OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics are about to find out whether the progress they’ve made in the past two weeks will stand up to the grind of their longest road trip of the season.
Oakland’s weekend series with San Francisco comprised the first three games of the 13-game trip, which takes the A’s to the opposite end of the country and back.
It’s a critical stretch for a team that was struggling to keep up with Seattle and Anaheim in the AL West before going 9-1 in its last 10 games — thanks largely to the start of interleague play and the resurgence of their talented starting rotation.
“The big thing is to keep this roll going on the road,” said left-hander Mark Mulder, who will start Tuesday. “We don’t want to lose the momentum we built here.”
Oakland’s road trip really gets going Tuesday, when the A’s play the first of three games at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. After that, Oakland heads to Cincinnati for three games before finishing with four division games in Seattle.
In the AL West race, the A’s (37-31) are four games behind the Mariners (41-27) — the closest Oakland has been to first place since May 3 — and three behind the Angels (39-27). That’s a big improvement from last season, when the A’s were 19 games behind Seattle at the same point of the schedule.
Unlike last season, when the A’s spent all summer chasing the streaking Mariners, the division title is up for grabs. Whether Oakland can reclaim the crown it wore in 2000 depends largely on the starting rotation that still believes it could be the best in baseball with consistency.