Athletics, Rangers begin critical series in Oakland

First place in the American League West will be on the line Monday when the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics kick off a critical three- game series at Coliseum.

Texas found itself six games back of the A's as recently as July 29, but won 13 of 14 and took advantage of a slumping Oakland team to move atop the division on Aug. 9 and has been there since.

"Every game has implications now," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "It doesn't matter who we're playing. You come down to less than 30 games, each game is as important as the next. Now certainly when you're playing the Rangers, who are ahead of us in the division, you're always looking to hopefully move up and do well within your division."

Oakland enters this series red-hot after sweeping a three-game set from the Tampa Bay Rays and moved within a game of Texas on Sunday following the Rangers' loss in Minnesota.

"Each series is different," said Texas skipper Ron Washington. "We certainly still have to go up there and play our best baseball. If we don't play our best baseball, and they play their best baseball, they could beat us. The only thing we're going to worry about is going up there and making sure we play our game. If we play our game, I'll take it. I don't care who we're playing."

Oakland, of course, leads the wild card standings and has won seven of nine after a 5-1 win over the Rays on Sunday.

"To me, it's pretty exhausting to look at all the Wild Card implications right now," Melvin said. "I think any team's goal and focus is to win their division so you don't have to deal with that one-game playoff."

Hoping to keep the A's in the win column on Monday will be righty Dan Straily, who is 7-7 with a 4.41 earned run average. Straily beat the Detroit Tigers his last time out, holding them to a run and eight hits in six innings.

Straily is 1-1 in four starts against the Rangers with a 4.37 ERA.

Texas, meanwhile, will counter with lefty Derek Holland, who is trying to become the first pitcher to record double-digit wins for the Rangers in three consecutive seasons since Rick Helling did so from 1998-2001.

"It's been a big year for me," Holland said. "I was motivated by last year. I was disappointed with my end of the year last year, so I want to make sure I needed to do what I should be doing to meet my expectations."

Holland hasn't received a decision in his last four starts and is 9-6 on the year with a 3.00 ERA. However, he is 7-1 with a 2.85 ERA in 14 road starts

Against Seattle on Tuesday Holland allowed three runs and six hits in six innings of a 4-3 win.

In 14 games (10 starts) against the A's, Holland is 5-2 with a 2.64 ERA.

Texas has won eight of 13 from the A's this season.