BOSTON — There are two things a baseball team tries to do when hopelessly out of contention in September: Get a good look at the young guys and perhaps even play the role of spoiler for the teams still in it for October.
The young Oakland Athletics did both over the weekend while scrambling the race for the American League’s top record.
On Tuesday night, Oakland opens a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, hoping to do more of the same.
“I’m not saying it was unexpected, but the fashion we did it in was pretty impressive,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said after his team finished off a four-game sweep of the front-running Houston Astros — scoring 41 runs in the process.
That extended Oakland’s winning streak to five games — the A’s also beat the wild card-contending Los Angeles Angels before the weekend — and allowed the surging Cleveland Indians to pass the Astros and take over the top spot in the overall AL standings.
After their 19th consecutive win Monday, the Indians own a 1 1/2-game lead over the Astros, with the Red Sox 6 1/2 games behind Cleveland.
The A’s, who won three of four from the Red Sox in May, go with left-hander Sean Manaea in the series opener against Boston lefty Eduardo Rodriguez.
Manaea (10-9, 4.33 ERA) was pounded in his first Fenway start last season, but he defeated the Red Sox at Oakland in May. His last time out, he pitched six shutout innings in a win over the Angels. In his past four starts, Manaea has allowed eight runs in 23 2/3 innings (3.04 ERA).
Rodriguez (4-5, 4.33 ERA) has not had similar recent success. He is winless in 11 starts since May 26, going 0-4 with seven no-decisions. His pitching has been better than those numbers, but he hasn’t been able to post a victory.
Rodriguez is 1-0 in his career against the A’s, pitching 7 2/3 hitless innings against them in a no-decision last September in Oakland.
Both young left-handers come into this game with 17-18 career records.
The Red Sox had their four-game winning streak snapped Sunday, and they lead the AL East by three games over the New York Yankees.
Boston’s starting pitching has surrendered two earned runs or fewer in each of the past five games, going 4-1.
However, Rick Porcello, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, lost for the 17th time this season Sunday. The Red Sox came out on the short end of what looked like an incorrect call and challenge at home plate during a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Boston hopes infielder Eduardo Nunez, batting .319 with eight homers in 37 games with the Red Sox, can return to the lineup. Nunez missed the Friday game due to back spasms and exiting the Saturday game with a knee issue that caused him to sit out Sunday.
“He’s still a little sore and will get treatment today and tomorrow and hopefully be back on Tuesday,” Boston manager John Farrell said Sunday.
The Red Sox pitchers will face a test from the A’s, who followed an eight-game losing streak by pounding the Astros. Khris Davis ranks second in the AL with 39 home runs.
With not much of a history for either of these pitchers by these teams, Chad Pinder is 2-for-6 (.333) with a homer and Davis is 0-for-7 against Rodriguez. For the Red Sox, Chris Young is 4-for-4, Hanley Ramirez 3-for-4 with two homers, and Mookie Betts (homer), Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts are all 2-for-5 off Manaea. Nunez is 1-for-6.