Two teams that have flip-flopped positions in the American League wild-card race and currently are streaking in opposite directions open a critical four-game series when the Oakland Athletics host the New York Yankees on Thursday night.
The Yankees flew to Oakland after a two-game sweep at Atlanta that extended their winning streak to a season-best 11 games.
They currently lead the AL wild-card race after having been in third place, four games behind Oakland, after a loss in the Field of Dreams Game on Aug. 12 left them at 63-52.
They haven’t lost since.
Meanwhile, the A’s have gone just 3-9 since that date, including a current four-game losing streak that has dropped them to third in the wild-card race, with the Yankees having moved 4 1/2 games ahead.
Interestingly, both teams enter the series with bullpen issues. The difference has been that the Yankees have been able to overcome them.
New York closer Aroldis Chapman was pulled from each of his past two save opportunities, during which he faced 11 batters and allowed four hits and three walks.
He got bailed out of a two-on, two-out situation in a 5-2 game by Lucas Luetge on Aug. 18 against Boston before being asked to hand the ball to Wandy Peralta with the bases loaded in a 5-4 game on Tuesday at Atlanta.
Luetge and Peralta earned saves in those games.
“We gotta figure it out,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Chapman’s recent issues after the Tuesday win. “The bottom line is, a lot of people are doing some really good things down there, and Chappy is going to be one of them, too. We just have to continue to find ways to win games. It really is just a little bit of all hands on deck.”
The A’s have attempted a similar approach in their current losing streak, during which they led the San Francisco Giants 5-2 going to the seventh inning and 1-0 entering the eighth on consecutive days, only to see Andrew Chafin, Lou Trivino and A.J. Puk serve up a total of four home runs in what turned into one-run defeats.
Trivino was victimized again in the ninth Monday, blowing a 3-2 lead in a 5-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners.
The A’s fell in a more conventional manner, 5-1, to the Mariners on Tuesday, after which manager Bob Melvin labeled his team’s skid a full-roster problem, not merely a late-innings bullpen nightmare.
“We’re putting too much pressure on every facet that we have right now,” he said. “We’ve lost some close games. This is the wrong time to go into a slump, wrong time to go into a team slump. We have to flip the switch and play like we do. … We’ll figure it out.”
Yankees right-hander Jameson Taillon (8-4, 3.94 ERA) and A’s righty James Kaprielian (7-4, 3.25) are the scheduled starters Thursday in a rematch of the season series opener at New York on June 18, a game the A’s won 5-3.
In each pitcher’s first-ever head-to-head with the opponent, Kaprielian got the win, charged with three runs — including home runs by DJ LeMahieu and Rougned Odor — in 5 2/3 innings. Taillon didn’t get a decision after allowing two runs — including a Matt Olson homer — in 4 2/3 innings.
Kaprielian, a former Yankees farmhand, has won his past three home starts, limiting the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Giants to three runs in 17 innings. Taillon hasn’t lost anywhere since May 31, going 7-0 with a 3.21 ERA in his past 14 starts.
–Field Level Media