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One of the most important series of the regular season will take place this weekend at RingCentral Coliseum. The molten-hot New York Yankees will visit the struggling Oakland Athletics for a four-game series as the two clubs look to solidify their spot in the American League wild card race. The two clubs met in the 2018 Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium.

Here are the wild card standings heading into Thursday night's series opener:

  1. New York Yankees: 74-52
  2. Boston Red Sox: 72-56
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  3. Oakland Athletics: 70-57 (1.5 GB)
  4. Seattle Mariners: 69-58 (2.5 GB)
  5. Toronto Blue Jays: 66-59 (4.5 GB)

Because of the pandemic and regional play in 2020, the Yankees have not visited Oakland in more than two years, since Aug. 20-22 in 2019. The A's swept that series, and they are 9-1 in their last 10 home games against the Yankees dating back to 2016. The Yankees last won a game in Oakland on Sept. 4, 2018. The A's used Liam Hendriks as an opener that day.

Here are the details for this weekend's Yankees vs. Athletics series at RingCentral Coliseum. Select games can be streamed on fuboTV (try for free).

DateStart timeStarting pitchersTV

Thurs., Aug. 26

9:40 p.m. ET

RHP James Kaprielian (7-4, 3.24) vs. RHP Jameson Taillon (8-4, 3.94)

NBC Sports California, YES Network, MLB Network

Fri., Aug. 27

9:40 p.m. ET

LHP Sean Manaea (8-8, 3.77) vs. RHP Gerrit Cole (12-6, 2.92)

NBC Sports California, YES Network

Sat., Aug. 28

4:07 p.m. ET

RHP Frankie Montas (9-9, 3.84) vs. LHP Néstor Cortes Jr. (2-1, 2.56)

NBC Sports California, WPIX

Sun., Aug. 29

7:08 p.m. ET

RHP Paul Blackburn (0-1, 4.09) vs. LHP Jordan Montgomery (5-5, 3.69)

ESPN

Kaprielian is former Yankees prospect and first-round pick. The A's acquired him as part of the Sonny Gray trade back in 2017. The 27-year-old has battled a series of arm injuries throughout his career, including Tommy John surgery, but he has been a godsend for Oakland this year, and still has enough time to pitch his way into the Rookie of the Year conversation.

The 27-year-old Blackburn was summoned from Triple-A last week to replace All-Star Chris Bassitt, who was hit in the face by a line drive on Aug. 17, and had surgery earlier this week. Bassitt fortunately escaped with only facial fractures and did not suffer any eye or neurological damage. Cortes is in New York's rotation because Corey Kluber (shoulder) and Michael King (finger) are injured.

The Yankees are expected to welcome Gio Urshela back from the injured list Thursday. He's been out with a hamstring issue since July 31. Now here are four other things to know heading into this week's important series in Oakland, with a prediction thrown in at the end for good measure.

1. The Yankees lead the season series

These two clubs met in the Bronx in mid-June, with the Yankees taking two of three. It was a close, competitive series, with all three games decided by one or two runs. Here's the recap:

Although the Yankees and Athletics are not division rivals, clinching the season series is important. It would lock in the tiebreaker and thus home-field advantage should these two clubs finish with the same record and meet in the Wild Card Game or a Game 163 tiebreaker. New York needs to split the four-game series to secure the season series win. The A's must win at least three of four.

2. Two teams heading in opposite directions

The last two weeks could not have gone any differently for these two teams. The Yankees head into Thursday night's series opener having won their last 11 games, including sweeping two games from the NL East-leading Braves in Atlanta earlier this week. It is New York's first 11-game winning streak since 1985. They haven't had a 12-game winning streak since 1961.

"We're in the grind, we're in the fight," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said following Tuesday's win (video link). "It's been so much fun competing with these guys. Watching these guys compete, watching these guys show up every single day, knowing there's a lot on the line."

As for the Athletics, they've lost their last four games and eight of their last 10 games. They blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning Saturday, a one-run lead in the eighth inning Sunday, and a one-run lead in the ninth inning Monday. That's three gut-punch losses in the last four games. Letting winnable games slip away in a postseason race is no way to punch your ticket to October.

"Everything right now. Everything," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters, including Jessica Kleinschmidt of NBC Bay Area, when asked to identify what's wrong with his team following Tuesday's loss to the Mariners. "Putting too much pressure on every facet that we have right now ... This is the wrong time to go into a slump, wrong time to go into a team slump. We'll figure it out."

3. The stars are hot

When you're fighting for a postseason spot, you need your best players to be your best players, and both the Yankees and Athletics have received tremendous production from their stars this month. Here are the August numbers:


PAAVG/OBP/SLGHRRBISBWAR

Aaron Judge

101

.306/.396/.565

6

17

4

1.1

Giancarlo Stanton

88

.320/.420/.613

6

19

0

0.9

Luke Voit

56

.320/.393/.620

4

17

0

0.6


PAAVG/OBP/SLGHRRBISBWAR

Matt Chapman

78

.246/.372/.492

5

10

1

0.8

Starling Marte

96

.378/.406/.533

2

14

16

1.3

Matt Olson

93

.269/.387/.500

5

15

1

0.7

Marte joined the Athletics in a trade deadline deal with the Marlins and he already ranks eighth in the American League with 17 stolen bases. He is still third in the National League with 22 steals. Decent chance Marte finishes in the top 10 (maybe even in the top five) in stolen bases in each league. He is an incredible 39 for 42 stealing bases this season.

On the flip side, the Yankees are still waiting for trade deadline additions Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo to really get going. They've both hit a few clutch home runs this month and have greatly improved the defense, though they're hitting a combined .164/.309/.358 in pinstripes. The A's, meanwhile, really need Mark Canha (.185/.274/.222 in August) to get going at the plate.

4. Both teams have a closer problem

The Yankees have had five different pitchers record a save during their 11-game winning streak and neither Aroldis Chapman nor Zack Britton are among the five. Britton went down with an elbow issue earlier this week and Chapman recently returned from an elbow issue of his own. He loaded the bases and walked in a run in the ninth inning Tuesday, and had to be pulled from the game.

"We've got to figure it out, and the bottom line is a lot of people are doing really good things down there," Boone told reporters, including the Associated Press, following Tuesday's win. Boone did not commit to Chapman remaining the closer. 

Since returning from the injured list Chapman has retired only six of 14 batters faced, and twice in three games he had to be pulled so another reliever could close out the game. His struggles date back before the elbow injury too. Since June 10, Chapman has allowed 18 runs in 19 innings, and opponents have tagged him for a .289/.449/.553 batting line. Yikes.

Jonathan Loaisiga is New York's obvious closer alternative -- he has been their best reliever all season -- though he is so valuable as a multi-inning fireman in the middle innings. Using him against the other team's best hitters regardless of inning makes sense. Boone may mix and match with Loaisiga, Chad Green, Wandy Peralta, and others in the ninth inning until Chapman rights the ship.

As for the A's, they signed Trevor Rosenthal to be their closer in the offseason, but he has not pitched (and will not pitch) this year following surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome and a torn hip labrum. Lou Trivino stepped in at closer in April and was magnificent up until this past weekend, when he blew back-to-back saves and was booed off the mound by the Oakland faithful.

"He is not gonna be able to pitch [Tuesday]. The workload, he was going to be off today or tomorrow," Melvin told reporters, including MLB.com's Martín Gallegos, when asked whether Trivino would remain the closer following Monday's loss. "We were trying to break it up between all our guys in these next two days. I won't have him available tomorrow. We'll get through the off-day [Wednesday] and we'll see where we're at."

Should the Athletics demote Trivino (even just temporarily), a closer by committee approach with lefties Andrew Chafin and Jake Diekman, and righties Sergio Romo and Yusmeiro Petit, seems most likely. At the moment though, both the Yankees and A's are having issues in the ninth inning. Neither club as a reliable closer going into this weekend's series.

Prediction!

We'll close with a prediction because hey, why not? The official CBS Sports prediction: Yankees win three of four. I'm going with the reverse lock and will say the Yankees lose Cole's start but win the other three games, because baseball is weird like that. Ultimately, the Yankees are playing just too well to bet against them right now. Just about everything is clicking except their closer. The A's have concerns up and down the roster in addition to their closer questions.