Angels, A's jockey for position in AL West

( - There is no better time than now for the Oakland Athletics to break out of their current slump.

The Athletics will try to make up some ground in the American League West on Friday night as they host the first-place Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the opener of a three-game series.

Oakland held a four-game lead atop the division before losing eight of its last 10. That has knocked the Athletics two games back of the Angels, they though do have a comfortable 5 1/2 game edge for a wild card spot.

The A's have also won six of nine versus the Angels this season, sweeping a three-game set in Oakland from May 30-June 1, but Los Angeles has picked up a victory in eight of its last nine games to charge ahead in the standings.

The Athletics were able to snap a season-high five-game skid on Tuesday with a win over the New York Mets, but dropped Wednesday's finale of a quick two-game set by an 8-5 margin. Starter Jeff Samardzija yielded seven runs over just 3 2/3 innings.

Next up for Oakland will be right-hander Sonny Gray, who comes in having lost each of his past four starts with a 4.94 earned run average over that span.

Gray was charged with four runs on eight hits and a walk over 5 1/3 frames of a 4-3 setback to Atlanta on Saturday. It marked the third time over his four- game skid that the A's lost by one run.

"I thought I threw the ball well," Gray said. "(The Braves) got a lot of bloop hits and the one big hit when they needed to."

Gray's skid has dropped him to 12-7 on the year, while his ERA has ticked up to 2.99.

The 24-year-old is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in three career meetings with the Angels, including two starts.

The Angels resume their pennant race knowing that starter Garrett Richards was lost for the season due to a torn patellar tendon in his left knee suffered in Wednesday's win over Boston. That ends what has been a career year for Richards, who went 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 26 starts.

Los Angeles shook off the news to complete their first four-game sweep in Boston since 1962 with a 2-0 victory over the Red Sox on Thursday.

Matt Shoemaker flirted with a no-hitter in getting the win, retiring 20 straight after hitting the first batter he faced. He lost his no-hit bid when Will Middlebrooks doubled down the left-field line with two outs in the seventh inning.

The rookie right-hander wound up pitching 7 2/3 innings, striking out nine and only allowing one hit and one walk.

"I didn't even really know or even think about it until the fifth or sixth," Shoemaker said of the no-hitter.

Hector Santiago gets the call for the Angels in this opener having not gotten a decision in three outings since a win over Baltimore on July 31. He has a 2.08 ERA since that win, but Los Angeles has lost all three games while getting outscored 11-7.

In a 3-2 setback to Texas on Sunday, the left-handed Santiago yielded a run on four hits and a walk over six innings. He is 3-7 with a 3.46 ERA in 22 games with 17 starts.

Santiago, 26, is 1-2 with a 2.53 ERA in five meetings with Oakland, including three starts.

The Angels added some infield depth on Thursday be acquiring Gordon Beckham from the Chicago White Sox. Beckham has played his entire six-year career in Chicago, but has not batted better than the .270 he hit his rookie year.

The 27-year-old is hitting a career-low .221 this season with seven home runs and 36 RBI.