Here we are on September 4, a mere 24 games away from the end of the regular season for both the A's and the Texas Rangers. As of this morning, the Rangers hold a one-game lead in the AL West, meaning that all they have to do is play the A's even for the rest of the month to win the division. Oakland, on the other hand, has to outplay the Rangers by one game to force a one-game playoff, or outplay them by two games to keep things simple and win the division outright.
So let's take a look at the two very different sets of obstacles that each team faces between now and season's end. I'm analyzing these schedules series-by-series, trying to explain why I think one team or the other has the advantage in a particular stretch of three or four days. Hint: things look pretty good for the Athletics.
Wednesday, 9/4: The A's and Rangers wrap up a three-game set in Oakland, the last meeting at the Coliseum between the two clubs. Jarrod Parker goes up against Yu Darvish, and nobody would be surprised if the game ends up 1-0 or 2-1. That said, Jarrod Parker hasn't taken a loss in his last 17 opportunities, and the A's have seen success against Darvish this year. Advantage: A's
Thursday, 9/5 - Sunday, 9/8: The Rangers continue their California swing with a three-game trip to Anaheim, while the A's stay at home to play four against Houston. You'd think that four games against the Astros would be a gift from god, but the Astros took two of three in their last series in Oakland. The Angels, on the other hand, can't seem to get their act together to help the A's out and beat the Rangers, ever. The three pitching matchups vary widely but don't seem to give either club a distinct advantage: CJ Wilson vs. Matt Garza, Garrett Richards vs. Travis Blackley, and finally Jason Vargas vs. Derek Holland. The Astros might have won their last series in Oakland, but the A's are still 12-3 against them this year, and they're very good at home. Advantage: A's
Monday, 9/9 - Thursday, 9/12: Texas plays Pittsburgh in Arlington, while the A's travel to Minneapolis to take on the Twins. Last night, the Pirates won their 81st game, ensuring that Pittsburgh won't have a losing baseball team for the first time in two decades. Even though the A's took two out of three in Pittsburgh earlier this year, the Pirates are a very good ballclub that nobody would be surprised to see in the World Series come late October. In a weird scheduling fluke, this is the first meeting of the year between the A's and Twins, and they'll play four more at the end of the month in Oakland. Even though the Rangers are at home and the A's are in Minnesota, this one's a no-brainer. Advantage: A's
Friday, 9/13 - Sunday, 9/15: The final meeting of the year between Texas and Oakland. This three-game set is being played in Arlington, where the A's have struggled this year. The Rangers hold a 9-6 edge in the season series, too. If nothing changes between now and then, the A's should see Travis Blackley, Holland, and Martín Perez, in that order. Perez was great against the A's last night, but still, Oakland won't have to face the Rangers' two best starters in Darvish and Garza. The A's will likely throw Dan Straily, Bartolo Colon, and Parker. Advantage: Rangers
Monday, 9/16 - Thursday, 9/19: The A's play host to the Angels in a three-game set and then kick off a four-game series against the Twins, while the Rangers travel to Tampa Bay to play four games against a dangerous Rays team. While at this point it's probably too far into the future to project pitching matchups, this is another no-brainer. The A's are 9-4 this year against the Angels, and they play them at home. Advantage: A's
Friday, 9/20 - Sunday, 9/22: Oakland gets three more at home against Minnesota, while the Rangers stay on the road to play the Royals. Kansas City made some big strides this year, and it's a team that's capable of winning a series or two against one of the league's better teams. And we've already discussed the Twins, and the fact that the A's get to play them at home. Four times. Advantage: A's
Monday, 9/23 - Wednesday, 9/25: The A's play the Angels on the road, while Texas gets to play host to the Astros, and also gets to keep kicking them deeper and deeper into last place. The Rangers are 14-2 against Houston this year. Advantage: Rangers
Thursday, 9/26 - Sunday, 9/29: The Rangers get four games at home against the Angels to close out the season, while the A's will travel to Seattle to play three games at Safeco Field. The Mariners have played some of their best baseball of the year against the A's, and the Angels have played a lot of their worst baseball of the year against Texas. Advantage: Rangers
In A Nutshell: Oakland has an easier month than Texas, by a pretty wide margin. Look for the A's to take advantage of seven games against the Twins and another three against Houston to jump out to a substantial lead in the division — I'd expect the A's to be in the lead by two or three games by September 22. But Oakland will have to fight off a last-minute push from the Rangers in the season's final week, when the A's play Anaheim and Seattle on the road while Texas plays host to Houston, then the Angels. In the end, I think the A's will take the division by a game or two, provided they win a game next week in Arlington. A sweep would be difficult to recover from, but one out of three would probably keep the A's right in the thick of things. Crazy as it sounds, this September could be even crazier than September 2012.