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09/22/10 9:43 PM ET

Texas heads to Oakland with title in reach

For the Athletics, who have trailed the Rangers by a significant margin much of the second half but refused to go away, Thursday's series opener against Texas represents one last chance to gain serious ground. For the American League West leaders, it is a chance to deliver the knockout blow to the second-place A's.

The clubs begin a four-game series on Thursday, which could feature the Rangers clinching the division -- two wins in four games will do the trick -- or the Athletics injecting some drama into the final week of the season.

Of course, the Athletics have known for weeks that their shot is a very long one at this point. Still, manager Bob Geren hasn't stopped pushing his team.

"We have a young team, we're pretty banged up and, yet, we still have a chance," Geren said. "There's a good feeling in the clubhouse. Guys are trying to win every game. They're playing extremely well, extremely hard."

While the A's hope to pile on, the Rangers will be trying to put a strong finish to what has been a rough road trip.

"It's important we go up there and play well," manager Ron Washington said. "They are the guys chasing us so we want to have a good showing. It's not going to make or break us and I don't envision us going to Oakland and getting swept. It's the last time to play them and they certainly play us tough."

Texas will throw its ace at the Athletics, with Cliff Lee set to start Game 1 on Thursday. The left-hander has endured his share of struggles since joining the Rangers, but in his last two starts has looked like vintage Lee. In wins over the Yankees and Mariners, Lee threw a combined 16 innings, tallying 13 strikeouts and allowing just two earned runs. Against his former team last time out, Lee proved he was totally healthy after overcoming a back injury earlier this season. Lee's resurgence is least surprising to his teammates, who seemed to expect a rebound now that he is healthy.

"Typical," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "It's what he does. He had a couple games of a rough stretch, but nobody lost confidence in him and he didn't lose confidence in himself. That's the type of game he throws. That's what he expects."

Athletics: Braden goes for 10th victory
Dallas Braden will continue his quest to record double-digit wins for the first time in his career on Thursday. Since winning his ninth game, Braden has lost four in a row, compiling a 6.23 ERA during that span. The problem could be the 12 walks he's also issued over that span. It could be fatigue at this point in the season as Braden is nearly 30 innings over his previous career high, but the lefty is more inclined to point to the four free passes he handed out in his last start. "Four walks -- that's ridiculous," Braden said. "You don't deserve to be here if you're making pitches like that. That's just the No. 1 no-no. Don't give up free baserunners. They will score."

Rangers: Vlad wielding a hot bat:
It's no surprise at this point in the season that Vladimir Guerrero has been one of the offensive cornerstones for the Rangers. He'll likely be looking forward to hitting against the left-handed Braden, as he's hitting .350 against southpaws, compared to .289 against right-handers this season.

Worth noting
Athletics prospect Chris Carter hit his first Major League home run on Wednesday afternoon. ... With another steal on Wednesday by Cliff Pennington, the A's now have 144 on the season, most for the club since the 1991 team registered 151. ... The Rangers are 7-8 against Oakland this year and 2-4 in Oakland. Overall, the Rangers have lost 12 of their last 18 games at the Coliseum.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.