The Los Angeles Angels made up some ground in their slim playoff pursuit this week, but still have a long road ahead if they hope to get back in contention.
They'll open a crucial three-game series against the Oakland A's beginning Friday night at Angel Stadium.
The A's (68-47) won six of their past seven games to surge ahead of the Seattle Mariners for the second wild card from the American League. They'll enter Friday 10 1/2 games ahead of the Angels (58-58), who are coming off a three-game sweep against the visiting Detroit Tigers.
Los Angeles has scored 66 runs in its past eight home games and could get center fielder Mike Trout back during the series. The two-time AL Most Valuable Player missed the past seven games with a sore right wrist.
"Obviously, you never want to play too many games without a guy like Mike in your lineup, but we've been forced to, and I think we've been holding our own," Angels manager Mike Scioscia told MLB.com following a 6-0 win against the Tigers on Wednesday.
Oakland second baseman Jed Lowrie has been battling leg issues and the 34-year-old has just four hits in his past 37 at-bats to drop his batting average from .280 to .265, but the Angels have usually brought out the best in Lowrie ever since he delivered the walk-off RBI single in his rookie year with the Boston Red Sox to complete a sweep of the Angels at the 2008 AL Division Series.
Lowrie will face the Angels for the 100th time in his major league career on Friday. He's hitting .269 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs in the previous 99 games against Los Angeles.
"We've given him some day games off and I communicate with him all the time," Oakland manager Bob Melvin told the San Jose Mercury News after a 3-2 win against the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. "He wants to play and wants to be out there, especially in the position that we're in. Whether or not he's 100 percent with his legs, probably not, but he holds down the three-hole. Everybody's going to have some periods during the season where they struggle some. He'll get it going back again."
Lowrie will be up against Angels right-hander Felix Pena, who has lost his past three starts. Pena (1-3, 4.97 ERA) was better in his most recent outing than he was on July 29. He recorded just one out against the Seattle Mariners while giving up seven runs, six hits and two walks in the 8-5 loss.
He came back Saturday at the Cleveland Indians and held them to two runs and three hits in 5 1/3 innings, but received no run support in the 3-0 loss.
Pena made his only career appearance against the A's out of the bullpen on April 8, giving up a solo homer to Matt Joyce in one inning of work.
Pena will be opposed by A's left-hander Brett Anderson, who's coming off his best start in nearly six years but didn't get a win to show for his effort. He retired the first 16 batters in order and blanked the Tigers for seven innings on two hits last Friday, but left with the game still scoreless. Oakland scored in the bottom of the 13th for a 1-0 win.
Anderson (2-3, 4.64 ERA) is 1-3 in his career against the Angels with a 3.76 ERA in 52 2/3 innings.