Twins look to start second half on right foot
By JEFF MEZYDLO,
STATS Senior Writer
A .500 record at the All-Star break has the Oakland Athletics feeling confident heading into the rest of the season.
The A's hope to continue their recent success Friday night when they face the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
Since enduring a nine-game skid from May 22-June 1, Oakland (43-43) has gone 21-13. The A's allowed 15 runs while winning six of seven before the break - seven of which came in that lone loss - to pull within 2 1/2 games of Baltimore for the second AL wild-card spot.
Oakland is .500 at the All-Star break for the first time since 2008, when it was 51-44 but finished 75-86.
"It feels great," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "For us to go in halfway through this thing at .500 is huge."
Reddick is a big reason Oakland has been competitive, posting team highs of 20 homers and 43 RBIs after being acquired in the trade the sent reliever Andrew Bailey to Boston in December. He went 6 for 13 with a home run while the A's took two of three from Seattle last weekend.
"If you go down the list, Josh has been our most consistent offensive player," assistant general manager David Forst said.
Though Oakland has recorded a major league-leading eight walk-off victories, including Sunday's 2-1, 13-inning win over the Mariners, manager Bob Melvin knows his team must improve if it wants to remain a postseason contender.
"We expect to play better," he told the Athletics' official website. "We played a lot of dramatic games. I think the goal for the second half is to play better than the first half."
The A's can start by figuring out a way to win in Minnesota (36-49), where they totaled six runs while being swept May 28-30. Reddick went 2 for 11 with a homer in that series.
Scheduled Twins starter Francisco Liriano (3-7, 5.08 ERA) allowed three hits and struck out nine in six innings of a 4-0 win May 30 to improve to 2-1 with a 2.88 ERA in his last four starts versus Oakland.
That was the left-hander's first turn back in the rotation after spending three weeks in the bullpen, and the demotion seems to have done wonders. He's 3-2 with a 2.74 ERA in his subsequent eight starts after giving up one run and overcoming a season-high six walks in 6 2-3 innings of a 5-1 win at Texas last Friday.
'I think Frankie's more relaxed now," manager Ron Gardenhire told the Twins' official website. "I think he's not pressing. I think he's learned to take a step back and make a pitch when he has to."
The Twins went into the break losers in four of five to close a seven-game road trip, but they've won three in a row at Target Field.
"We've not been consistent enough all the way around," Gardenhire said. "Our team has not put together enough good streaks and had too many bad streaks."
Trevor Plouffe, second only to Toronto's Jose Bautista with 18 homers since May 16, is batting .325 with four home runs and nine RBIs during a 10-game hitting.
Teammate Josh Willingham has two home runs and five RBIs in his last two home games. He went 4 for 11 with two homers and seven RBIs against the A's in May.
The Twins get their first look at Oakland's A.J. Griffin (0-0, 1.50), who makes his fourth career start. The right-hander, who has lasted six innings while allowing no more than three hits in each of his previous starts, allowed one earned run in a 3-2 win over Boston on July 4.