With just 53 games left in the season, their names look odd so high up in the standings. The Oakland A's and Baltimore Orioles weren't supposed to contend this year. There was some promise in each, but the powerhouse American League East was expected to beat the Orioles down, and the A's offense didn't seem to have enough high-ceiling players to compete.
And yet entering play Monday, Oakland led the AL wild-card chase and the Orioles were just one game behind. While more heralded teams like Tampa Bay and Boston continue to flounder, these upstarts have made it into August with their playoff hopes still intact. Baltimore just took two of three on the road from both the Yankees and the Rays.
The two teams actually will meet in Oakland in mid-September, but there's still plenty of work left to make that series important -- beginning with the A's crucial three-game set this week against AL West rival Los Angeles. The Angels are also in the middle of the wild-card frenzy, just a half game out before Monday's series opener. The A's get them nine more times before Sept. 14.
Meanwhile, the Orioles just began a 10-game homestand against Seattle, Kansas City and Boston -- teams all under .500. Then things take a turn again with series at Detroit, which entered Monday holding the second wild-card spot, and at Texas, the AL's second-best team, with two more series quickly on tap against the Yankees in early September and another against the AL Central-leading White Sox.
The A's, with the fourth-best pitching staff in the majors, have a bigger margin of error. Baltimore is relying on a pieced-together staff. Up from Triple-A again are Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter and Chris Tillman. Down in Norfolk are Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz. Journeyman Miguel Gonzalez, 28, didn't make his first big league start until July 6.
But they are getting stellar production from Wei-Yin Chen (10-6, 3.46 ERA), who has allowed seven runs in his last five starts. And by Sept. 1 they could have Jason Hammel back. He was 8-6 with a 3.54 ERA before undergoing knee surgery on July 15.
- Brian McNally