Following a nearly perfect road trip against two division rivals, the Oakland Athletics are enjoying their largest AL West lead of the season.
Now they look to keep it going when they return home to meet another division foe, the Texas Rangers (56-56), in a three-game series beginning Monday at McAfee Coliseum.
The Athletics (60-51) went 5-1 on their just-completed road swing, taking two of three games from the Los Angeles Angels and sweeping Seattle for the first time on the road since Sept. 24-26, 1993.
Oakland capped the sweep with a 7-6 victory on Sunday, extending its winning streak against the Mariners to 12 games.
The Athletics have won four in a row and nine of their last 11 games to take a three-game lead in the AL West over the second-place Angels. Texas is 4 1/2 games behind Oakland, but holds a 6-4 edge in the season series.
Oakland slugger Frank Thomas enters this series on a roll after going 7-for-13 with six RBIs in three games against Seattle. He hit a three-run homer on Sunday and moved into 40th place on the career RBIs list with 1,532, five behind Joe DiMaggio.
“I’m healthy again,” said Thomas, who was bothered by ankle problems last year. “I had a major injury and I’m ready to go back to where I am, one of the top players in the game. I know what I’ve been able to bring to the table day in and day out when I’m healthy.”
A’s center fielder Mark Kotsay is batting .340 (18-for-53) during a 13-game hitting streak. Esteban Loaiza (4-7, 6.50 ERA) hopes Oakland’s offense remains hot as he looks to avoid his third straight loss.
The right-hander, who played parts of three seasons with the Rangers from 1998-2000, has not pitched past the sixth inning in his last six outings.
He allowed two runs over 5 1-3 innings in a 3-2 victory over the Angels on Wednesday, but didn’t receive a decision. Loaiza displayed good control, issuing no walks while striking out four and throwing 69 of his 93 pitches for strikes.
The 34-year-old journeyman is 3-2 with a 5.68 ERA in six career starts versus the Rangers, but is facing them for the first time with Oakland. He will be opposed by Edinson Volquez (NR), who makes his season debut for the Rangers after being called up from Triple-A Oklahoma.
The right-hander is filling in for Kip Wells, who was sent back to Texas to have his sore shoulder examined, forcing him to miss his scheduled start.
Volquez was 0-4 with a 14.21 ERA in six appearances for the Rangers last season, including three starts. He is 6-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 21 starts for Oklahoma this season, but has been on the disabled list with a calf injury.
Volquez is expected to be ready to face Oakland for the first time and hopes to last longer than Adam Eaton did for Texas on Sunday.
The Rangers’ starter was ejected after just 18 pitches in a 9-1 loss to the Angels for throwing a fastball behind Juan Rivera after giving up a three-run homer to Garrett Anderson. Texas trailed 8-0 after just two innings and never recovered.
“Being down 8-0 is pretty deflating,” Rangers shortstop Michael Young said. “It’s pretty tough to overcome. We just didn’t swing the bats good or play a textbook baseball game.”
After combining for 14 runs and 25 hits in winning the first two games of the series with Los Angeles, the Rangers posted just four runs and 10 hits over the final two contests, losing both. They are 4-3 on their current 10-game road trip.