A's welcome red-hot Angels to town with first place on line

A's welcome red-hot Angels to town with first place on line
August 21, 2014, 3:00 pm
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Mike Trout's 27 home runs ties him for fifth in the A.L., while Josh Donaldon's 25 have him ranked seventh. (AP)

Here’s a breakdown of the A’s and Angels to catch you up on where they stand as they prepare for a three-game series at the Coliseum starting Friday …

SINCE THEY LAST MET:

A’s -- These teams haven’t played since June 9-11, when the A’s dropped two of three in Anaheim. That left them at 40-26, with a 3 ½ game lead over the Angels. Since then the A’s have gone 34-26 but dropped out of first place, 1 ½ games behind Los Angeles.

They’ve lost eight of their past 10, and they’re struggling to steady themselves despite two blockbuster trades that brought in starting pitchers Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Those moves were aimed at solidifying the A’s chances to hold off the Angels and Seattle Mariners in the A.L. West, but a short-circuiting offense and recent inconsistent work of the rotation has the A’s looking like a shell of their first-half selves.

[RELATED: A's reeling as Angels arrive]

Angels -- Conversely, the Angels have taken flight since that last meeting with Oakland.

They’ve gone 39-21 to assume the division lead, and their 75-50 overall record is the best in the majors. The Angels have revamped their bullpen, trading for relievers Huston Street, Jason Grilli and Joe Thatcher, though Thatcher is currently on the disabled list with a sprained ankle. Street has taken over as closer, which has allowed Joe Smith to settle in as an effective setup man.

The current issue surrounding this team right now is how it will cope with the likely season-ending knee injury to Garrett Richards, who had emerged as Los Angeles’ ace over the course of this season.

THE ROAD AHEAD:

A’s -- The remaining schedule looks forgiving, as the A’s play just 13 of their final 36 games against teams currently above .500. But those 13 games all come against the Angels and Mariners, the teams that they’re fighting it out with for the division, so they will carry lots of weight.

Then again, the way the A’s have played lately, it’s tough to take any victories for granted.

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Angels -– The Angels face a tougher road in that 18 of their final 36 come against teams currently above .500, and 17 of those will be against the A’s or Mariners. In fact, Los Angeles closes out the season with 19 consecutive games against the A.L. West, with a season-ending three-game set at Seattle potentially looming large.

There’s also an odd 10-game trip that will take the Angels to four cities, including a one-game pit stop in Cleveland for a makeup game. Not an enviable itinerary.

INJURY SITUATION:

A’s -- The middle infield depth has taken a big hit with both Jed Lowrie (fractured finger) and Nick Punto (strained hamstring) on the D.L. The A’s hope to get Lowrie back healthy for September, though it’s unclear when Punto will return.

Oakland should get a boost from the expected return of speedy outfielder Craig Gentry (fractured right hand), who is currently on a Triple-A rehab assignment. When first baseman Kyle Blanks returns from a calf injury, he might also had some right-handed pop.

[RELATED: Melvin elects to give 'tired' Donaldson rare day off]

Angels -- The loss of Richards, who went down Wednesday with what looks to be a serious knee injury, is a huge blow. And how they well the Angels can make up for his absence will go a long way in deciding whether they can win their first division crown since 2009. Their rotation already was hit with the loss of young lefty Tyler Skaggs, who underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this month. He’ll miss all of 2015 as well.

KEY STORYLINE:

A’s -- Can this team regain the offensive form that has made it the highest-scoring team in the majors this season? Manager Bob Melvin has had his fill of answering questions about the effect that trading away Yoenis Cespedes has had.

But the way to stop those questions is for middle-of-the-lineup hitters such as Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Derek Norris to produce in similar fashion to how they did before the All-Star break. And it’s not just on them, as leadoff man Coco Crisp, Stephen Vogt, John Jaso and Josh Reddick all have to take their turns carrying the offensive load too.

[RELATED: A's to skip Hammel's turn in rotation]

Angels -- Obviously the Richards injury is the dominant story for this club at the moment. But keep an eye on Josh Hamilton and whether this former A.L. MVP can assert himself and be a factor in the division race.

The overall numbers are shockingly low -- .268, 8 HRs, 38 RBI in 74 games. An early-season thumb injury sidelined Hamilton for an extended period, but he simply hasn’t been the impact guy the Angels have hoped for. If he awakens down the stretch, watch out.

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