A’s Continue Winning Ways, Take Series From Rangers

Just one year ago, an A’s-Rangers series in July would have been a much-anticipated, and heated, matchup between division rivals. This season, however, it merits as a mere flyover series and, frankly, a rank embarrassment for the hard-charging A’s if they failed to come away with a series win. Oakland took care of business this weekend by winning two of three from the Rangers in Arlington to maintain their first place standing in the American League West, as well as running their record to an imposing 65-39, still the best in the majors.

The Texas Rangers, who for several years had been Oakland’s number one rival atop the AL West, have fallen on hard times this year. After finishing in second place each of the past two years, and winning the AL pennant in 2010 and 2011, the Rangers have watched their season go down in flames due to a slew of injuries to their pitching staff and a season-ending injury to star first baseman Prince Fielder. As a result, they limped into this weekend’s series against the A’s with a 40-62 record, good for dead last in the AL West, and are headed into this week’s trade deadline as major sellers.

That haplessness didn’t keep them from taking the first game of the series on Friday, however, behind former A’s farmhand Jerome Williams. Williams, a former pitching phenom with the Giants who also pitched for the AAA Sacramento River Cats in 2009, held the A’s to just one run in six innings, as the A’s fell 4-1. While the A’s were struggling to muster any offense against Williams, recently-acquired starter Jason Hammel continued to struggle. Hammel, who came over in the deal that also brought Jeff Samardzija, was cuffed around for four runs (three earned) in five-and-tw0-thirds innings. Hammel has now made three starts for the A’s and has failed to impress, going 0-3 with a 7.11 ERA. Yoenis Cespedes knocked in the only run for the A’s with a sixth inning single.

The A’s quickly got back on track on Saturday, winning that afternoon’s contest 5-1 behind a torrent of home runs and a solid start from Sonny Gray. Four A’s players blasted home runs in the humid Texas air to bring the team back from an early 1-0 deficit. John Jaso pulled a two-run homer into the right field seats off Rangers hurler Nick Tepesch in the sixth to give the A’s a 2-1 lead, then Cespedes immediately followed with an opposite field homer to push it to 3-1. Josh Donaldson and Josh Reddick both hit solo bombs in the seventh to give the A’s a 5-1 lead they wouldn’t surrender. Gray pitched into the seventh inning to earn his twelfth win of the year.

The A’s finished off the series win in workmanlike fashion on Sunday, blasting the Rangers 9-3 and putting the game away early with a five-run second inning. A’s hitters battered Rangers starter Mike Mikolas early and ran up an 8-2 lead after five innings. Scott Kazmir pitched five innings to run his record to 12-3, and John Jaso tallied three RBIs to lead Oakland’s hitting attack. The only noteworthy moment for Texas came when former Athletic Adam Rosales hit a two-run homer in the second inning.

The A’s continue their Texas jaunt tonight as they roll into Houston for a three-game series against the Astros. The rebuilding Astros have been a laughingstock for four straight years, but they’ve played somewhat respectably this season and split a four-game series with Oakland the last time the A’s visited in April. The A’s certainly won’t be taking anything for granted as they look to continue to fight off the Angels and hold their AL West lead.