That was way back on May 9. And even though Tampa Bay is just a half game behind the Yankees for the best record in baseball, while the A’s are a paltry 59-60, Rays manager Joe Maddon knows his team’s upcoming four-game weekend series in Oakland won’t be an easy one.
"Oakland is going to pitch like we pitch," Maddon told Tampa Bay Online. "Oakland is playing like we're playing right now."
The Athletics may have a losing record overall, but they’re 11 games over .500 (36-25) at home. The A’s rank first in the major leagues with a 2.83 ERA at home (they lead the AL overall with a 3.55 ERA), and also lead the way with a .219 opponents’ batting average in their own ballpark.
Oakland is riding a two-game winning streak (both at home) into the series with the Rays, one that could prove costly for Tampa Bay’s chances at winning the AL East if these trends continue.
The Rays will have to face Oakland’s best starter, Trevor Cahill (12-5, 2.50 ERA) on Thursday, and they counter with little-used starter Andy Sonnanstine.
Maddon has confidence in Sonnanstine (3-1, 4.10 ERA), saying the right-hander is "fearless."
Sonnanstine, who was a starter from 2007-09 but moved to the bullpen this season, is filling in for injured pitchers Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann. He’s pitched well in his only two starts of the year against Toronto (Aug. 8) and Baltimore (Aug. 14).
That said, Sonnanstine is not a good matchup for the Rays against Cahill and the Athletics.
Tampa Bay will have its two best healthy starters, David Price and Matt Garza, pitching on Friday and Saturday, respectively. But Price’s 3.60 ERA on the road is much worse than his overall 2.85 mark, and Garza’a 4.05 road ERA is worse than his overall 3.74 ERA.
To make matters worse, the Rays will have to face Braden on Sunday afternoon. When Braden threw his perfect game against Tampa Bay, it was on a Sunday afternoon.
If the numbers hold up, the Rays could lose a lot of ground in the AL East this weekend, as the Yankees get to host the Mariners, who have the second-worst record in the AL. A series loss could also allow the Red Sox, who host Toronto for a three-game series, a chance to tighten the gap in the wild-card race. Tampa Bay leads Boston by five-and-a-half games entering Thursday.
Maddon will have his team ready to play in Oakland, but it might not matter against an A’s team that likes to keep its opponents’ bats silent in the Coliseum.