|Date of game: 8/1/2014
Kansas City Royals (55-52) at Oakland Athletics (66-41), 9:35 p.m. (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - If the Oakland Athletics weren't already one of the favorites to win a World Series title they certainly are now after Thursday's acquisition of left-hander Jon Lester.
On Friday, though, they'll hand the ball to a right-hander who has been pretty good, as well, when Sonny Gray goes for the Athletics in the opener of a three-game series versus the Kansas City Royals at O.co Coliseum.
Oakland, which owns the best record in baseball at 66-41, had already bolstered its rotation with the early July acquisitions of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, but general manager Billy Beane felt you could never have enough pitching and obtained Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes on Thursday for power- hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
"It's a zero-sum game," said Beane. "The less runs you give up, the less you have to score. In Jon Lester's case, we're dealing with a guy who is one of the best at his position in the game and has been a long time. It was just too good of an opportunity to pass up on.
"He's a legitimate No. 1 starter. He's proven that. Those guys are hard to come by."
Gray has pitched like an ace this season for the AL West-leading A's, especially in the month of July. The 24-year-old hurler won all five of his starts in July and pitched to a 1.03 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 35 innings.
"When you don't have your best command, you just get everything involved and try to make them put the ball in play," said Gray, who is 12-3 on the year with a 2.65 ERA.
Gray will be opposed by righty Jeremy Guthrie, who is 6-9 with a 4.70 ERA. Guthrie snapped a three-start losing streak his last time out versus Cleveland, but was not sharp as the Indians reached him for five runs and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings. All five runs he surrendered came in the second inning.
"Guthrie came out and did a phenomenal job in the third, fourth, fifth, and even after we got the lead to get two outs in the sixth," said manager Ned Yost. "[That] was huge with the way that our bullpen has been going."
Guthrie has faced the A's 10 times (9 starts) and is 3-4 against them with a 4.80 ERA.
While Oakland enters this series on the heels of a series loss to hapless Houston, the Royals come in red-hot having won seven of nine. Still, the Royals are four games back of the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.
Kansas City, though, will have to get by without first baseman Eric Hosmer for the next 3-to-6 weeks after he aggravated a finger injury in Thursday's 6-3 win over the Minnesota Twins.
"Very frustrating," Hosmer said. "The good thing is I can still get back for that last month and make that last push."
The A's, meanwhile, hold a two-game edge over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the AL West.
Oakland won five of six from the Royals a year ago and have won the last four at home in the series.