Texas (84-67) at Oakland (76-75)

  • Game info: 10:05 pm EDT Thu Sep 23, 2010
  • TV: FSSW, CSCA
Preview | Box Score | Recap

As poorly as the Texas Rangers have played lately, they’re still in position to accomplish what they set out to do when they began their 10-game road trip - win the AL West.

Needing a four-game split against the second-place Oakland Athletics to clinch their first division title since 1999, the Rangers give the ball to ace Cliff Lee(notes) for Thursday’s series opener.

The Rangers (84-67) began their trip with a 10-game lead, but have lost four of six due mainly to an offense that has averaged 2.3 runs in those contests.

A sacrifice fly by Michael Young(notes) and a Jeff Francoeur(notes) run off a passed ball accounted for Texas’ only offense in Wednesday’s 2-1, 12-inning victory over the Los Angeles Angels. The two runs were all the Rangers scored in the final 22 innings of the series.

Despite its struggles, Texas owns an eight-game lead over Oakland (76-75) with 11 to play and could trim its magic number to two with another solid outing from Lee (12-8, 3.19 ERA).

“You can kind of taste it now,” Francoeur said. “It would be nice to get the first two and wrap it up. We know if we can get two wins out of four, we can spend the last week getting ourselves prepared and ready for the playoffs.”

After missing a start with a strained muscle in his lower back, Lee has allowed one run over eight innings in each of his last two outings, 1.13 ERA including Saturday’s 6-1 win at Seattle.

“(The back is) a non-issue,” the left-hander told the Rangers’ official website. “Hopefully it stays that way and I can help the team win.”

Lee, 1-0 with a 0.53 ERA in two starts versus Oakland this season, pitches opposite Dallas Braden(notes) (9-13, 3.65) for the second time in 2010. He defeated Braden in a 5-1 victory Aug. 6.

While Braden allowed four runs in that defeat, he tossed a four-hitter in a 5-0 victory at Texas on Aug. 28. It was his second career shutout, and first since his perfect game against Tampa Bay on May 9.

However, Braden is 0-4 with a 6.23 ERA in four outings since.

Still trying to reach double-digit victories for the first time, the outspoken left-hander admits that the career-high 172 2-3 innings he’s logged this season are taking their toll.

“This is uncharted territory as far as what my body feels like and how to maintain and bounce back,” Braden said after yielding four runs over six innings of Saturday’s 4-2 loss at Minnesota.

Braden might have to go deep in the series opener with the A’s bullpen ravaged by injuries.

With Jeremy Blevins out due to a strained shoulder and right-handers Andrew Bailey(notes) (sore elbow) and Michael Wuertz(notes) (sore right thumb) also unavailable, Brad Ziegler(notes) allowed two ninth-inning runs in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox that snapped a three-game winning streak.

“Going into the Texas series, it would have been nice to get the sweep and then see what happens (Wednesday night) with them and the Angels,” Brett Anderson(notes), who started and was in line for the win, told the A’s official website. “… But we have to put it behind us and be ready to play the next four days.”

A’s first baseman Daric Barton(notes), who is batting .389 in six home games against Texas this season, is expected to return to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s loss with a left thigh bruise.

Oakland is 4-2 at home against Texas in 2010.

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Starting Pitchers

C. Lee PHI vs. D. Braden OAK
12-9 Record 11-14
3.18 ERA 3.50
185 K 113
18 BB 43
1.00 WHIP 1.16

Scoreboard

Thursday, Sep 23