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Angels series preview

The Athletics are squaring off against the Angels for three games in Oakland.

Jeff Gross

There are seven Oakland Athletics games left in the regular season, and three of them are at home against the Angels. The A's enter with a one-game lead over the Royals in the Wild Card race, and a two-game cushion over the Mariners (with Seattle trailing 13-2 as I write this). Oakland won its series against the Phillies over the weekend, so at least they're coming into this one on a positive note.

These are the expected pitching matchups for the series:

Mon: Jeff Samardzija vs. C.J. Wilson
Tue: Sonny Gray vs. Wade LeBlanc
Wed: Jon Lester vs. Hector Santiago

If I had to pick the high-scoring game, I'd guess Tuesday.

Shark comes into this one with a 1.66 ERA in his last five starts, and Wilson is usually tough on the A's. If you weren't already pumped up enough for tonight's opener, then remember how much you loathe C.J. Wilson and that should give you that extra kick. If you need inspiration, here's a link to Wilson in a shampoo ad. Oh man, don't you just want to score 10 runs off that guy? He's having an off-year, and his two previous outings against the A's have only been decent, but in his last start he allowed only one hit to the Mariners in seven innings. And he's left-handed, which is Oakland's biggest kryptonite right now (their second-biggest is right-handers).

There's something symbolic about LeBlanc starting in this series. He was a possibility to go in that four-game set in Anaheim, the one in which Oakland got swept. Instead, the Angels outrighted him to the minors and let their bullpen pitch the whole game (which, embarrassingly for us, worked beautifully). LeBlanc was so out-of-favor that they literally chose to just not have a starter instead of calling on him.

"Hey guys, we really need someone to start tonight. Absolutely have to have a starter. Anyone will do, really. No one? Oh, LeBlanc? Yeah, actually, never mind, we're good. We'll figure something else out."

Now that the Angels have clinched the division, though, LeBlanc can simply eat some innings and give everyone else some rest in a meaningless game. And he's left-handed, so hey, maybe he'll accidentally throw a shutout. He hasn't allowed a run in his last five appearances, spanning 10⅓ innings. He's faced the A's twice this year, and hasn't been effective either time. Meanwhile, Sonny's last four outings have gone bad, good, good, bad, ranging from 5ip/6er to 8ip/2er. Even with the (relatively) weakest of Oakland's three starters in this series taking the hill, this is easily the most winnable game (on paper).

The final showdown will feature Lester's final start of the regular season. He's been everything he was supposed to be so far in Oakland, as he's put up a quality start every single time he's taken the mound. The A's will hope for one more, and he'll hope that the offense scores enough off of the lefty Santiago to actually win the game. Santiago hasn't completed the sixth inning since Aug. 17, and in his last start he got lit up by the Rangers for seven runs while recording only three outs. He's allowed three total runs to the A's in three starts this year, spanning 18 innings.

Three left-handed opponents means lots of right-handed batters in Oakland's lineup. Expect to see a lot of Jonny Gomes, Nate Freiman, Nick Punto, Derek Norris, and Geovany Soto this week. Expect to see not as much of Adam Dunn, Josh Reddick, Stephen Vogt, and Brandon Moss, except for as mid-game replacements (so, actually every day).

The series is about to start. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m., Shark vs. Wilson. Jed Lowrie is back in the lineup after taking a ball off the foot the other day. Josh Hamilton is out, and may miss the rest of the regular season.