A's look to grow division lead in Texas

It's been more than six years since the Athletics have led the American League West by at least three games. Over their last eight contests, they've gained 2.5 games in the standings on the Rangers who stumbled with a 2-7 clip, including six-straight losses. Monday, the teams begin a pivotal four-game series in Texas as the A's look to make a statement as the season's first half winds down.

It was the conclusion of 2006's regular season, when the Frank Thomas-led Athletics won the division by four games before going to the ALCS for the first time since 1992. Oakland's .592 winning percentage so far would be there best since 2003.

Winning 22 of their last 29 means the A's are one of baseball's hottest team, despite losing two-of-three over the weekend to the Mariners in Oakland. It was the first time the A's had dropped a series since May 13-15 when Texas won a pair at O.Co Coliseum.

This week's four-game set is as important as a series can be in June, as the Athletics look to clamp down on the division and take some of the drama away early after only leading in the standings on the season's final day last year.

The last time Oakland played the Rangers, it was in the early stages of their hot streak that helped springboard their 22-7 run.

It's no coincidence that Dan Straily pitched the best game of his major league career to that point when he out-dueled Yu Darvish in a 1-0 victory in the second game of that series. Since then, Straily has become one the team's best starting pitchers in Brett Anderson's stead, registering a 2.20 ERA with the A's winning five-consecutive games he has started.

It's fitting, then, Straily (4-2, 4.45 ERA) is going in Monday's series opener as the Athletics look to improve to 9-2 when he takes the hill. He'll go against Nick Tepesch (3-6, 4.30).

Tepesch has struggled in last two outings, yielding a combined 11 runs in 12 innings lifting his ERA almost a full run. Having made just one start at the Triple-A level, the 6'4" right-hander was forced into the rotation early on thanks to injuries to some of the team's top starting pitchers, including Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison.

To his credit, Tepesch has performed better than replacement level and manages to get ground balls at a 54 percent rate thanks to an above average cut fastball.

Tuesday night's game offers a great matchup of right-handers when Davish (7-2, 2.64) and Jarrod Parker (5-6, 4.45) take the hill. Darvish has pitched into the seventh inning in seven of his last eight starts and has struck out 14 hitters in three separate outings.

The last time he threw against the A's was the night Straily shutout his offense. He held Oakland's offense to one run on five hits through six innings. Darvish leads baseball with 127 strikeouts, 17 more than second-place Felix Hernandez.

After losing his first four decisions to start the year, Parker has improved drastically to the tune of a 7-2 record with a 3.02 ERA. Opposing hitters' .205/.275/.381 slash line (aided by a .213 BABIP) has led to his allowing less hits than innings pitcher overall.

Parker got the no-decision in his last outing when the Athletics and Yankees dueled for 18 innings before Nate Freiman finally knocked in the game-winning run five hours and 35 minutes after the first pitch.

Wednesday's third game of the series will have Tommy Milone (6-6, 3.61) goes against Justin Grimm (5-5, 5.59). Oddly enough, Milone will be making his season debut against the Rangers, despite the teams having already played each other six times. In 2012, Milone made three starts against the Rangers, all in Texas, going 0-2 with a 2.50 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.

Milone's numbers continue to be much better at home. Four of his last five outings have been away from Oakland, where he's compiled a 2-0 record and 4.15 ERA in games against the Astros, Giants, Brewers and White Sox. Texas' lineup has a 775 OPS at home, making Wednesday's start a tough test for the lefty.

Grimm was drafted in 2010 and is another player forced into the rotation with the litany of injuries to Rangers starting arms. He has just 48 minor league starts under his belt with just nine coming in Triple-A.

The right-hander has struggled significantly in his last three outings, surrendering 19 earned runs on 22 hits over 15 innings. The A's got to Grimm in his May 13 start when he allowed five runs in five innings in the 5-1 loss in Oakland.

The series wraps up Thursday afternoon when Texas sends Josh Lindblom (0-2, 5.94) to the mound to make his fourth start of the year. Linblom was originally a product of the Dodgers' system but arrived in Texas as a part of the Michael Young trade that sent the veteran infielder to the Phillies.

The righty is helping the team replace talented hurler Alexi Ogando, who was put on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation June 6. Linblom made his first start of the year against the A's May 20 in Texas, when he allowed four runs in 4.2 frames.

Griffin has allowed exactly four earned runs in four of his last five starts with a 4.55 ERA. The A's have lost the last four games he's started.

With a ground ball rate of just 32 percent, Texas figures to be a scary place for the 25-year-old to pitch. But he's had surprisingly good numbers against the Rangers, notching a 2.87 ERA in three starts, including a six-inning, two-hit shutout performance in his second major league start last June.

Rockies Digest Top Stories