After the Oakland Athletics bolstered their rotation with two high-profile trades prior to the non-waiver deadline, many figured they would cruise to the AL West crown.
Despite a season-worst losing streak that caused them to fall out of first place for the first time since April, the A's are confident they can regroup.
Oakland looks to avoid a sixth straight defeat as Scott Kazmir seeks a career-best 14th victory in Tuesday night's series opener with the visiting New York Mets.
The A's (73-51) acquired starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs on July 4 and made another big splash July 31 when they dealt slugger Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Jon Lester.
They were alone in first place from April 28 through Saturday, when the Los Angeles Angels slipped ahead of them. Lester then suffered his first defeat since the trade, giving up four runs in six innings of a 4-3 loss to Atlanta on Sunday.
Oakland has dropped seven of eight, but the attitude has remained positive.
"Guys are competing, we just aren't getting results right now," Lester said. "This team's too good to stay in this funk."
After a 1-6 road trip, the A's head home for two against the Mets and a crucial three-game set with the Angels beginning Friday. Oakland is a major league-best 21-7 at home since June 17.
"This was not a good trip, so we've got to get home and we've got to regroup," manager Bob Melvin said. "It will be good to get home in front of our crowd. They're usually good for us."
Kazmir (13-5, 2.78 ERA) has gone 7-2 with a 2.34 ERA at O.co Coliseum but hasn't been very effective in two starts there this month, yielding nine runs and 15 hits in 12 2-3 innings. He was better on the road Wednesday, allowing three runs in seven innings of a 3-0 loss to Kansas City.
"I felt good. I was able to add and subtract from my fastball, but the important thing was I was getting my changeup back," Kazmir said. "That's positive going forward, definitely."
He'll try again to surpass his career high for victories, first set in 2007 with Tampa Bay, against the club which made the left-hander a first-round pick in 2002 and handed him his worst start this year. Kazmir gave up seven runs and eight hits - including three homers - in three innings of a 10-1 loss to New York on June 24.
The Mets (59-67) didn't have that type of offense during a four-game split with the Cubs, being held to four hits in each contest. They fell 4-1 on Monday as they matched a franchise record with fewer than five hits for the fifth straight game.
"Maybe they're swinging too much," manager Terry Collins said. "It's trying not to do too much, just try to put the barrel on the baseball."
New York has provided Dillon Gee only five runs of support over his last six starts.
Gee (4-5, 3.69) is 0-4 with a 5.60 ERA during that span. He gave up four runs and walked a season worst-tying four in six innings of Thursday's 4-1 loss to Washington.
"The command's been on and off and I just keep working on it," said Gee, who has issued 13 walks in his last 22 1-3 innings. "There's nothing really I can pinpoint that's making that a problem."
The right-hander had a career-high six walks in his only start against the A's, giving up four runs in four innings of a 7-3 loss in 2011.