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CIN@OAK: Griffin hurls first complete-game shutout

It's only July, but if the Red Sox and Athletics can replicate their first-half success after the All-Star break, there's a chance this weekend's series could be a preview of late October.

Boston and Oakland own the top two records in the American League and lead the AL East and AL West, respectively.

For both teams, their success comes from a solid overall approach -- they each rank in the top half of the AL offensively and in team ERA -- but excellence in one area.

The Sox own the most prolific offense in the Major Leagues, averaging more than five runs per game, and have scored 38 runs in their last five contests.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin said he doesn't see any holes in Boston's lineup.

"When you look at the internal numbers, you can see exactly why they are where they are," Melvin said. "Offensively, they do everything. They can run, they hit for some power, they're first in runs, RBIs. Some middle-of-the-order guys that definitely get your attention. Same at the top. "

Sox manager John Farrell was just as complimentary of the Athletics, who own the best pitching staff in the AL.

The surprising Bartolo Colon gets most of the publicity, but as a unit, the Athletics boast a 3.73 ERA on the year. Their bullpen has been especially nasty, shortening games all season long with a 3.19 ERA.

"It's a good pitcher's ballpark," Farrell said. "Pitching has been a calling card to them over a long period of time, and when you see what Bartolo Colon is doing, it makes you marvel at his ability to still throw in the low-to-mid 90s and be as effective as he is."

The fast starts have undoubtedly led to playoff expectations, but it's hard to imagine the Red Sox doing major damage in the postseason without Jon Lester playing a central role.

The lefty, who will start against Oakland's A.J. Griffin on Saturday, has been struggling to find his rhythm.

Lester's given up four runs or more in five of his last six outings and has particularly had issues locating his pitches with runners on base.

Griffin, however, has been a reliable contributor for the Athletics.

He rebounded from a rough outing against the White Sox on July 2 when he gave up seven runs over 5 2/3 frames by earning the win with a two-run, five-inning outing against the Royals on Sunday.

Red Sox: Bullpen help on the way
They Red Sox didn't bother waiting until the non-waiver Trade Deadline to bring in help for their ailing bullpen.

Boston acquired left-handed reliever Matt Thornton from the White Sox in exchange for Minor League outfielder Brandon Jacobs on Friday night.

Thornton, 36, is 0-3 with a 3.86 ERA in 40 appearances this season.

The Red Sox have had health issues in their bullpen this season with three major contributors on the disabled list.

Andrew Miller was placed on the 60-day DL earlier in the week, Franklin Morales is on the 15-day DL due to discomfort in his pectoral muscle and former closer Joel Hanrahan was lost for the season after having Tommy John surgery.

Athletics: Gray earns Melvin's confidence
Sonny Gray, Oakland's first-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, made a good first impression during his Major League debut Wednesday.

Gray threw two scoreless innings against the Pirates, striking out three and giving up just one hit. His only other relief experience was in Spring Training, but the one outing was enough to inspire confidence from Melvin.

"He impressed to the point where we could potentially use him in any situation," Melvin said Friday.

"It didn't look like he was nervous about anything. He threw all his pitches. Therefore, depending on a particular day and who's available, we're certainly not opposed to using him in a plus game and an important situation."

Worth Noting
• After tying a season-worst three-game losing streak, the Red Sox have won four straight. They've won 13 of their last 17.

• The Athletics will go into the All-Star break with a winning record for the first time since 2008. They're 54-39 on the year and one more win before the break would give them their most since 1975.

• Jacoby Ellsbury's 19-game hit streak came to an end after going 0-for-4 Friday. His career-best streak is 22.

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