Challenged by a schedule rife with playoff contenders, the Athletics have responded.
On Tuesday night against the Rangers, they can clinch their third straight series victory against a potential October opponent and claim sole possession of first place in the American League West for the first time in nearly a month. After Monday's 4-2 victory over Texas, the A's have won four straight and seven of eight, facing the Tigers, Rays and Rangers.
"We're playing the best we have in the second half to this point," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said before his club pulled into a tie with Texas atop the division.
The A's will send Bartolo Colon to the mound against Martin Perez at O.Co Coliseum, looking to move into first by themselves for the first time since Aug. 6. They have recovered from a 5-7 stretch that included a 4-6 homestand against the Astros, Indians and Mariners.
"I think our focus is a little better," Melvin said. "Sometimes that goes on and off over the course of a season. And when I speak like that I talk about us, everybody. Myself included. There are times during the season when you need to address some things and kind of re-energize the focus."
The Rangers are 4-5 over their past nine games and will turn to Perez, who is coming off a strong month of August. The left-hander went 5-0 with a 3.06 ERA in five starts, including two wins against the Mariners' Felix Hernandez and one against Chris Sale of the White Sox.
Perez, who will face the A's for the first time this year, held Seattle to two runs on five hits over six innings on Wednesday. He's looking forward to the stretch run.
"I like September. I know these are three big games for us and we have to win," Perez said. "I'll just do my best tomorrow. In my mind, I want to do everything I can to win."
Colon (14-5, 2.94 ERA) came off the disabled list on Thursday at Detroit and returned to form, giving up one run on seven hits over five innings, with no walks. He had surrendered five earned runs in consecutive outings before hitting the DL with a left groin strain.
"The velocity was there, his ball had life, good movement when it was down," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "He looked much better than the last time, and you can tell he's got his legs under him better. He's driving down the mound better. It's exciting having him back feeling the way he is."
Rangers: Andrus out again
Shortstop Elvis Andrus missed his second straight game on Monday due to lower back stiffness. He remains day to day with the condition, which has bothered him off and on throughout much of the season. The Rangers hope to have him back on Tuesday.
"I feel better than two days ago, but there is still a lot of stiffness," Andrus said before Monday's game. "When I wake up, everything is tight. It's hard for me. I really want to play, but it's better to have somebody else healthy instead of me at 40 percent and get really hurt."
• Lance Berkman played his first game since July 6 on Monday, getting the start at designated hitter and batting eighth. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Berkman went on the disabled list on July 7 with inflammation in his left hip and also is fighting chronic right knee soreness.
Athletics: Choice gets a shot
One day after getting the call from Triple-A Sacramento, Michael Choice made his Major League debut on Monday, starting at designated hitter and batting ninth. He walked, reached on an error and finished 0-for-2 with a run scored.
Oakland's No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com, Choice enjoyed a strong season at Sacramento. Melvin said he can handle all three outfield positions and that "his performance will dictate how many at-bats he gets."
• Coco Crisp set a career high for home runs when he smacked his 17th of the season in Monday's fifth inning, but he later left the game after fouling a ball off his right leg. He was diagnosed with a right shin contusion.
• Colon is tied with Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris and Dennis Leonard for the most career wins against the Rangers. Colon is 19-7 with a 3.65 ERA in 31 career starts, and 1-0 in two starts this year, holding Texas to five runs over 13 innings.
• Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is 19-for-63 (.302) against Colon, with five home runs and a .651 slugging percentage.
• Perez started three times against the A's last season and was touched up for 11 runs on 18 hits over 10 innings.