The Wednesday Takeaway
They say that to be the best, you have to beat the best. Well, the Athletics saw the Angels’ three best starting pitchers—Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Zack Greinke—at the Coliseum this week, and the home team took two out of three to stay atop the American League wild-card standings at 60-51.

On Monday night, Jered Weaver fired a four-hit shutout to pave the way for a 4-0 Angels victory that temporarily moved the Halos a half-game ahead of Oakland. That goose egg might have set the tone for the series, but Bob Melvin’s team had other ideas, splitting 19 runs between Tuesday’s 10-4 win and yesterday’s 9-8 rubber match. Those two games marked the first time that the A’s and their opponents have combined for 13 home runs in back-to-back contests at the Coliseum.

The A’s took the Angels’ best shot in Wednesday’s matinee: Four of those 13 homers came off of rookie starting pitcher Daniel Straily in just 4 2/3 innings. They responded by dropping four runs on an erratic Greinke in the second inning, and then tagged LaTroy Hawkins, who had been charged with only seven runs in his first 33 appearances, for the decisive five in the sixth.

Along the way, the Athletics exposed the Angels’ biggest flaw—a porous bullpen that was chiefly responsible for the defeats during their 4-6 road trip. Hawkins’ implosion capped a 10-game stretch that saw Mike Scioscia’s relief corps allow 32 earned runs in 27 1/3 innings, resulting in four blown saves and five losses. And while the aforementioned big three, plus former Athletic Dan Haren, can mask the bullpen’s ineffectiveness by working deep into games, general manager Jerry DiPoto may regret not adding a reliever at last week’s deadline.

For the A’s, the series win is yet another step toward shedding the “pretender” label and earning a junior-circuit playoff spot despite trading Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey this past winter. Fifty-one games stand between Oakland and the postseason, and the Athletics will need all the wins they can get now, because the road ahead only gets steeper.

The good news is that reinforcements—in the form of Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson—are on the way, with the former set to make his return in Friday’s series opener at U.S. Cellular Field. The bad news is that after a relatively easy second half of August, the A’s will play only six games against currently-sub-.500 teams after September 2.

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • Three National League pitchers—A.J. Burnett, Johnny Cueto, and R.A. Dickey—are tied with 14 wins, and this afternoon, Dickey will get the first crack to draw even with American League leader Jered Weaver. The knuckleballer has issued three walks in back-to-back starts after doing so only once in his previous 15, so he’ll hope for better control in the series finale against the Marlins, who will counter with Josh Johnson (12:10 p.m. ET).
  • If Adam Wainwright’s last four starts are any indication, the 30-year-old right-hander is back to his pre-Tommy John surgery form. The Cardinals are just 2-2 in those four games, but Wainwright has allowed only six combined earned runs and logged a 28-to-2 K/BB over 29 1/3 innings, lowering his ERA from 4.62 to 4.03. He will take on Madison Bumgarner, who has earned the win in both of his previous outings at Busch Stadium, in the series finale (1:45 p.m. ET).
  • Mike Trout turned 21 on Wednesday, prompting Bradley Ankrom to wonder who would supplant the Most Valuable Player candidate as baseball’s best 20-year-old.  Right on cue, the Orioles made their case for super-prospect Manny Machado, promoting him from Double-A Bowie to take over as their third baseman for the stretch run. Machado, the third overall pick in the 2010 first-year player draft, hit .266/.352/.438 with 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases for Bowie, and he is expected to make his major-league debut tonight (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • Need to snap a losing streak? Lucas Harrell is your man. On July 29, the sinkerballer stumped the Pirates to halt a 12-game skid. On August 4, he stymied the Braves to end a four-gamer. Well, just like that, the Astros have lost four in a row again, and it’s Harrell’s job to get them back into the win column and avoid a sweep at the hands of the Nationals. Houston is 2-0 in Harrell’s last two starts and 0-8 in the intervening eight games. (8:05 p.m. ET).

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