The Oakland Athletics look to lower their magic number in the American League West to single digits on Friday night when they open a three-day, four-game series against the host Texas Rangers.
The first-place A’s (27-15) lengthened their lead over the second-place Houston Astros to 6 1/2 games Thursday when they beat the three-time defending division champ for the fourth time in the five-game series, 3-1.
Oakland’s magic number to eliminate Houston from the AL West race is 11.
The A’s four-day success over the Astros helped keep the Rangers’ flickering postseason hopes alive. Texas (15-28) is in last place in the West, but its two wins in three games over the Los Angeles Angels this week narrowed the gap between second place, which is assured a playoff berth this season, and fifth place to six games.
The Rangers have seven games remaining against the Astros.
Texas could have moved one game closer Thursday, but lost its series finale to the Angels 6-2.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward warned his players this week that there’s more at stake than a longshot playoff bid over the final 17 games of the season. Job evaluations for next season have begun.
“Everybody’s going to have to earn what they get,” he said of the 2021 roster. “And I like that. It’s better that way. It’s a healthy competition.”
Third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa has certainly heard the message. He has hit safely in his last 13 games, a 22-for-51 run that has increased his average 60 points from .260 to .320.
Kiner-Falefa hasn’t had much success in his career against Oakland’s Friday starter, right-hander Mike Fiers (4-2, 4.93), going 2-for-9.
Fiers has benefitted from big-time offensive support in 15 career appearances, 14 as a starter, in his career against the Rangers. It has allowed him to compile a 6-3 record despite a 5.36 ERA.
The only team Fiers has beaten more often in his career is the Angels, against whom he’s gone 7-5.
Aided by nine runs of support, Fiers has already beaten the Rangers twice this season. One of those wins came at the new Globe Life Field, site of Friday’s game.
It would be fitting if the retractable roof were closed in this series, because A’s manager Bob Melvin said playing in his home ballpark’s open air resembled being indoors the past two days because of orange-colored skies that resulted from Northern California wildfires.
“I don’t have to have any sunglasses,” Melvin joked to the media. “It’s like we’re in a dome. It’s been dark out there all day.”
Matt Olson was the offensive star of Thursday’s series-ending win over the Astros, launching a two-run, go-ahead home run in the sixth inning of a 3-1 win.
He will set his sights in Friday’s opener on Rangers right-hander Jordan Lyles (1-4, 8.07), against whom he’s gone hitless in two lifetime at-bats.
Lyles has never lost to the A’s in three career starts, going 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA. He faced Oakland twice last season, once for Pittsburgh and once for Milwaukee, allowing one run each time.
Lyles is expected to follow opener Luis Garcia to the mound on Friday. Garcia, also a right-hander, is 0-1 with a 3.68 ERA in nine appearances. His only previous role as an opener came Sept. 1 at Houston, when he pitched a scoreless inning before Lyles came on.
–Field Level Media