At this time of year, it's important for playoff hopefuls to take advantage of games against non-contending clubs.
The Oakland Athletics have had no trouble adhering to this standard against the Cleveland Indians.The surging Athletics look to beat the free-falling Indians for the seventh time in as many meetings over the last two weeks in Thursday's season finale at Progressive Field.With Wednesday's 8-4 win over Cleveland, Oakland (72-57) took over sole possession of the AL's top wild-card spot for the first time since Aug. 9.The A's, who are two wins away from matching last season's total, have won 11 of 13, with six of those victories coming over Cleveland (55-75). They swept a three-game home set against the Indians from Aug. 17-19, and are in position to sweep their first series in Cleveland since taking all four Aug. 19-22, 2002.Although the A's are seeking their first playoff berth since 2006 and the Indians are a major league-worst 5-26 since July 27, Oakland is focused on not overlooking its woeful opponent."We got to go out there and play like we're facing the No. 1 team," third baseman Josh Donaldson said after hitting a three-run homer Wednesday.Donaldson is one of the key contributors to Oakland's surge, batting .362 with nine RBIs in his last 12 games to raise his average 59 points to .226.Josh Reddick is also swinging a hot bat, going 9 for 18 in his last four games, while Yoenis Cespedes is batting .400 with five doubles and four RBIs in the last six against the Indians.Oakland's pitching, however, has had the most to do with its recent success. The club's 2.41 ERA since Aug. 16 is the best in baseball, and it has limited Cleveland to 13 total runs in the last six meetings."They have a very good pitching staff," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "We can see why they're playing the way they are playing."Acta's club has already been stymied by Jarrod Parker (8-7, 3.52 ERA), who allowed six hits and a walk in eight innings of a 7-0 victory Aug. 19. The rookie right-hander wasn't quite as sharp five days later, yielding three runs and seven hits in six innings at Tampa Bay.Parker will be facing a Cleveland team that is 0 for 24 with runners in scoring position in the series, and was in the midst of a 24-inning scoreless streak until Jason Donald's third-inning homer Wednesday.The Indians plated more than three runs for the first time in 10 games, though Asdrubal Cabrera had nothing to do with the relative outburst. The All-Star shortstop was ejected for arguing in the bottom of the first inning after striking out, leaving him 2 for 24 in his last seven games.Cleveland's starter for the finale, Justin Masterson (10-11, 4.60), opposed Parker last week and was on the hook for all seven runs in 5 2/3 innings. He was much more effective against the Yankees on Saturday, yielding a run and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings of a 3-1 win.That inconsistency is nothing new. Masterson has allowed at least seven runs in three of his last seven outings while surrendering two or fewer in the other four.He's basically been terrible in all five career starts against the A's, going 1-4 with a 9.12 ERA.