The A's have pulled within reach of the Rangers, who can no longer take the West or home field for granted. Do we have a race in the AL West or don't we?
1. Should the Rangers be worried?
Richard Durrett (@espn_durrett), ESPN Dallas: A little. But they have been on top of the division the whole season (and the last two years before that, really) and know what to do. They'll get their seven meetings with Oakland in the final 10 games, and Texas likes its spot at three games up with 16 games to play. But they've talked about the respect they have for the A's. The Rangers are scoreboard watching and know the A's aren't going away.
Jason Wojciechowski (@jlwoj), Beaneball.org: The Rangers should absolutely be worried. Three games with just 16 to play is a solid lead but far from insurmountable, and the drop from first seed in the American League to a one-game death match against the team-of-destiny Orioles just for the right to play the A's or Yankees in the real playoffs is a long fall.
Hudson Belinsky (@HudsonBelinsky), Halos Daily: Yes. Oakland is a testament to the fact that baseball is a very difficult sport to predict, even over 162 games. One team playing three games better than another for two weeks? Crazier things have happened.
2. The A's have to visit the Tigers and Yankees before playing seven of their last 10 against the Rangers. Will it come down to those head-to-head matchups, or will the schedule nip this threat in the bud?
Durrett: I think the schedule will get them. That's a tough stretch even before they face Texas. The head-to-head games will matter, but if the A's are five or more back, they'll be under heavy pressure to win a bunch of those games -- and four of them are in Arlington. They need to close the gap to one or two games and make the Rangers feel it so that those head-to-head games have even more impact.
Wojciechowski: The difference in schedules for the two teams is that the Rangers play six against the Angels, three of them at home, while the A's roll through Detroit and the Bronx. This favors the Rangers, but given the Angels' decidedly non-patsy status, I would guess the lead will still be just two to four games when the Sept. 24-27 four-game series starts in Texas.
Belinsky: Oakland has been red-hot of late, winning 23 of its last 30, but runs into an equally hot trio of starters in Detroit in Max Scherzer (1.29 ERA in his last seven starts), Justin Verlander (he's Justin Verlander) and Anibal Sanchez (1.89 ERA in his last five turns, and he was almost perfect on Saturday). New York's lineup can still mash against just about anyone, and the Yankees will get to use three decent arms in Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte. It wouldn't be crazy to see the A's still alive by then, but it would be reasonable to expect them to take a hit or two before trying to knock off the reigning AL champs down the stretch.
3. A's manager Bob Melvin, honcho Billy Beane & Co. have been problem-solving all season. Is there one last problem that they should fix, and what can they do about it?
Durrett: No. Just let the team play. The A's are playing well and are confident. It's a scrappy bunch. If they can keep winning and get that gap close before they come to Arlington on Sept. 24, things could get very interesting.
Wojciechowski: A's fans have mainly been reduced to complaining about whether Josh Reddick bats third or sixth in the lineup. The team is hardly perfect, of course (second base is a mess and Derek Norris hasn't hit), but there's not much to be done but hope that the good (such as the endless array of young starting pitchers and the 2-through-5 portion of the lineup) continues to outweigh the bad.
Belinsky: Every team has holes. Oakland has needed offense desperately all season. Unfortunately, there's no obvious upgrade out there and the club will probably be best served by standing pat for the rest of the stretch run.