just trusting it.”
Zito tries to bounce back on the road where he has been outstanding lately. He’s won his last five road starts, posting a 1.78 ERA. He has the second-best road record in the AL at 10-2, and his 1.87 road ERA is the fifth-best in the league.
Oakland designated hitter Frank Thomas homered for the fourth consecutive game in Saturday’s loss, giving 34 homers and 94 RBIs this season, his first with the A’s after spending his first 16 seasons with the Chicago White Sox.
Thomas has 482 career home runs and is batting .386 (17-for-44) with seven homers and 18 RBIs in his last 11 games. He needs 11 more homers to tie Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff for 21st on the all-time list.
The Devil Rays have won four of their eight in September after going 9-19 in August.
First baseman Greg Norton hit his 14th homer Saturday, and is batting .435 (10-for-23) with three home runs and seven RBIs during a six-game hitting streak.
Jae Seo (1-6, 4.13) once again hopes for some run support as he makes his second start since coming off the disabled list on Sunday.
In his first start since coming off the 15-day DL with a strained left groin, Seo gave up three runs—one earned—and eight hits in six innings of an 8-0 loss to Minnesota on Tuesday.
“We kind of messed things up, but overall, I was very pleased with his coming back tonight,” Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Seo has a 1.86 ERA in his last five starts, but has received just four runs of support in those games and is 0-1. The right-hander has received two or fewer runs of support in all but one of his 11 starts since being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 27.
Seo has never made a start against the A’s, but is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two career relief appearances.