Orioles open weekend series against red-hot A's

The Orioles were able to salvage Thursday afternoon's series finale against Tampa Bay to avoid a three-game sweep, taking hold of second place in the American League East once again.

But the Orioles' six-game homestand doesn't get any easier as the hottest team in baseball makes its way to Camden Yards this weekend.

Despite a 10-4 loss to Toronto Thursday, the Oakland Athletics have won seven of their last eight games and are 10-2 since the All-Star break.

Moments after the Orioles' 6-2 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday, Orioles manager Buck Showalter had already turned the page and looked forward to their three-game set against the A's.

"What does it mean for [Friday]?" Showalter asked. "We've got a team playing as good as anyone in the major leagues coming in here. Another challenge around the corner. This was a challenge day today. It was. Our guys responded. I was real proud of them."

The A's (53-45), who are an amazing 16-3 in the month of July, enter the day holding one of the two AL wild-card spots along with the Los Angeles Angels. The Orioles (52-47) are 1 1/2 games back of that second spot, but are one of six teams within 4 1/2 games of the wild card.

And Oakland is in the middle of a 17-game stretch against teams in the AL East. They're 6-1 so far, sweeping four games from the Yankees in New York before taking two of three in Toronto -- pretty remarkable for a team that hasn't been eight games over .500 since July of 2008.

The A's lead the majors in homers since the All-Star break with 24 (The Yankees are the next best in the AL with 19). Oakland is tied with Seattle for the worst team batting average on the season (.229) and have been shut out 11 times this year, but not since June 3.

Much like their just-completed series against the pitching-laden Rays, expect runs to be at a premium against Oakland. The A's own the best team ERA in the AL this season (3.38) and their ERA in July (2.72) also leads the league.

So even though the Orioles took two of three from the A's here at Camden Yards in late April, outscoring them 17-8, they face a much better team on Oakland's return trip to Baltimore.