OAKLAND -- Jon Lester has some advice for his A's teammates about playing this weekend's crucial series against the Los Angeles Angels. Don't wear the weight of the matchup on your shoulders.
Lester, who has spent much of his major league career listening to fans and media blow up every Boston Red Sox series against the New York Yankees as Armageddon, has learned to turn down the noise in order to turn up his game.
"If you buy into the hype, if you buy into the nonsense of it, that's when you set yourself up for failure," said the veteran left-hander, who will pitch the second game of the three-game set at the Coliseum.
The series pits the top two teams in the American League West and the two best teams in baseball record-wise, though neither team comes into Friday's series opener sporting confident smiles. The A's have lost 8 out of 10 and are nicked up physically and wobbly psychologically, still trying to adjust from the Yoenis Cespedes trade that brought Lester from Boston to Oakland on July 31.
The Angels, meanwhile, while surging to a two-game division lead over the past week, lost ace starter Garrett Richards for the season when he tore the patella tendon in his left knee Wednesday against the Red Sox. The starting pitching already thin, it was a devastating blow to L.A.'s long-term aspirations, their potent Mike Trout-led offense notwithstanding.
At least for the A's part, Lester said there's only one sure cure for getting back on course -- ignore the external hoopla surrounding these three games and focus on the field.
"Just try to go play good baseball," he said. "Just worry about making a pitch or having a good at-bat or fielding a ground ball or catching a fly ball. That's what it all comes down to. It sounds like a smart-ass response, but that's what it is. You can't let (the hype) make or break your season. You've got a find a way to block it out somehow."
Lester's glittering credentials in big games and postseason series lend considerable credence to his words. He understands it's a big showdown against the Angels but looks at it realistically -- the two teams will play 10 of their final 36 games against one another, and each team will also play six times against the Seattle Mariners, another divisional heavyweight playing as well as any team in the game right now.
Hence, as crucial as the series may appear to be, it's just a starting point. Nothing will be settled this weekend. From the A's standpoint, though, they are hoping a successful result re-establishes their competitive equilibrium.
"We haven't been playing very good baseball, so this is a good opportunity to get some adrenaline going and do something positive," first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss said. "It's time to start playing some winning baseball and get ourselves back on track."
The A's have played 19 consecutive games outside their division, including five interleague games during this rough patch. Getting back to playing more familiar A.L. West opponents might be a galvanizing switch, particularly starting out against the Angels at home.
"Since it's a weekend series, we're expecting the place will be pretty crowded and there'll be a lot of excitement," manager Bob Melvin said. "It certainly makes it easier to get up for the games."
"It could be one of those things where we step our game up and really rise to the occasion," closer Sean Doolittle said. "Now that we're starting to head down the home stretch and there's a greater sense of urgency, there's a lot of momentum we could possibly gain out of this series. It could be a jump start for us."
Lester agreed on that count but also was mindful that it's still August, and there's more than a month to go in the regular season with so many games within the division to play beyond these three games. Long-term, he said, just getting into the playoffs is far more important for the A's than going in as the best team.
"Obviously, you want to win the division and have the top seed and best record," he said. "But any way you can get in, that's what matters. Just get there, whether you're the second wild-card or the division winner. From there, anything can happen. Take last year, we (the Red Sox) weren't supposed to beat the Tigers. Nobody was supposed to beat the Tigers. But one or two things happen, and boom, you're the hot team."
Follow Carl Steward on Twitter at twitter.com/stewardsfolly.
L.A. Angels (Hector Santiago 3-7) at A's (Sonny Gray 12-7),
7:05 p.m. CSNCA
A.L. WEST RACE
Team W L GB L10
Angels 76 50 -- 8-2
A's 74 52 2 2-8
Mariners 68 58 8 7-3
A'S VS. ANGELS
Season series: A's lead, 6-3
Remaining series: Friday-
Sunday (3 games), at Oakland; Aug. 28-Aug. 31 (4), at Anaheim; Sept. 22-24 (3), at Oakland