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."
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.
|June 23, 2012||Collin Cowgill||15-Day DL||Sprained left ankle|
|June 20, 2012||Brandon McCarthy||15-Day DL||Strained right shoulder|
|June 18, 2012||Bartolo Colon||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|June 18, 2012||Bartolo Colon||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|June 13, 2012||Yoenis Cespedes||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left hamstring|
|June 06, 2012||Andrew Carignan||60-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|June 24, 2012||Matt Capps||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|June 17, 2012||Matt Capps||Day-to-Day||Sore right shoulder|
|June 17, 2012||Joe Mauer||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right quadricep|
|June 16, 2012||Joe Mauer||Day-to-Day||Sore left hamstring|
|June 15, 2012||Justin Morneau||Day-to-Day||Left forearm injury|
|June 14, 2012||P.J. Walters||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Aside from one swing from Jonny Gomes , the Oakland Athletics had no chance against Francisco Liriano on Friday night.
That one swing was all it took for Oakland to escape with a win, though.
Gomes' grand slam helped the A's overcome a career-high 15 strikeouts from Liriano and beat the Minnesota Twins 6-3.
Liriano's 15 strikeouts were the second most in Twins' history and most since Johan Santana fanned 17 Texas batters at the Metrodome on Aug. 19, 2007.
"You got to swing," said Gomes, who hit the slam on the first pitch of his second at-bat after whiffing on three straight in his first plate appearance. "You just hope it's a strike, not like the first three pitches I swung at. You have to be aggressive, often."
It was the 23rd time since 1961 that a pitcher had 15 or more strikeouts and lost the game.
Josh Willingham hit two home runs for Minnesota which has lost five of six.
A.J. Griffin (1-0) battled through six innings to earn his first career win and lead the A's to their seventh victory in eight games.
"It might not have been my best outing," said Griffin, whose father is from Grand Rapids, Minn., and had nine family members in the stands to witness his first win. "I was just trying to compete after the break. It's good to get that first one."
Liriano (3-8) looked unhittable most of Friday. The inconsistent lefty used a diving slider and nasty changeup to fan eight of the first 10 hitters he faced and record nine of his first 10 outs via strikeout.
Twins center-fielder Denard Span dropped a fly ball with one out in the fourth and Liriano walked the next batter to load the bases.
Gomes hit Liriano's next pitch into the second deck in left field, his first grand slam this season and third in his career.
"You've got to make the plays," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You should have been sitting in the dugout and it ends up Gomes coming up in a big situation and got a first pitch that kind of drifted in towards him, inner-half of the plate and he put it in the seats. That's what's disappointing. He should have been in the dugout."
Willingham hit both of his homers - his 20th and 21st - off Griffin. The slugger's second blast was a two-run shot that cut his former team's lead to 4-3 in the fourth.
Griffin got a little payback on Willingham in the fifth, striking him out on an offspeed pitch with two runners on to end the inning.
"I went after him, went to 3-2 and continued to trust in the curve ball," Griffin said. "That was a huge punchout for sure. It kept the momentum in our favor."
Ryan Cook struck out two in the ninth for his ninth save in 12 chances.
The win put the A's (44-43) over .500 for the first time since May 21. Oakland entered Friday 2 1-2 games behind Baltimore in the wild-card standings.
After starting the season 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA and getting demoted to the bullpen, Liriano is 3-3 and has 76 strikeouts in 52 1-3 innings since rejoining the rotation on May 30.
"When you feel fine, you go out there and you don't think about anything," Liriano said. "And, like I said, they were swinging early and I was making some good pitches when I needed to and just being more consistent throughout this. They can't hit everything."
The White Sox Chris Sale and Detroit's Max Scherzer also recorded 15 strikeouts in a game this season.
The A's added a couple of extra runs off Alex Burnett once Liriano was removed after eight innings.
Gomes, who entered the game 4-for-43 against Minnesota, drove in his fifth run with a single. Brandon Inge followed two batters later with another RBI single to make it 6-3.
NOTES: Cespedes was the A's DH on Friday. Manager Bob Melvin said Cespedes could return to left field on Saturday if his sore left thumb feels better. ... Twins RHP Carl Pavano (shoulder) threw on Friday and is getting closer to throwing off a mound. He said the extended stint on the DL has been frustrating, especially as the Twins have struggled to find capable starting pitching. "I'm letting myself down," he said. "I'm letting everyone down around me." ... The Twins failed to sign ninth-round draft choice L.J. Mazzilli. The 2B and son of former major-league player and manager Lee Mazzilli will return to the University of Connecticut for his senior season. ... Liriano struck out 12 in a game twice during his rookie season in 2006. ... The start of the game was delayed 10 minutes because of rain. ... Cole De Vries makes his sixth career start for the Twins on Saturday. The right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA. ... Tommy Milone (8-6) gets the start for Oakland on Saturday. The rookie is 2-1 with a 0.96 ERA over his last four starts.