The Baltimore Orioles thoroughly outplayed the Oakland Athletics while taking three of four on the road four months ago. Another dominant performance against Oakland could catapult them into the driver's seat for a wild-card spot.
Baltimore welcomes the Athletics, who expect to have the newly acquired Kurt Suzuki for the opener of a three-game set Friday night.
The Orioles (71-55) are three games behind the A's (71-55) for the second wild-card spot, but neither has played particularly well lately. Baltimore has lost six of nine while its bullpen continues to struggle, while the A's seek better situational hitting after dropping five of nine.
The Orioles managed to avoid a sweep with a 4-2 home victory over Tampa Bay on Wednesday as Chris Davis hit his major league-leading 46th home run. Manager Buck Showalter elected not to use closer Jim Johnson after he had squandered three straight save opportunities and allowed three hits in a non-save situation in Tuesday's loss. Tommy Hunter instead recorded his fourth save.
Davis trails Frank Robinson (49) and Brady Anderson (50) for the most homers by an Oriole in a season. His next at home will be his 26th, a Camden Yards record.
"Obviously team goals come before individual goals," said Davis, batting .353 with six home runs and 14 RBIs in his last 14 games. "I'm happy to be swinging the bat well, I'm even happier to get the win."
The All-Star homered twice as the Orioles outscored the A's 28-14 in taking three of four in Oakland from April 25-28. Baltimore hit .315 in the series and .349 with runners in scoring position, and Nate McLouth, Manny Machado and Adam Jones were a combined 24 for 53 (.453) with 11 RBIs.
Oakland has batted .131 with runners in scoring position in its last nine games, including one extra-base hit and 15 strikeouts. The Athletics were 1 for 9 in such situations in a 5-3 home loss to Seattle on Wednesday, with two runs coming on solo homers from Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss.
"We continually address it," manager Bob Melvin said. "Sometimes I think we do it too much to where we put too much pressure on guys. But it comes to a point where you just have to step up."
The injuries are also beginning to pile up for the A's, with Josh Reddick's status uncertain after he sprained his right wrist on a diving catch in the seventh inning Wednesday. Catcher Derek Norris didn't play after breaking a toe Tuesday, and outfielder Seth Smith missed a second consecutive game.
To help the injury situation at catcher, the A's acquired Suzuki from Washington on Friday, bringing back a former fan favorite just more than a year after trading him away.
Suzuki, selected by the A's in the second round of the 2004 amateur draft, spent parts of the past two seasons with Washington after six in Oakland. He's batting .222 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 79 games.
Both scheduled starters have struggled in limited action against each other's teams. Baltimore's Bud Norris (9-10, 3.93 ERA) has gone 3-1 with a 3.91 ERA in five games - four starts - since being acquired from Houston, but went 0-2 with a 7.82 ERA in three starts against Oakland with the Astros this season.
Dan Straily (6-7, 4.22) gave up four runs over 4 2-3 innings of a 9-5 loss to Baltimore on Sept. 16. He's 0-5 over his last six starts despite a 4.09 ERA, receiving a total of three runs of support.
Davis is 0 for 1 with two walks against Straily. He's hit .396 with five homers and 14 RBIs in his last 15 contests versus Oakland.