Twins-Athletics Preview

The Associated Press

The Oakland Athletics have hardly looked like the team that leads the majors in scoring since trading Yoenis Cespedes.

They hope reacquainting themselves with the Minnesota Twins, whom they've drubbed repeatedly in recent years, helps ignite their slumping offense as Jon Lester gets the start Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series.

The Athletics (69-44) average a major league-best 4.9 runs but have scored three or fewer six times during a 3-4 stretch, with the last six coming after sending Cespedes to Boston. They were limited to four hits for the second time in four games in a 7-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

"We couldn't get anything going. Our lineup continues to struggle," said Josh Reddick, one of the few A's hitting well lately with a .407 average over his last 17 games. "We know we have a good lineup with or without Cespedes. We miss him. Someone has to step up. We haven't done that yet. We have to keep grinding."

However, Oakland has averaged 7.8 runs while taking nine straight and 14 of 16 from Minnesota (51-61). The A's outscored the Twins 21-8 in a three-game sweep at Target Field from April 7-10.

Josh Donaldson is batting .423 with two homers, eight doubles and 11 RBIs in his last 13 matchups with Minnesota. Brandon Moss is 2 for 31 over his last eight games but has eight extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in his past 11 against the Twins.

Lester (11-7, 2.59 ERA) is making his second start for Oakland after allowing three runs and nine hits over 6 2-3 innings of an 8-3 victory over Kansas City on Saturday. He's 5-0 in his last nine outings with a 1.38 ERA, which trails only Clayton Kershaw's 1.01 mark in that span.

"A little bit weird, but this is my new family now," Lester, who had appeared in his first 242 games with the Red Sox, told MLB's official website. "I'm going to go out and bust my butt and hopefully have more games like today and see where that can take us."

His undefeated stretch includes a 2-1 win over the Twins on June 17 when he allowed one run in 6 1-3 innings. However, he's 2-4 with a 4.55 ERA in nine career starts against Minnesota.

The Twins had a three-game winning streak snapped Wednesday with a 5-4 loss to San Diego in 10 innings. Minnesota took a 4-3 lead into the ninth before Glen Perkins was charged with his fourth blown save in 32 tries.

The All-Star closer had a 1.69 ERA over his previous 16 appearances while going 10 for 10 in save opportunities.

"Closers make it interesting. They always do," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You know what? People come in there hacking against closers, and Perk's as good as there is."

Trevor Plouffe homered and drove in three runs, and he's 11 for 20 over his last five games. He has 12 hits in his last 29 at-bats against left-handers, while Brian Dozier is batting .429 during a seven-game hitting streak.

Yohan Pino (1-3, 4.57) takes the mound after giving up four runs over 6 1-3 innings while not receiving a decision in an 8-6 loss to the White Sox on Saturday. The rookie right-hander fell to 1-1 with a 6.28 ERA in three road starts.

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