It seems almost unfair for a team that already has accomplished so much. But to get to the homestretch, the A's must navigate one more long, treacherous stretch of road.
When the A's on Tuesday begin a 10-game trip traversing the country, it will be the last leg of a brutal odyssey in which they play 17 of 20 games on the road. It is a journey that probably will make or break this young team.
The junket starts in Detroit, and anyone who remembers the 2006 American League Championship Series between these teams knows what horrors can be wrought at Comerica Park.
It continues in New York, where the A's will start three young pitchers who have never been to the Big Apple, let alone Yankee Stadium.
Finally, the marathon roadie concludes in Arlington, Texas, with four games against the two-time A.L. champion Rangers in a park where the A's have won just four of their past 15 games.
Oh, yes, after Monday there are no more days off. It is a 16-day grind to the finish line.
In 33 years as traveling secretary for the A's, Mickey Morabito can't remember a more daunting slice of scheduling, particularly a late September run that includes crossing multiple time zones.
"It's really like we're on a six-city road trip, with Oakland as one of the stops," Morabito said Sunday.
Indeed, during their three-game series at home against Baltimore over the weekend -- following a seven-game swing to Seattle and Anaheim -- the A's didn't even
"I don't know if it was a good thing that we came home or not, because it's just a quick pit stop, and now we have to pick it back up and go again," said outfielder Josh Reddick. "It's a little weird."
Then again, the road is where the A's have thrived of late. They have put together back-to-back 6-1 trips, tied an Oakland club record with 12 consecutive road wins and are 40-31 for the season away from home. They have a bit of a cushion with a 11/2-game lead for the first wild-card spot and a 41/2-game lead for the second one, and their final six games of the season are at home.
The A's definitely are road-tested. They started the year with an exhausting trip to Japan, and a number of their younger guys say they prefer being on the road.
"Honestly, I love the hotels ... my buddy calls them show-tels," said pitcher A.J. Griffin (6-0, 1.94 ERA), who will start the first game of the trip Tuesday against the Tigers' Max Scherzer. "Compared to Double-A, we stay in some really nice places. I've always enjoyed the road, even in college. You feel like you have a few less worries. You're not thinking about obligations other than baseball, things like your rent."
All three teams the A's visit on this trip have their own playoff quests. Detroit is scrambling for its postseason life in a Central Division battle with the Chicago White Sox. The injury-riddled Yankees have had trouble shaking the pesky Orioles and aren't safe for October. Texas, with seven games still to play against the A's, knows it can't rest on the laurels of a three-game A.L. West lead, particularly with a three-game series in Oakland to end the season.
A's manager Bob Melvin isn't as worried as he might have been once upon a time. Starting with the Japan trip, he said, the team has formed a fraternal bond on the road that has gotten stronger with each successful step.
"Earlier in the season, we played pretty well in Texas, Boston and Anaheim -- typically tough venues -- and I think that's been a momentum-builder for us," Melvin said. "I think at this point, we feel we have just as good a chance to win on the road as we do at home."
It does give pause, however, to consider that Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily and Griffin -- the three starters scheduled to pitch against the Yankees -- have never been to New York.
"Sure, I know I'm pitching at Yankee Stadium next," Straily said, "but I'm looking at it as a fun baseball experience in a playoff race. I'm going there to do work, not sightsee."
Melvin doesn't think his club will shrink at the sight of pinstripes.
"We did OK against them here, so whether they're in their whites or grays, I don't think it should matter," he said. "Now, the first time you go to Yankee Stadium is always a special time. I know I remember my first time there, so that's a given. But I certainly don't think it should be a factor in the games."
Reddick, who got a good taste of Yankee Stadium having come up with the Boston Red Sox, isn't so sure.
"It's going to be interesting, a totally different atmosphere like nothing we've played in before, so hopefully our younger guys can adapt to it," he said. "I personally love playing there, because I've always said there's no heckler like the New York heckler. They stay on you constantly. People can read the name on my jersey, and you can see all the things that can be created with that. In New York, they've explored it as much as you can."
THREE BIG HURDLES TO THE A'S POSTSEASON ASPIRATIONS
* Detroit is in an A.L. Central battle with the White Sox.
* First trip to New York could be daunting for young A's players.
Ballpark at Arlington
* The A's have won only four of their past 15 at Texas.