Athletics-Rangers Preview

The Associated Press

The Oakland Athletics aren't concerned with just reaching the playoffs when an AL West title is still within their grasp.

The first-place Texas Rangers are hoping Matt Harrison can hold them off for now.

The A's look to conclude this four-game series with a third straight win against the Rangers in Arlington on Thursday.

Oakland (88-67) is two games ahead of Los Angeles for the AL's second wild-card spot, as it tries to return to the playoffs for the first time in six years.

The A's, however, want more.

"A lot of people want to say we can get the wild card. We're trying to still win this division. ... It's definitely possible," said right fielder Josh Reddick.

Buoyed by baseball's best record since the start of July at 51-25, Oakland is three games back of West-leading Texas (91-64) with seven games left in the regular season. Four of those meetings will pit the division rivals against each other.

The A's got the upper hand in the season series Wednesday, beating the Rangers 9-3 for their eighth win in 15 meetings.

"We lost a tough one the first night (in Texas). For me, it was even more important to come back and win the next day and follow it up with a good performance (Wednesday)," manager Bob Melvin said. "Certainly it would be nice to win (Thursday), but at this point, these two games I think were big for us."

After concluding this series, Oakland returns home for three games against last-place Seattle before hosting Texas in the final series of the regular season.

The Rangers open a three-game set versus the visiting Angels on Friday.

"It doesn't matter who we're playing or what other teams are doing," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre told the team's official website. "We just have to win games. We just have to do what we have to do to win games."

Harrison (17-10, 3.17 ERA) will try to help Texas reduce its magic number for a third consecutive division title from five to three.

"It's definitely a start I want to win," Harrison said. "Put the team in a position to win and cut that magic number. We'd like to clinch this thing on the homestand."

The left-hander has won two of his last three starts behind a 1.61 ERA, and he can't be blamed for losing Saturday. He tossed a seven-hit, eight-inning complete game in a 1-0 defeat at Seattle.

Harrison is 3-0 with a 2.48 ERA in six games - four starts - at home against the A's, winning the most recent meeting there 4-3 on June 29. He allowed two runs with seven strikeouts in eight innings.

This time, he'll have to contend with a red-hot Stephen Drew, who is batting .360 in his last 11 games. The shortstop's three homers in that stretch match his total from the previous 61 contests with Arizona and Oakland.

Drew is 13 for 27 (.481) in six career meetings with Texas, going 2 for 3 versus Harrison.

Oakland will send Travis Blackley (5-3, 3.48) to the mound hoping he can improve his recent performances as a starter.

The southpaw is 2-1 with a 5.06 ERA over his past nine appearances, and 1-1 with a 7.13 ERA in four starts during that stretch.

Blackley struggled again Saturday, allowing four runs with three walks in two innings of an extra-inning loss at New York.

He's 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA in three starts against the Rangers this year, but that lone victory came in Arlington on July 1. He yielded one run in seven innings of a 3-1 win.