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A's and Orioles battle in another clash of first-place teams tonight at O.co

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The 2014 Oakland Athletics play in the wrong division, that's for sure: in any other American League division, the A's would have a four-game lead instead of just the 1.5-game edge they enjoy in the AL West right now.

Oh, to be the Baltimore Orioles!

Well, those Orioles (52-44) come to the O.co Coliseum tonight for three games against the A's (59-36) in battle of first-place AL teams. But Oakland has the toughest competition, with current wild-card spots occupied by the Los Angeles Angels (57-37) and the Seattle Mariners (51-44).

You get the idea: the A's have played a very tough schedule, but after the Orioles leave town, Oakland will get a little nine-game reprieve against the dregs of the AL. But for now, the A's need to fight off one more good team—after finishing the first part of their schedule with 14 straight games against top-of-the-league teams from Toronto, Detroit, San Francisco and Seattle.

Oakland has the pitching edge in this series, coming out of the All-Star break, however—they'll need to capitalize on that, starting with tonight's game at 7:05 p.m. The A's send Jeff Samardzija (1-1, 2.40 ERA for Oakland) against Baltimore's Chris Tillman (7-5, 4.11 ERA).

The Orioles have a four-game lead on Toronto, earned in the last ten games where they've won seven while the Blue Jays have lost eight. The A's would like to drop Baltimore back to the pack in the AL East, where the New Yankees are just five games behind the Orioles as well.

Saturday evening's matchup features Oakland's other new pitching acquisition, making his first start in front of the hometown fans. Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.01) while Baltimore will send Wei-Yen Chen (9-3, 4.15) to the mound. Hammel lost his first start in an A's uniform, to the Giants in San Francisco last week.

In Sunday's finale, the A's young ace—Sonny Gray with his 10-3 record and 2.79 ERA—gets to face the Orioles' youngster Kevin Gausman (4-2, 3.29). So Oakland has a slight edge here, in the pitching matchups for the weekend, through and through. Oakland is second in MLB when it comes to team ERA (3.09), while Baltimore is 15th (3.83).

In addition, the A's would also seem to have the offensive edges, as well, as Oakland is second in the majors in run scored (466). The Orioles are ninth (405).

But the games still have to be played, and the A's are just 67 games away from their third straight AL West division title, perhaps. But these next 12 games are a chance for Oakland to start the second part of the schedule with a strong showing: if they can win two of three against Baltimore at home and then take seven of nine against the Houston Astros (40-56) and the Texas Rangers (38-57)—the two worst teams in the AL right now—the A's will be sailing toward that division crown.

The last time the Oakland squad won three straight AL West titles was 1988-90, and wouldn't you know it? This weekend is the 25th anniversary celebration of the A's 1989 World Series championship.

Thus, the O.co will be rocking this weekend, on multiple levels.

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