With more than six weeks still remaining in MLB's regular season, it would seem reasonable not to put too much importance on any one game, or even series. But with that being said, the upcoming nine-game homestand could go a long way toward determining whether the A's remain in position to reach the postseason for the second straight year.
Oakland enters the stretch two games behind Tampa Bay for the second AL wild-card position and 3 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the top spot. However, those numbers could significantly increase if the A's don't play their best baseball over the next week and a half.
The homestand features four games against the AL West-leading Astros, three against the AL-leading Yankees, and two against the surging Giants. Those three teams have a combined winning percentage of .602 and are a total of 74 games above .500.
Meanwhile, the Rays' next 10 games are all against last-place squads: Detroit, Seattle and Baltimore. It's hard to imagine Tampa Bay winning fewer than seven of those 10 games, with an 8-2 record, or even 9-1, highly possible.
Fortunately for the A's, the Indians' next 10 games aren't as easy, with four against the Yankees, three against the Mets and three against the Royals. Still, Cleveland will likely win at least five of those contests.
That means the A's will have to hold their own against the league's elite, or the Rays and Indians could create some separation in the standings. If Oakland doesn't play its best baseball, a 3-6 stretch is certainly possible, which would cause them to fall to five or six games out of a playoff spot with just over a month remaining -- certainly not impossible to overcome, but improbable.
On the other hand, if the A's can find a way to split with Houston and take three of five from the Yankees and Giants, that 5-4 mark would probably keep them within three or four games of a playoff position while giving the team some momentum heading into September.
Oakland is certainly capable of beating teams like the Astros and Yankees, but its recent level of play won't be enough. Even after Wednesday's win in San Francisco, the A's are just 11-10 over their last 21 games and have alternated wins and losses for nine straight contests. While they're not playing poorly, they're also not playing up to their full potential.
The starting pitching has actually performed extremely well over the last couple of weeks, allowing three runs or fewer in 14 of the last 15 games and maintaining a 2.62 ERA during that span. However, the bullpen's season-long struggles have continued and the offense has been inconsistent.
Prior to Wednesday's nine-run outburst, the A's had scored just two runs in each of their previous three games, getting held to three runs or fewer in 10 of their last 19 contests. Part of that can be attributed to the loss of Ramón Laureano, but the rest of the lineup will need to step up during this homestand.
With just 42 games remaining, we have officially reached the stretch run. If the A's want to reach the postseason again, they'll have to beat some of the best teams in baseball.
That challenge begins now.