(OAKLAND) -- Before the Oakland Athletics began their current run atop the American League West division, the Texas Rangers had been the cream of the crop, winning two straight AL pennants in 2010 and 2011.
But with a 10-9 record against the Rangers in 2012 and an 11-8 mark against them in 2013, the A's took control of the division to win two straight division titles. Tonight, the battle for the 2014 AL West flag begins in earnest for these two teams, still on top of the division alone -- the only two teams currently above .500 in the five-team cluster, in fact.
Of course, both of these teams are playoff-caliber squads, and even though the Oakland club has the best record in the league currently at 13-5, the Texas gang has the second-best mark in the AL themselves -- putting a premium on actually winning the division, of course, since the wild-card teams now have that one-and-done, play-in game.
The Rangers lost that play-in game to the Baltimore Orioles as a wild-card team in 2012, and last year, Texas lost a tiebreaker game for the second wild-card spot to the Tampa Bay Rays -- so they didn't even officially make the postseason in 2013.
After coming so close to winning it all in 2010 and 2011, with the latter trip to the World Series ending in excruciating form, Texas re-tooled a bit in the offseason and is gearing up for another postseason run to try to capture its first championship ever.
One guy on the Rangers roster who knows how to beat the A's is first baseman/designated hitter Prince Fielder, who was with the Detroit Tigers in both 2012 and 2013 when the Motown boys eliminated Oakland in the divisional-playoff round.
In regular-season matchups, Fielder owns a .962 OPS against the A's, with four home runs and 12 RBI. In those two postseason series, the big lefty didn't hurt Oakland much, with a .593 OPS and one HR to go with just two RBI.
One Texas Ranger who doesn't like facing the A's, however, is tonight's starting pitcher, Yu Darvish. He is just 1-6 against Oakland in his two years in the majors, with a 4.30 ERA in seven starts spanning 44 innings. He does have 51 strikeouts in those innings against the A's lineup, but 23 walks and seven HRs allowed have hurt him against Oakland.
In fact, Darvish won his first start against the A's in May 2012, but he has lost six straight decisions since (posting a 4.95 ERA in those losses).
He will be opposed for Oakland by Dan Straily, who is 3-0 with a 4.03 ERA against Texas in his last four starts against them. The young righty is 3-1 overall against the Rangers in his career, six starts total dating back to 2012, with a 4.05 ERA.
Darvish (1-0, 0.82) has the better numbers this year, for sure, as Straily (1-1, 5.40) struggled in his last outing against the Los Angeles Angels, coughing up six runs in less than four innings last Tuesday night on the road.
The A's starter is struggling with home runs allowed again, giving up four already this year in just three starts over 16.2 innings. He has, however, struck out 15 batters already. Straily has walked only four batters this year.
Game time at the O.co Coliseum is 7:05 p.m. tonight, and the University of California men's swim team -- winners of three NCAA championships in the last four seasons, including 2014 -- will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.