Athletics-Orioles Preview

The Associated Press

The Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles are both surprising postseason contenders, but there's no question which has been the better team over the last month.

Oakland looks to continue its impressive run in July and make it nine wins in 10 games Saturday night at Camden Yards.

While the Orioles (52-48) have been challenging for a playoff spot for much of the year, the Athletics (54-45) were mostly forgotten until the last few weeks. They opened this three-game series with a wild 14-9 win Friday to improve to 17-3 in July.

Chris Carter and Brandon Hicks both homered, Seth Smith tied a career high with five RBIs and Jemile Weeks drove in the go-ahead run in a six-run ninth for Oakland after Baltimore took the lead with three in the bottom of the eighth.

The teams combined for 31 hits and used 10 relievers. Orioles All-Star closer Jim Johnson was charged with all six runs in the ninth as Baltimore lost for the first time in 42 games when leading after eight innings.

"It was like a heavyweight fight. Both teams just battled. It was one of the better games I've seen," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said. "Of course you want to be on the winning end of that because of how much you put into it."

While Melvin's club is one of the lowest scoring teams in the majors with 4.1 runs per game, the A's have had two offensive outbursts this week, defeating Toronto 16-0 on Wednesday.

Friday's victory kept the Athletics in possession of one of the AL's two wild card spots and moved them within 4 1/2 games of West-leading Texas. That's the closest they've been to first place since they were four games back on May 21.

Baltimore lost for the fourth time in five contests and dropped 2 1/2 games behind Oakland. The team's starting pitchers have a 9.42 ERA in the last three games after compiling a 2.47 mark in the previous seven.

Oakland's league-leading pitching staff has surrendered 19 runs in the past two games and will send Bartolo Colon (6-8, 3.97 ERA) to the mound Saturday.

The veteran right-hander hasn't won since June 12 despite posting a 3.26 ERA in his past five starts. He gave up four runs for the second straight outing Sunday, going 6 2-3 innings against New York before leaving without a decision in a 5-4 win in 12.

Colon was very good at Baltimore on April 28, allowing two runs in 8 1-3 innings and stood to get the win before Grant Balfour surrendered three runs in the ninth.

Colon will again be matched up with Tommy Hunter (4-5, 5.57), who gave up two runs in seven innings of that contest.

Hunter was hurt again by the home run in a 3-1 loss at Cleveland on Monday. He surrendered a two-run shot and allowed three runs total over seven innings in the defeat. He's allowed 22 homers this season - among the most in the majors.

However, the right-hander is 5-0 with a 4.02 ERA in nine appearances - seven starts - against the Athletics, including a 2.70 ERA in the last four games.

Baltimore could be without catcher Matt Wieters - mired in a 1-for-30 skid - for a second straight game due to tightness in his right biceps.

"We're going to make sure it feels OK before I get back in there,'' Wieters said.

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