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OAKLAND – After splitting four games with Detroit, the A’s prepare to welcome a team that is shaping up as perhaps their biggest challenge in the American League West.
The Los Angeles Angels arrive Friday for a three-game series, their first of three visits to the Coliseum this season. Entering their game Thursday night at Seattle, the Angels were 21-12 since April 21, the second-best record in the majors over that span behind the Giants (22-11).
[RELATED: A's fall to Tigers, split four-game set]
The Angels sat in second place in the A.L. West, just two games behind Oakland pending Thursday night’s result.
“Games inside your division are always much more important,” A’s infielder Nick Punto said. “They’re right behind us. We’ve got a series at home, a big series. We’re looking forward to having a big crowd and hopefully winning two out of three.”
For that to happen, the A’s will need to do a much better job of getting base runners home. They stranded 14 runners in Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Tigers, which included a 2 for 14 performance with runners in scoring position. They rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth before pinch hitter Jed Lowrie grounded out with the tying run on second to end it.
The A’s will encounter an Angels rotation that appeared to have depth issues coming into the season but is acquitting itself well so far.
Los Angeles entered Thursday ranked third in the A.L. in team ERA at 3.59, and second to the A’s in rotation ERA (3.42). Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson were proven commodities at the front of the Angels’ rotation. But Garrett Richards, who takes the ball Friday, is coming into his own.
Lefty Tyler Skaggs, Saturday’s starter, has been inconsistent but is showing flashes of the talent that drove the Angels to acquire him in a three-team trade that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona in December.
Weaver matches up Sunday against Sonny Gray in the weekend’s marquee pitching duel.
“They’re a good team, no question,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We saw them early in the season and they were swinging the bats well then. They continue to swing the bats well. They have better pitching now, not only in the bullpen but in the rotation.”
Even without Josh Hamilton, who has been sidelined since April 8 with a thumb injury, the Angels were still the A.L.’s fourth-highest scoring team (249 runs) entering Thursday night. The league leader is Oakland, though the A’s were anything but proficient at the plate through eight innings Thursday.
Twice they stranded bases loaded without scoring, including once in a no-out situation. They received an unlikely spark from Punto, who missed four games with a left calf injury and drew a start at shortstop because Lowrie still has some lingering neck stiffness.
Punto put a charge into a fourth-inning fastball from Rick Porcello and hit a two-run homer over the right-field wall for his first long ball of the season. It was only the 18th homer for the switch-hitting Punto in a big league career that began in 2001.
“I don’t have too many of those,” he said. “I’ve been playing a long time. But it felt good.”