Reaching the playoffs once seemed a foregone conclusion for the Oakland Athletics, though that isn't the case anymore.
The Athletics continue to stumble as they look to slow down Chris Carter and snap the visiting Houston Astros' five-game win streak Saturday.Oakland (79-61) led the AL West through most of the season and owned a four-game edge Aug. 10, but the Athletics then dropped 17 of 24 to fall a season-worst six games behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels.Now the concern is that a few clubs in Oakland's rearview mirror may be closer than they appear. The A's hold the AL's top wild card, with Seattle sitting two games back and Detroit trailing by 2 1/2.Oakland has totaled 19 runs while losing seven of eight."You can't continue to put pressure on our pitching like this," manager Bob Melvin said.Making matters worse this weekend is a former Oakland slugger continuing to torment general manager Billy Beane's club in Friday's 4-3 defeat that opened a three-game set.Carter, traded by Beane to Houston before the 2013 season in a deal that brought Jed Lowrie to Oakland, homered for the fourth straight game against the A's and has nine RBIs in that span. The slugger has seven homers and 18 RBIs in his last 11 games against his first big-league club and has driven in 20 runs versus Oakland this year."I'm always excited to play here," Carter said. "This is where I played my first game."Carter is tied for second in the majors with 36 homers, including 23 since the start of July after belting three in his last two games.Lowrie, meanwhile, is hitting .239 although he has a .333 average against the Astros.Houston (62-79) is enjoying its longest win streak since a season-high seven-game run May 24-30. The Astros are 3-0 under interim manager Tom Lawless.Carter is 5 for 11 with no homers in his career against Oakland starter Scott Kazmir (14-7, 3.39 ERA), while major league batting leader Jose Altuve is 8 for 16 against a pitcher looking to regroup.Kazmir is coming off back-to-back defeats to the Angels in which he surrendered 13 runs over 4 1/3 innings. He recorded four outs and was ripped for seven runs in Sunday's 8-1 defeat.The left-hander criticized home plate umpire Gerry Davis after that contest, saying Davis was caught making a "cry-baby face" at the Oakland dugout the night before and that was part of the reason the pitcher matched a season high with four walks.The Houston-born Kazmir is 1-0 with a 1.71 ERA in three 2014 starts against the Astros. He has posted a 7.80 ERA in his last six outings.Kazmir will be matched up with Scott Feldman (8-10, 4.09), who is 0-2 with a 4.66 ERA in three starts against Oakland this year. Josh Reddick is 4 for 8 with two homers versus Feldman in those contests and Josh Donaldson is 3 for 7.The right-hander went 4-2 with a 3.32 ERA in six August starts, turning in his second complete game in that stretch with a three-hitter in last Saturday's 2-0 win over Texas.Reddick is expected to return to the lineup after he was rested Friday. Stephen Vogt will miss the entire series with a left ankle sprain suffered Wednesday against Seattle.Altuve is batting .412 during a 12-game hitting streak and has a .367 average during a 21-game run against Oakland.