Red Sox-Athletics Preview

The Associated Press

When Oakland and Boston last met in early July, the Athletics were a bit of an afterthought in the playoff picture while the Red Sox were just off the cut for the wild card.

A three-game sweep by the Athletics essentially spurred their playoff push and initiated Boston's unraveling.

The surging A's try to match last season's win total and also beat the Red Sox for a sixth straight time in Friday night's series opener in Oakland.

The A's (73-57) return home after defeating Cleveland 12-7 on Thursday to win the final six contests of a seven-game road trip. They've won 12 of 14 overall to open a one-game lead over Baltimore for the AL's top wild-card spot.

"No one expected us to do anything," outfielder Josh Reddick told the Athletics' official website. "Obviously we're opening a lot of eyes and surprising a lot of people, and that's what we enjoy."

Oakland shouldn't be sneaking up on anyone anymore, having gone a major league-best 36-15 since July 1. A July 2-4 sweep of a Red Sox club that was a season-high five games over .500 at the time was part of a 9-1 stretch for Oakland.

That sweep at the hands of the A's began a five-game losing streak for Boston, and the Red Sox (62-70) never seemed to completely recover.

They arrive in Oakland after suffering a three-game sweep to the Los Angeles Angels and have dropped eight of 11 to fall a season-worst eight games under .500. Jacoby Ellsbury was hitless in his final nine at-bats in Anaheim.

The Red Sox beat the A's 11-6 on April 30 in the first meeting of the season series, but have totaled 10 runs while losing the last five matchups. The five straight wins marks Oakland's longest single-season winning streak over Boston since 1992, and the Athletics haven't won six straight over Boston since 1969.

Reddick, who spent his first three seasons with the Red Sox before being traded in December, has two home runs and five RBIs in six games against his former team. He enters this series batting .522 with two homers and five RBIs during a five-game hitting streak.

While Oakland's offense has erupted for 27 runs in its last three games, the team's pitching staff has a major league-best 2.74 ERA since Aug. 16.

Brandon McCarthy (7-5, 3.12 ERA) takes the ball Friday after an encouraging outing, in which he allowed two runs and four hits while striking out seven in seven innings of Saturday's 4-2 win over Tampa Bay. The right-hander had been 0-2 with a 6.19 ERA in his first three starts after a two-month stint on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder.

"I worked on some things and worked on my arm slot to try to get back to where I needed to be," McCarthy said. "It was just too high."

With the victory over the Rays, McCarthy improved to 9-0 in 14 starts against the AL East since 2009. That includes a 4-2 victory over the Red Sox on May 2, when he gave up one run and five hits in 6 2-3 innings.

Boston counters with Aaron Cook (3-7, 4.76), who gave up three runs and seven hits in six innings of a 12-inning, 10-9 loss to Kansas City on Saturday. It was the sixth time in 12 starts the sinkerballer didn't record a strikeout.

In his only start of the season against the A's on July 4, Cook allowed three runs and nine hits in six innings of a 3-2 loss.