Texas was thought to be one of the best teams in the Major Leagues, but Oakland wasn't given much consideration as a possible playoff team in 2012. And while the former has certainly lived up to its lofty expectations, the latter has far exceeded its own.
Fresh off a sweep of Minnesota and winners of nine of their last 10 games -- the first of those victories coming against the Rangers on July 1 -- the A's have played themselves into the postseason race. That makes the short two-game set between the teams, which opens on Tuesday, an important series.
Oakland has the best record in baseball in the month of July, and manager Bob Melvin's team has played first-place Texas tough all season long, with the season series standing at 5-5. The Rangers have taken notice of how well their opponent has played recently.
"They're playing good baseball," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "They always could pitch. Right now they're in a groove swinging the bat and putting up some runs. Every time you look up, they're putting runs on the board. They can pitch and they have a functional lineup. They'll be around. Bob Melvin is doing a good job."
Texas is playing well itself, having won four of its last five games after the team dropped five straight before that.
It will be a matchup of the best pitching in the league against the best offense. The A's entered Sunday leading the American League with a 3.38 ERA, while Texas' powerful lineup had the team leads in both runs scored and batting average.
Oakland will turn to right-hander Bartolo Colon to try and keep the Rangers in check. The veteran was outstanding in his last start on July 8, holding the Mariners to one run over 8 2/3 innings, and Colon has now pitched well in both starts since returning from a strained right oblique.
The series is the beginning of a big week for both teams. After the quick two-game set, the A's will host the Yankees for four games, while Texas will travel to Los Angeles for three games against the second-place Angels.
"We have some tough teams coming in, no doubt," Melvin said. "You look at the standings, and both [Texas and New York] are at the top of their divisions. We definitely have our work cut out for us, but we feel good about the way we're playing at this point."
A's: Team not caught up in playoff race
Oakland's nine-game losing streak of late May and early June seems like ages ago with the way the team has played lately. But even though the A's were just a half-game behind Baltimore in the race for the second Wild Card spot after defeating the Twins on Sunday, Melvin said his club isn't paying attention to the standings.
"I think that's one of our strengths," Melvin said. "You start to get too far ahead of yourselves and distracted by things you don't need to be distracted by. It's always an opportunity, but our philosophy is more of, 'Let's see where we are in September,' and let's continue to play at the pace with the focus on the series and the games. I think we've been good at doing that."
A's outfielder Coco Crisp was scheduled to see a doctor about his injured left shoulder on Monday once the team returned to Oakland. Crisp was out of the lineup on Saturday and Sunday after hurting the shoulder on Friday against Minnesota, but the team doesn't expect him to miss much more time.
Oakland's bats went off on a tear for 24 runs in the team's three-game series against the Twins after scoring 15 runs in the team's five games prior. The A's were paced by their nine home runs in Minnesota, setting a Target Field record for most homers by an opponent in a three-game series.
Rangers: Oswalt makes fifth start of season
The Rangers will send right-hander Roy Oswalt to the mound to face Colon on Tuesday. The 34-year-old bounced back in his last outing, holding Minnesota to one run over 5 2/3 innings after giving up 16 runs in his two previous starts.
Oswalt is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two career starts against Oakland, both coming when he pitched for the Astros.
Right-handed relievers Alexi Ogando and Koji Uehara will likely be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday. Ogando has been on the DL since June 12 with a strained right groin, while Uehara has been sidelined since June 15 with a strained right lat muscle.
Texas expects to be without catcher Yorvit Torrealba for both games against the A's, as Torrealba will likely be placed on the paternity list with his wife preparing to give birth. Regular backstop Mike Napoli could be ready to return to the lineup after recovering from a knee bruise, but Torrealba's absence means Luis Martinez will remain on the roster as well.
A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes had a career-high four hits in Sunday's win over the Twins. He went 8-for-14 overall in the three games against Minnesota, all of which came as a designated hitter after Cespedes injured his thumb in the last game before the All-Star break.
Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton is 1-for-10 in the three games since the All-Star break.