The last time the Rangers traveled to Oakland, the results couldn't have been much worse.
On Monday, the Rangers will take on the Athletics for the first time since the A's swept them to clinch the American League West title on the final day of the 2012 regular season. Needing just one win in the three-game set to clinch the division, Texas dropped all three contests and ultimately went on to lose the inaugural AL Wild Card Game.
"That series itself didn't bother me, because we had a chance to win each game," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "The thing that bothered me was we didn't take care of business before we got there. It was the games we gave away in a year in which one game made a difference."
As the teams meet for the first time this season, Texas finds itself atop the AL West with the largest lead of any division leader, despite the departures of sluggers Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, as well as veteran Michael Young this past offseason. The Rangers, who added catcher A.J. Pierzynski and designated hitter Lance Berkman to compensate, have won four straight and seven of their last nine to build a season-high six-game lead over the A's.
"They're playing great. You lose a Hamilton and a Napoli and you bring in Pierzynski and Berkman, it's the same team," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "I think a lot of people were discounting the fact that they might not be as good as they were, when in fact they've been really good. They're playing well. They've played well the whole season, and you have to play well to beat them."
Oakland, meanwhile, has been headed in the opposite direction. The Athletics have lost six of their last seven games and return home for Monday's series opener after going 3-7 on a 10-game road trip. The Athletics are hoping to get back on track at the O.co Coliseum, where they went 7-2 against the rival Rangers a season ago.
"I just hope we go up there for the next three days and they don't find themselves," said Washington, who spent 11 years as an A's coach prior to taking over as Texas' skipper in 2007. "They can find themselves after we leave there. The last few years, they've played us tougher than any team."
The series opener will feature a battle of young arms on the mound, as Oakland sends 25-year-old A.J. Griffin to the hill opposite 24-year-old Rangers starter Justin Grimm. For Texas, winning the first head-to-head series since the dramatic season-ending set wouldn't do much to erase last year's heartbreak, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction toward winning its third division title in four seasons.
"It's going to be a fun series," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "They're obviously a good ballclub and we have to be ready. They won the division last year, and we want to get it back."
Rangers: Grimm looks to get back on track
After netting American League Rookie of the Month honors in April, Grimm is off to a slow start in his first two May outings.
The right-hander is 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA this month, allowing eight earned runs over 11 2/3 combined innings, while issuing seven walks. Grimm went 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA and handed out just four free passes over 17 frames in three April starts.
"The last two starts haven't been W's," Grimm said. "That's all I care about, helping this team win. I'm taking it game by game and try and come away with a win."
Athletics: Griffin aims to be first to four wins
Griffin expressed some frustration after his most recent outing Wednesday -- and surprisingly, it was not solely directed toward the controversial ninth-inning replay call in Cleveland that robbed Oakland of the tying run.
Instead, Griffin (3-3, 3.83 ERA) was upset that he had fallen short in his bid to become Oakland's first four-game winner. Entering Monday's series opener, Oakland remains one of just three AL teams -- the Angels and Blue Jays being the others -- without a single four-game winner on its pitching staff.
"It's pretty frustrating," Griffin said. "Everyone's pretty frustrated right now. Well, I can't speak for everyone, but I'm pretty frustrated right now."
• Rangers outfielder Craig Gentry has a .368 career batting average against the Athletics, second highest of any active player with at least 50 plate appearances against them.
• Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre has 24 career home runs against Oakland, third most by any active player.
• Oakland is 14-5 against the AL West and just 5-15 against non-divisional foes.