Twins-Athletics Preview

The Associated Press

Though they come off a disappointing result, the Oakland Athletics figure to have a good chance to clinch their second straight division title by the end of their four-game home series with the struggling Minnesota Twins.

Dan Straily tries to win a fifth straight start and help the A's inch closer to the AL West crown in Thursday night's opener.

The Athletics (89-63) have won 17 of 23 but come off a 5-4, 11-inning home loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday. Josh Hamilton's two-run game-tying homer in the ninth accounted for Grant Balfour's third blown save, and Hamilton later put the Angels ahead with a sacrifice fly.

Balfour had set an Oakland record earlier this season by converting his 41st straight save opportunity, and his 38 this year are the most by an A's pitcher since Keith Foulke's 43 in 2003.

His cause wasn't helped by Josh Donaldson's error on a sacrifice bunt, which helped led to the decisive run.

"We've had tough losses and dramatic wins," manager Bob Melvin said. "You just put this away and come back expecting to win."

It should be easy to do that considering Oakland outscored Minnesota 29-9 while taking two of three at Target Field last week. Yoenis Cespedes was 5 for 11 with six RBIs in the series and is hitting .457 with 14 RBIs in nine career games against the Twins.

The Athletics' magic number to clinch the AL West is five over Texas.

The struggling Rangers, who suffered a 4-3, 12-inning loss Wednesday at Tampa Bay, wrap up their four-game series with the Rays on Thursday night before heading to Kansas City for a three-game weekend set.

Straily (10-7, 4.11 ERA) has won his last four starts, the longest streak of his young career. He's posted a 1.90 ERA in those outings since matching a season high by allowing six runs in a loss at Baltimore on Aug. 23.

Although the right-hander allowed only two runs and two hits over 5 2-3 innings at Texas on Friday, he still seeks better command after issuing four walks and hitting a batter in the 9-8 victory.

"I was just missing," said Straily, who has never faced Minnesota. "Instead of being super-aggressive, I was trying to hit spots."

Oakland is the first of three contending teams the Twins will face in their final 11 games. The remaining slate also includes contests with Detroit and Cleveland.

"These guys get a taste of that," manager Ron Gardenhire said, referring to his team matching up against clubs involved in the playoff chase. "It's not like our goal is not to knock the other team out. Our goal is to go and compete with these guys and give it everything we have. We owe it to baseball."

Minnesota (65-86) thwarted a three-game sweep with a 4-3 road win over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday, just their fourth victory in 14 games.

Scheduled starter Kevin Correia (9-12, 4.31) has dropped his last two starts while surrendering eight runs over 12 innings, though he also received a total of one run of support.

He's 1-1 with a 3.10 ERA in six games - three starts - versus the A's, last facing them in 2009.

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