The Athletics' longshot bid to catch the Houston Astros in the American League West begins Thursday night when the clubs open a four-game series in Oakland.
The first-place Astros (78-43) have dominated their head-to-head matchups with the second-place A's (68-52) this season, winning nine of 11 to account for seven games of their current 9 1/2-game advantage atop the division.
The clubs still have eight meetings remaining -- four at each site.
The Thursday game features a matchup of one of the American League's hottest pitchers, A's right-hander Mike Fiers (11-3, 3.30 ERA), against the league's biggest loser, Astros righty Aaron Sanchez (5-14, 5.60).
But, surprisingly, when it comes to facing the Thursday opponent this season, it's Sanchez who holds a big advantage.
The 27-year-old California native went 1-0 in two starts for Toronto against the A's in April, allowing just two runs (one earned) and four hits in nine innings. The Blue Jays won both the games.
Sanchez is 1-2 with a 5.12 ERA overall against the A's in his career in six games, including four starts.
Fiers, meanwhile, has dueled his former team three times this season without ever getting a decision. The A's lost two of the three games, and he allowed 10 runs and 17 hits in 16 innings.
The 34-year-old hasn't beaten the Astros since 2012. He is 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA in six career starts vs. Houston.
Fiers will take the mound Thursday riding a 17-start unbeaten streak. He has gone 9-0 with a 2.12 ERA in that run.
The A's appear to catch a break in the series with the announcement Wednesday that Astros righty Gerrit Cole won't make his scheduled start this weekend because of a strained right hamstring.
"He just needs to wait for the results of the tests and the doctors and see what's next for him," manager A.J. Hinch told reporters before the Astros' 13-9 loss to the Chicago White Sox. "We have to run the course of getting him evaluated."
Fortunately for Houston, Sanchez has been in top form in two starts since joining the team in a trade at the deadline. He's gone 2-0, having allowed just one run and three hits in 11 innings.
He might see an old AL East rival on Thursday. The A's promoted former New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles infielder Corban Joseph from Triple-A Las Vegas in time to make his season debut Wednesday in Oakland's 9-5 win over the San Francisco Giants. Joseph contributed a single and an RBI to the win.
"Our organization is not afraid to promote guys who are doing well and give them an opportunity, and that's the case with him," A's manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday about the 30-year-old. "We're just trying to do the best we can with the (second base) position and with a guy who's been swinging a hot bat and has been all year."
The A's are coming off an eight-game trip in which they alternated losses and wins. The Astros, meanwhile, are 3-3 on their current 10-game trip.
--Field Level Media
A's take aim at Astros in AL West showdown
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