Athletics-Rangers Preview

The Associated Press

When Josh Hamilton will return is uncertain.

The Oakland Athletics are getting plenty of chances to make the Texas Rangers' AL West title hopes even more ambiguous.

With Hamilton's status in limbo, the division-leading Rangers and second-place A's meet for the first of seven important meetings over the final 10 regular-season games Monday night in Arlington.

Hamilton has missed five games with a sinus problem that is affecting his vision.

The 2010 AL MVP and five-time All-Star ranks among baseball's leaders with 42 home runs and 123 RBIs, and he'll be evaluated before the opener of this four-game series.

"He may be available. He may not. I don't know," manager Ron Washington said.

Getting Hamilton back healthy may be just what Texas (90-62) needs since he's hitting .366 with seven homers and 34 RBIs in 34 home meetings with Oakland (86-66).

The Rangers lead the A's by four games atop the West. However, they'll meet for seven of them, including a season-ending three-game set in Oakland next week.

"You should be playing the teams in your own division down the stretch and we just got to get home, get some good rest and come out and play a tough ball game because those guys will be ready," right-hander Ryan Dempster said.

Dempster was credited with Sunday's 3-2 win at Seattle as Texas salvaged a win from the three-game set.

The A's, 2 1/2 games ahead of Los Angeles for the league's second wild-card spot, also avoided being swept in a three-game series Sunday, rallying for a 5-4 victory over New York.

They're 7-6 during a 17-game stretch against teams in the playoff race.

"We just have to take care of our business and concentrate on what we're doing," manager Bob Melvin told the team's official website. "The schedule would suggest we're playing all teams that are in that situation, but that shouldn't affect us. The only thing is that they're really good teams fighting for their lives as well.

"It's all the same for us each and every day, whether we're at home or on the road. No matter who we're playing. Every day has to be for us. Like you're playing your last day. You've got to leave it all out there."

Cliff Pennington is doing his part, going 6 for 14 with four RBIs in four games. He hit a two-run homer Sunday and finished with three hits and three RBIs.

Pennington, though, is 3 for 16 against Derek Holland, Texas' scheduled starter.

Holland (11-6, 4.42 ERA) takes the mound looking to continue his success against Oakland. He's 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his seven games - six starts - and that includes winning both home starts while tossing 15 scoreless innings.

The left-hander wasn't as sharp while getting credit for a 6-3 win over the A's on June 5, allowing three runs in 5 1-3 innings.

Overall, Holland is trying to remain unbeaten for a 10th straight start. He's 4-0 with a 2.79 ERA in his last six, completing at least seven innings in five of them.

The left-hander was impressive again Wednesday, yielding two runs in seven innings of a 6-2 victory at Los Angeles.

"I feel he's matured as a pitcher," catcher Geovany Soto told the team's official website. "I feel like he's learned how to pitch instead of being a thrower. He's moving his fastball in and out and his offspeed stuff is there when it's called."

Oakland is scheduled to counter Holland with rookie Daniel Straily (2-1, 4.13), who hasn't appeared since being charged with a 9-5 loss to Baltimore on Sept. 16.

The right-hander gave up four runs and five hits in 4 2-3 innings, while his five walks matched the total from his first four games in the majors.

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