Red-hot A's hope to continue home streak

The Athletics hot play has been prolonged to the point where it's time to throw out the small-sample narrative and come to accept it as common fare. After sweeping the Yankees, they welcome Seattle for a three-game weekend series.

No team in baseball has been better since last July, and there might not be a hotter team in baseball over the last month. Since May 17 – a date commonly referenced – Oakland is 21-5, scoring nearly 4.5 runs a game while the pitching staff has come together to post a 2.53 ERA after struggling early on.

This A's team is the real deal, evident by the standings and being tied for the second-best record in the majors behind the St. Louis Cardinals. The Athletics and the Red Sox are both 41-27 to pace the American League.

A common theme for 2012's improbably run was the way big time contributions were coming from the entire roster. It would appear that theme has carried over to 2013, but some of the faces are different.

Take Nate Freiman. After Oakland's brass unexpectedly acquired the Rule 5 player from Houston as a player that lit up the Texas League with power numbers (24 homers, 105 RBIs and 872 OPS), they found themselves a valuable weapon against left-handed pitching that's hardly hit for power at all.

And with his walk-off single against Mariano Rivera in the 18th inning of Thursday's game, he's become the latest Athletic to dine on a whipped cream pie for a post game meal.

The win had all sorts of implications. It sealed a sweep of the Yankees, it pushed the club's home winning streak to 11 games and pushed their lead in first place to two games over the Rangers, who lost to Toronto 3-1.

The game also put the A's in some rare company. Oakland is the first team since 1972 to play two 18-inning games in one season. The first one against the Angels in late-April, cost the team Brett Anderson, Coco Crisp and Chris Young, who all left with injuries. This time, they might have lost their best player in 2013 when Josh Donaldson was forced out with a hamstring injury. It's been reported he is day-to-day.

The Athletics incurred significant losses early in the series when Yoenis Cespedes and Crisp left Tuesday's games with a hamstring and heel injury, respectively. They are also day-to-day. Bob Melvin's team is 27-8 with when the two outfielders are in the lineup and 14-19 without them.

Seattle is also dealing with nagging injuries to key players. The team is hoping to get Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse back in action after missing time of late. At 11.5 games behind first place, the Mariners are hoping they can chip away at Oakland's division lead with the All-Star break peaking over the distant horizon.

Friday night's series opener will feature a pair of southpaws when Tommy Milone (6-5, 3.69 ERA) welcomes Joe Saunders (4-6, 5.12). Milone will be making his first home start since May 18, which he will welcome considering his road ERA is more than two runs higher than his 2.43 clip in Oakland.

But in his last two starts on the road Milone has been very good, allowing three earned runs in 14 innings in Milwaukee and Chicago. He got the no-decision in his last outing against the White Sox, where he threw a season-high 118 pitches. Monday's off day gave him an extra day to recuperate.

Saunders has struggled on the road, going 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA. He's also walked more than he's struck out, contrasting his 2.58 strikeout-to-walk clip at Safeco Field. But he's been solid in his career facing the A's, dating back to his time with the Angels. He's 14-6 against them with a 3.47 ERA in 22 starts. He's 6-3 with a 3.14 mark at O.Co Coliseum.

Saturday's 4:15 p.m. start will feature Felix Hernandez (7-4, 2.49) and A.J. Griffin (5-5, 3.78). Hernandez will be making his second appearances against the A's with his first coming on opening night when he shut them out over 7.2 innings on three hits. In 2012, Hernandez' first three starts came against Oakland while the two teams dealt with abnormal schedules after squaring off for a pair of games in Japan to open the season.

Saturday's 4:15 p.m. start will feature Felix Hernandez (7-4, 2.49) and A.J. Griffin (5-5, 3.78). Hernandez will be making his second appearances against the A's with his first coming on opening night when he shut them out over 7.2 innings on three hits. In 2012, Hernandez' first three starts came against Oakland while the two teams dealt with abnormal schedules after squaring off for a pair of games in Japan to open the season.

Griffin comes into Saturday having allowed four runs in three of his last four starts. And like Milone, Griffin hasn't pitched in Oakland in almost a month. Griffin has been very good this season in low and medium-leverage situations. But when he gets runners on base, he's a different pitcher. Hitters are .309/.355/.564 in high leverage situations.

But on six days of rest this year, Griffin has allowed just three runs over 14 frames in a pair of starts.

Sunday's final game of the set will have two outstanding right-handers go head-to-head with Bartolo Colon (8-2, 2.92) and Hisashi Iwakuma (7-1, 1.79). The 40-year-old Colon is throwing as well as any starter in baseball right now having allowed just one run in his last four starts combine. On May 20, his ERA was 4.31 and his run of success has lowered it 2.92. He's won his last five starts.

Iwakuma is no slouch in his own right, allowing just a pair of runs in his last 30.2 innings spanning four outings. The right-hander hasn't allowed an earned run over his last 22.2 frames, allowing hitters a .179/.207/.231 slash line.

After signing with the Mariners as a free agent in 2012 for just $1.5 million, he remains a very good value making $6.5 million this season and next with a $7 million club options for 2015. Iwakuma could find himself garnering Cy Young consideration if he continues to throw at his current pace.

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