With less than two months remaining in MLB's regular season, we officially have entered the stretch run.
The AL playoff picture is beginning to take form, with the Astros and Yankees running away with their respective divisions and the Twins and Indians battling for the AL Central crown.
As for the two AL wild-card spots, the A's once again find themselves in solid position to make a run at the postseason. Oakland currently trails Tampa Bay by just half a game for the second wild-card position, with Boston six games back.
Entering Thursday, Cleveland owned the top wild-card spot by three games. The Indians are also just two games behind the Twins for first place in the AL Central. That leaves the Rays and A's in a battle for the second position, at least for now.
But the A's face a much tougher schedule than Tampa Bay for the remainder of the season. Oakland still has eight games remaining against the Astros, six against the Yankees, and six against the Rangers.
The Rays, on the other hand, have just three games left against the Astros, two against the Yankees and Dodgers, four against the Red Sox, and three against the Rangers.
The next two-and-a-half weeks will be critical, as Tampa Bay faces the lowly Mariners, Padres, Tigers and Orioles, while the A's take on the Astros, Yankees, Giants and White Sox. The Indians do have to face the Twins, Red Sox, Yankees and Mets.
If Oakland can stay close until the end of August, they will be in excellent position to make a strong push in the final month when they play just one team currently in the playoff race.
Of course, it's tough to count out the defending World Series champion Red Sox, even though they have fallen apart the last two weeks. Boston recently lost eight straight games and is just four games above .500 for the season. The Sox's World Series hangover appears to have lasted all season.
Despite the A's tough schedule in the next few weeks, they will have a chance to beat up on some subpar teams down the stretch. Out of their 47 remaining games, only 20 are against teams currently above .500, and the final 15 games will be against teams at least seven games out of the playoff race.
As long as Oakland can hold its own the next four series, a second straight postseason berth should be well within reach.