The Oakland Athletics have lost a share of the AL West lead, but they're starting to head in the right direction.
Another start by Bartolo Colon could help them stay on that path.Colon could become the A's first pitcher in eight seasons to win eight consecutive starts Friday night when Oakland opens a three-game set with the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.With Texas beating the Yankees 2-0 on Thursday, Oakland (46-34) fell one-half game behind the Rangers in the West.The A's held a two-game division lead two weeks ago, but a 5-7 stretch has them playing catch-up. Oakland, though, is off to an encouraging start to an eight-game homestand after a two-game sweep of Cincinnati.Manager Bob Melvin's club improved to 7-2 against NL teams with Wednesday's 5-0 victory.The A's now turn to Colon (10-2, 2.93 ERA), who at 40 is enjoying the best stretch of his 16-year career. The right-hander has won seven consecutive starts for the first time, a period in which he's posted a 1.41 ERA.The worst of those was his latest, but he was still good enough. Colon yielded a three-run homer and six other hits over eight innings of a 6-3 victory at Seattle last Friday.He said through a translator that he's doing a better job mixing in offspeed stuff with his fastball, which he throws 85.1 percent of the time."He's a veteran guy. He knows himself. He knows what works," said center fielder Coco Crisp, who should return after missing Wednesday's game due to a family matter. "It's not a fluke."No A's pitcher has won eight consecutive starts since Barry Zito in 2005.Colon hasn't faced the Cardinals since 2007 while with the Angels. He'll likely be throwing to John Jaso, who should return after missing the last five games because of a hand injury.St. Louis (48-30), meanwhile, arrives at the Coliseum for the first time since taking two of three there from June 15-17, 2007.The Cardinals are tied with Pittsburgh atop the NL Central after losing for the fourth time in five games Wednesday, 4-3 at Houston.They'll continue their eight-game trip with Shelby Miller (8-5, 2.35) on the hill. The right-hander leads all rookies in wins and strikeouts (101), but he's been tagged for two homers in two of his last three outings, including a 4-2 loss to Texas on Saturday when he surrendered four runs in 5 2/3 innings.Yadier Molina should be behind the plate after making his second career start at first base Wednesday. Molina, the NL batting leader at .357, is 2 for 4 in each of the last two games after going 1 for 12 in the previous three."He's just got a real good approach and doesn't alter from it when things aren't going how he wants," Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter told the team's official website.A's slugger Yoenis Cespedes is not performing up to his standards -- batting .163 in 12 games since missing two with hamstring tightness -- but Melvin doesn't seem too concerned."I think it's more of a mental thing," he told the A's official website. "He's not, maybe, 100 percent running down the line. It takes a little time."Oakland's Josh Donaldson and St. Louis' Allen Craig can both homer in three straight games. Donaldson has done that once before, while Craig has yet to accomplished the feat.