Last season, the Athletics did not find themselves alone in first place in the American League West until beating the Rangers on the final day of the season to capture the division title. They spent most of the season fighting to overcome a deficit that climbed as high as 13 games.
This time around, Oakland is the frontrunner, carrying a division lead into Tuesday's series opener at Cincinnati. The club lost two of three games to Texas over the weekend, its advantage dropping to 2 1/2 games with Sunday's defeat.
"When you're in first place, the last thing you want to do is think about trying to hold your lead. You have to play like you're catching up," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "With two months left, a lot changes. And in baseball, things can flip back and forth very quickly. We have to play like we're five games behind.
"You can't play with your head turned back hoping that you hold your lead. We have to come in and be very aggressive and not get caught up in the standings. We are in a better position, but that doesn't guarantee anything because we were in a worse position last year and we ended up winning it."
Melvin added that his team's mantra is to "play for today." On Tuesday night, that will mean dealing with a Reds club that has dropped seven of its past nine games, scoring three runs or fewer in each of those defeats.
After starting an eight-game homestand by losing two of three to the division-rival Cardinals, including a 15-2 thrashing on Sunday, the Reds will try to get their bats going in the opener of a two-game Interleague set.
"At this point in the season -- I know there's two months left, I know there's time left, but we're running out of tomorrows, and you want to make these games count," Reds reliever Sam LeCure said.
"We'll see how we respond from this off-day [Monday], and hopefully everybody comes back with a little bit of a renewed sense of urgency and finding ways to win games."
Cincinnati still leads the chase for the second National League Wild Card spot, but Sunday's loss dropped the club to five games behind St. Louis and 6 1/2 behind Pittsburgh in the NL Central. The offense has played a significant role, managing a total of 10 runs in its past seven losses. It's scored 45 runs in its past six victories.
On Tuesday, the Reds will face A's right-hander Dan Straily (6-5, 4.41 ERA). The 24-year-old is 0-3 with a 5.06 ERA in three starts since returning from Triple-A Sacramento on July 20, and he has fallen short of five innings pitched in two consecutive outings.
Straily is facing the Reds for the first time, while Cincinnati righty Mat Latos (10-3, 3.37) is making his first start against the A's.
Latos is 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA in three outings since the All-Star break. He held the Padres to two runs over six innings on Tuesday, but fell victim to the offense's struggles in taking a no-decision in a game the Reds eventually lost.
"It's rough, that's for sure," Latos said afterward. "We have such a good ballclub. For things like this to happen, it's ... I can't even think of a word, to be honest with you -- miserable, I guess. We really shouldn't be struggling and losing ballgames as much as we are."
Athletics: Lowrie's hot bat cooled a bit
Shortstop Jed Lowrie hit safely in each of the first nine games of the A's 10-game homestand, before going 0-for-4 on Sunday. He finished the stand 14-for-41 (.341), with three doubles, a home run and seven RBIs, while notching four multi-hit games.
Lowrie also is 4-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs in his career against Latos.
• Reliever Ryan Cook has not allowed an earned run in 14 straight games. In 15 innings over that span, the righty has given up eight hits and four walks while striking out 13 and surrendering one unearned run.
Reds: Mesoraco stepping up
Since Ryan Hanigan went on the disabled list July 11, Devin Mesoraco has become the Reds' regular catcher and made the most of that chance. The 25-year-old is 19-for-65 (.292) with four doubles, four home runs and 12 RBIs over that span, including a two-homer game on Saturday.
Manager Dusty Baker said that Mesoraco, the club's first-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, is improving his all-around game.
"There's a lot of stuff that goes into being a catcher," Baker said. "It's the toughest position on the field -- mentally and physically. You can't take that strikeout with the bases loaded out on the field, and vice versa, you can't take a bad inning to the plate."
• Oakland, starting a six-game road trip, is making its first trip to Great American Ball Park and playing its first road series against the Reds since 2002. The club swept a two-game set from Cincinnati at home back in June.
• Oakland leads the teams' all-time regular-season series, 10-4, including a three-game sweep at Cinergy Field in 2002. The teams have split their two World Series matchups, with the A's winning in 1972 and the Reds in 1990.