After a poor stretch to open the second half of the season, the Oakland Athletics now have a large deficit to make up in the AL West.
Starting a three-game home series against the Kansas City Royals on Monday night could help them begin to make up some ground.
Oakland (53-51) has won four straight over Kansas City (47-59), sweeping a three-game series in April at McAfee Coliseum. The A’s outscored the Royals 26-8 during those games, with Bobby Crosby going 8-for-13 (.615) with two doubles, a home run and seven RBIs.
Losing nine of 11 games since the All-Star break has dropped Oakland to third place in the West, 11 games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Angels.
The A’s, who were six games behind Los Angeles at the break, avoided being swept by second-place Texas, winning 6-5 on Sunday. Kurt Suzuki and Jack Cust each homered and three relievers pitched 4 1-3 scoreless innings. Brad Ziegler pitched two innings, allowing two hits while striking out three to set a major league record for scoreless innings to start a career.
The 28-year-old right-hander, who began the season in the minors before being promoted to Oakland, has appeared in 23 games this season, pitching 27 innings. He’s allowed 16 hits while walking six and striking out 13. The previous record was 25 innings set by Phillies right-hander George McQuillan in 1907. Ziegler’s scoreless streak also is the third-longest by an Oakland reliever.
“It’s real special. I feel like I’ve worked real hard to get here,” he said. “Thankfully it’s not over yet. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
The Royals, meanwhile, split their four game set with AL East-leading Tampa Bay over the weekend, winning Sunday’s finale 6-1. Billy Butler, who homered and had four RBI Sunday, is hitting .314 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 10 games since the All-Star break.
“When you’re going good, you’re going to produce runs,” Butler said. “I don’t feel like I’m doing anything different, but obviously I’m swinging it better. Maybe, I’m getting more comfortable.”
The Royals are 4-6 since the All-Star break, compiling a 6.07 ERA during that stretch with only two starters pitching past the sixth inning.
Right fielder Jose Guillen was held out of the lineup Sunday with a left groin injury. Guillen, mired in a 2-for-27 skid, could return Monday.
Zack Greinke (7-7, 4.06 ERA) looks to avoid losing his fourth straight decision when he takes the mound for Kansas City. The right-hander lost his second straight start, allowing five runs and seven hits over six innings Wednesday in a 7-1 defeat to Detroit.
Greinke is 1-0 with a 2.83 ERA in four starts and four relief appearances against the A’s. He faced them on April 19 and pitched five innings, allowing three runs - two earned - and eight hits in a 6-5 loss.
Oakland counters with Greg Smith (5-9, 3.90), who has lost his last three decisions. The rookie left-hander pitched six innings Wednesday against Tampa Bay, yielding four runs and five hits in a 4-3 loss.
In Smith’s only start against the Royals, he pitched five innings, allowing four runs - three earned - and six hits in a 6-5 win on April 19, but did not factor in the decision.