Athletics Head East To Meet Tampa Bay Rays

By: Willie Bee | Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A sneak preview of the American League wild card game perhaps?  Or will this weekend's 3-game series at Tropicana Field be the Waterloo for one club's hopes of reaching the postseason?

Either way, it makes for an intriguing matchup when the Tampa Bay Rays host the Oakland Athletics beginning Thursday (7:10 p.m. ET). The opening battle is even more intriguing after Bartolo Colon, Oakland's starter for Thursday, was suspended on Wednesday due to a failed drug test.  Alex Cobb is still slated to pitch for the Rays, with word that the A's will call up Tyson Ross from the minors to replace Colon.

Odds for the game were still pending with the late pitching change for Oakland.

One of the first things that bears mentioning about the series in general, and Game 1 in particular, is the A's and Rays will get a very rare regular season Sunday off with the circus in town and having booked The Trop for its opening act.  Well, not the real circus where there are signs of real intelligence when the elephants perform.  I'm referring to the circus that is in the form of the Republican National Convention in Tampa for a few days.  Those elephants are holding a meet-&-greet at Tropicana Field on Sunday, resulting in Oakland and Tampa Bay not being able to use the facilities that day.

This series would have normally started Friday with both the Athletics and Rays taking Thursday off, and Oakland wouldn't have needed to find a replacement for Colon.  The A's will instead take a long flight in the southeasterly direction after they finish a homestand Wednesday as 170 chalk against the Twins. The Rays were also completing a series with a Wednesday matinee as $1.85 favorites vs. the Royals.

Each team was second in its respective division heading into those games, the Rays 4-games south of the Yankees in the AL East while the Athletics was five behind Texas out West.  Tampa Bay had a grip on the top AL wild-card slot, a game in front of Baltimore and 1.5 ahead of Oakland.

Colon was enjoying a solid season for the A's who were 14-9 behind the beefy Dominican, including five wins the last six times he was on the mound.  That record was good enough to put followers close to seven units in the black.

Oakland just recently plugged Brett Anderson back into the rotation following the lefty's absence due to Tommy John surgery, and AJ Griffin was set to begin a rehab assignment on Wednesday as he recovers from a shoulder ailment.  Either Griffin or Dan Straily could become the long-term replacement for Colon, but the task will go to Ross on Thursday.

The local kid and former Cal product made a dozen starts for the A's earlier this season, mostly with disastrous results.  Oakland won just four of the 12 games while Ross pitched to a 6.35 ERA. He has since made 13 assignments at Sacramento with a 5-2 mark and 2.74 ERA.

Cobb was enjoying a fine stretch on the hill before he ran into the Angels in Anaheim his last time out.  Halo hitters pounded the Beantown native for 12 hits, including a pair of jacks, and eight runs before Rays manager Joe Maddon had seen enough two outs into the third.  That halted a stretch of four quality starts and three straight wins, with the winning streak started by a solid performance in Oakland on Aug. 1 (7 IP, 1 ER).

Oakland was Tampa Bay's daddy early on in this head-to-head series, as you might expect, but the Rays have turned things around and it has been fairly level the past few seasons (A's 21-20 since start of '08).  That includes the teams splitting their first six meetings this year, the road team taking two of three in the two previous series.  Two of three at The Trop back in early-May skipped 'over' the total, eight of the last 10 in the Sunshine State also going that direction.

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