How will the AL West be won? Rangers, A's vie for division title

The Oakland Athletics will try to do the improbable on Wednesday, as they attempt to complete a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers and secure an American League West title in the process.

Oakland, which nailed down its first playoff spot since 2006 with a win in Monday's opener against Texas, found itself 13 games back of the Rangers and five games under .500 after a loss to Texas on June 30.

But, the gritty A's have gone an MLB-best 56-26 since and now find themselves on the doorstep of becoming the fifth team in to win a division after trailing by as many as 13 games thanks to wins in each of the first two contests of this series.

The other four teams to overcome such a deficit to win a pennant or division title were the 1914 Boston Braves (15 back on July 4), the 1978 New York Yankees (14 back on July 18), the 1951 New York Giants (13 back on Aug. 10) and the 1995 Seattle Mariners (13 back on Aug. 1).

"We're playing the hottest team in baseball," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "All we have to do is play one game the way we're supposed to play, and everything else will take care of itself."

On Tuesday, Oakland won its fifth straight game, as Derek Norris hit a go- ahead RBI single as part of a two-run fifth inning and the A's joined the Rangers atop the AL West with a 3-1 win.

"I think you'll see both teams go at it pretty hard tomorrow," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "No advantages going into it tomorrow."

Travis Blackley (6-4) fanned five and surrendered a run on three hits and two walks over six innings to notch the victory.

Matt Harrison (18-11) struck out five, but allowed three runs on six hits and a walk over six frames for Texas, which has held the outright AL West lead since Apr. 9 when it was 3-1.

"We know what it takes to win that one game so I think we'll be alright," Harrison said.

Oakland will turn to rookie righty A.J. Griffin, who is 7-1 with a 2.71 ERA. Griffin beat Seattle his last time out, as he surrendered a run and four hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Griffin, who has posted a 3-0 mark with a 2.51 ERA at home this season, did not get a decision in his only other start against the Rangers, but tossed six scoreless innings in that one.

"That's the fun part of the business, you get to pitch in games that matter, especially this time of year," said Griffin.

Texas, meanwhile, will counter with righty Ryan Dempster, who is 6-2 with a 3.33 ERA in his last eight starts. Dempster, though, lost for the second time in three starts on Friday against the Angels, as he allowed four runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings to fall to 7-3 to go along with a 4.64 ERA in 11 starts since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs.

Dempster beat the A's the only other time he faced them.

"We started out to play 162 games and now - tomorrow - it's 162," Washington said. "And we'll see what happens. We take it no different than we have been approaching it. We just haven't put our game together yet. Tomorrow we have to put it together. If we don't put it together, we still go to the playoffs."

Oakland is 10-8 against Texas this season.