OAKLAND ATHLETICS (15-10)
at TEXAS RANGERS (15-10)
First pitch: Monday, 8:05 p.m. ET
Line: Texas -145, Oakland +135, Total: 7.5
An important early season AL West battle takes place as the Athletics and Rangers battle it out for first place on Monday night in Arlington.
Oakland comes into this contest with a chip on its shoulder after being swept by Texas just last week in a three-game series. The A's managed just seven total runs over the three games, but have turned it around offensively with 29 runs in four games since then. Although they were shut down in Sunday's 5-1 loss, 3B Josh Donaldson went 5-for-15 (3 HR, 6 RBI, 1 double, 5 walks) in the just-completed four-game series with Houston (2-2 split) and is hitting .278 overall on the season with 7 HR and 20 RBI. The Rangers are coming off a series loss to the Mariners this weekend after winning nine of their previous 11 games. The two losses that they took at the hands of Seattle were by just one run each, and the series could have been swept by Texas if not for its bullpen allowing eight runs in four innings over the two losses. OF Alex Rios (.330 BA this season) has a six-game hitting streak coming into this one, and was 5-for-12 over the weekend. Taking the mound for the visiting Oakland will be 24-year old RHP Sonny Gray (3-1, 2.25 ERA) as he takes over the role of “ace” on the staff. Opposing him will be the always exciting RHP Yu Darvish (1-0, 1.61 ERA) who has just one win despite allowing only five runs in 28 frames and his team prevailing in each of his four outings. Although it is early in the year, each team has impressed, with the A's going 9-4 on the road and the Rangers equaling that mark when playing at home. As mentioned earlier, Texas did well with a sweep of Oakland in the first meeting this season and that brought its record to 20-21 in this series since the start of 2012 while it has split 20 games (10-10) at home. The A's have done well as underdogs of +125 to +175 since the start of last year, with a 12-6 mark (.667), while the Rangers are 14-1 with Darvish on the mound in April games.
Sonny Gray has surprised everyone with how well he has pitched since joining the major-league club late last season, and over his first 17 games (15 starts) with the team, he has gone 8-4 with a tremendous 2.53 ERA. Oakland needed him to perform this well with both Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin undergoing Tommy John surgery. Gray earned his first loss of the year when he faced the Rangers Wednesday, allowing five hits and three runs (1 HR) while striking out eight batters (4 walks). The start was his first against Texas in his career and the home run he gave up came off the bat of 3B Donnie Murphy. Besides the aforementioned Rios, Gray will need to be careful when facing OF Leonys Martin (.312 BA) who has gone 6-for-20 over the last week with four stolen bases. On the other hand, SS Elvis Andrus (.264) is just 3-for-22 in that timeframe while drawing five walks. The Athletics’ bullpen did allow a solo homer on Sunday afternoon, but is still 7-6 with an impressive 2.73 ERA while converting just half (5-for-10) of the save opportunities. They do not have one everyday closer on the team, but instead run Jim Johnson (5.73 ERA, 1 save), Luke Gregerson (2.63 ERA, 3 saves) and Sean Doolittle (6.17 ERA, 1 save) out to the mound in the ninth depending on the situation.
Yu Darvish blew away major leaguers in his second season last year when he went 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA while striking out a league-leading 277 batters. He has continued his dominance to start off 2014 and has trimmed the strikeouts (9.3 K/9 compared to career 11.1 K/9 rate), in order to improve on his control, as he is allowing 2.6 BB/9 compared to his career 3.7 BB/9 rate. His last outing was against the Athletics last Monday, and he allowed a season-high in hits (8), runs (3), and walks (4) while striking out six and surrendering his first home run of the season. Darvish has now taken on Oakland eight times in his career, going just 1-6 (2-6 team record) with a 4.32 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. He does have three double-digit strikeout performances mixed into those games, but has also allowed eight home runs in just 50 IP. While going 6-for-18 with four home runs and six RBI against Darvish in his career, 1B Brandon Moss (.268 BA) will be licking his chops when he steps into the batter’s box on Monday. Many other of the Athletics’ batters have had success against the righty as OF Coco Crisp (6-for-17, 1 HR, 7 RBI), 1B Daric Barton (5-for-10, 1 HR, 2 RBI), INF Alberto Callaspo (7-for-21, 2 doubles, 3 RBI) and C John Jaso (5-for-17, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 7 K’s) have all hit him hard. On the other hand, 3B Josh Donaldson and OF Yoenis Cespedes have combined to go just 6-for-30 (.200) with 17 strikeouts and a homer against Darvish in their careers. Texas’ relievers have been giving away games of late, and after getting their second loss in three days, they have combined to go 8-6 with a 4.93 ERA while successfully closing 7-of-10 games on the season. Closer Joakim Soria (3.60 ERA, 6 saves) has converted all six of his save chances this year and has an impressive 10:2 K/BB ratio while allowing just five hits in 10 frames of work.