Someway, somehow, the Oakland Athletics are squarely in the playoff race as the season winds down -- and the A's actually control their own destiny.
The A's are holding onto one of the two wild card spots in the American League, and only trail the Rangers by four games in the AL West -- a lead that isn't insurmountable, though it will be difficult for the A's to catch Texas.
Oakland, however, is reeling. Entering play on Thursday, the A's have lost three games in a row, and suddenly find themselves needing to win to keep the Los Angeles Angels at bay.
The A's find themselves up four games up in the loss column over the Angels, but again, four games is not insurmountable. Oakland is also only five games up on the Detroit Tigers -- the same Tigers who could potentially sweep the A's on Thursday, and cut Oakland's lead over them to four games.
Statistically, Oakland is in great shape, with a run differential of +66, and a three and a half game cushion to fall back on.
In reality, though, the A's are hurting. Brett Anderson left Wednesday's start with an oblique injury. The severity of the injury isn't known, but oblique injuries tend to linger. With Anderson out, Oakland's rotation now features Tom Milone, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, and whoever replaces Anderson. It's not quite ideal headed into the last two weeks of a pennant race with an inexperienced pitching staff -- but that's exactly what Oakland is doing.
Injuries aren't the only thing that have the potential to hold Oakland back these final two weeks. The A's face a very, very, very daunting schedule down the stretch. After Thursday's game against the Tigers, Oakland travels to New York to take on the Yankees, who are trying to fend off the Orioles. The A's then head to Arlington for a four-game series against the Rangers, before finally returning home to take on the Mariners, and then, the Rangers.
By contrast, the Angels have a slightly easier schedule. Los Angeles will wrap up a series with the Rangers on Thursday, and then play host to the White Sox and Mariners. Los Angeles will wrap the season up with a road trip against the Rangers and Mariners.
The Tigers, though, have the easiest schedule remaining. Detroit will host Minnesota and Kansas City, and then travel to Minnesota and Kansas City to end the season. Detroit's schedule makes it somewhat pivotal that the A's win on Thursday, as an Oakland win would put Detroit six full games back with just 13 games to play.
Make no mistake: the A's are in very good shape if they play well down the stretch, with a four game lead in the loss column over the Angels. Even if the A"s go 7-7, the Angels would have to go 10-3 just to catch them down the stretch. Detroit, meanwhile, would have to go 12-2 down toe stretch to catch Oakland -- if Oakland plays .500 ball.
Still, the potential exists for the A's to do a bit worse than 7-7 in their last 14 games, with 10 games against the Yankees and Rangers.
Conversely, the Rangers aren't totally out of the woods, either. With seven head-to-head meetings and a four game lead over the A's, the A's could put some heat on Texas if they catch fire down the stretch. Unlikely? Sure, but feasible? Yes.
Despite the fact that they're ailing, and have lost three straight games, the A's are in excellent position to make the playoffs. They're in the position that every team wants to be: controlling their own destiny. No, it's not likely that the A's will win the AL West, but it is likely that they'll win one of the two wild card spots by just playing .500 ball the rest of the way.