As the A's and Rays meet for a three-game set in Oakland, both believe that they fit in the former category, and their series could be a test of that.
Oakland's hot recent play, its loss to Baltimore on Sunday notwithstanding, has put the team in sole possession of the first Wild Card slot. That's a spot that many may have thought the Rays would own going into this year, but instead they're 2 1/2 games behind the A's.
Tampa Bay has certainly noticed how well its opponent has been playing. In fact, David Price, the team's starting pitcher on Monday, said Oakland reminds him of the Rays in 2008, when they came out of nowhere to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
"They have the best starting pitching in the American League and their bullpen is one of the best, as well," Price said. "They throw well, play good defense, and they've got some guys who are stepping up in that lineup right now."
Price is one guy who's stepped up for his own team as of late. The left-hander has won his last six decisions, recording a 1.82 ERA in that span, and held the Orioles to one run in seven innings in his last outing.
Another good start would go a long way in helping the Rays get a win the series opener, and it would be big considering how strong Oakland has been in July.
But though the A's have put themselves in a good position with two months left, manager Bob Melvin likes to say that they just take it one day at a time. Melvin, too, respects Tampa Bay.
"A good team that does a lot of things," Melvin said. "They can pitch, they can hit and run, I think they're first in the league in steals right now. It's always a tough team to try to plan for and attack because they do so many different things and they're a very creative team. So it's a tough team to play."
A's: Griffin goes for fourth win
To oppose Price, the A's will send rookie A.J. Griffin to the mound. The right-hander has gone six innings in each of his six career starts, and hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of them. He picked up his third win in his last start on Wednesday against the Blue Jays.
Oakland announced on Sunday that it had acquired catcher George Kottaras from the Brewers in exchange for Minor League reliever Fautino De Los Santos. With two catchers already on the roster, it seems likely that either Kurt Suzuki or Derek Norris will be moved off when a corresponding move is made on Monday.
The A's overtook the Angels for second place in the AL West after Saturday and remained in second going into Monday, thanks to the Rays' two weekend victories in Anaheim.
"It makes you feel good, especially the way we've been playing, but our focus still needs to be on today's game," Melvin said on Sunday. "You start thinking about 30 games from now, and I think that is a distraction. But you can't help but notice where we were in the standings today."
Rays: Price looking forward to pitching in Coliseum
Known as one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in baseball, the Coliseum has made for plenty of low-scoring games this season. Price, naturally, is looking forward to toeing the rubber in Oakland.
"I guess the only dislike is that it's a long way from the dugout," Price said of the walk to the mound. "It's a big field. A lot of foul territory. It's definitely a pitcher's park. I don't have anything to complain about."
Tampa Bay's relievers have allowed just one run in their last 29 2/3 innings, and had the best ERA [1.69] in the AL since the All-Star break going into Sunday.
The A's are in the midst of a stretch of 17 straight games against teams from the AL East. Oakland welcomes the Blue Jays for a series after playing Tampa Bay.
Rays closer Fernando Rodney recorded his 30th save of the season on Sunday, putting him in a tie for second in the Majors. He's one save behind leader Joel Hanrahan of the Pirates.