They have yet to pair their two best pitchers until Saturday, when Bartolo Colon and Yu Darvish will square off as the Athletics try to continue pulling away in the AL West.With its 9-8 victory over Texas on Friday night, Oakland (86-61) took a 4 1/2-game advantage in the division, while the Rangers' lead in the wild-card standings grew more tenuous. Texas leads Tampa Bay by one game for the top spot and Cleveland by 2 1/2 games.The Athletics hit three homers Friday, giving them 20 in September -- good for third in the majors.The Rangers (81-65) nearly mustered an impressive comeback from a 9-2 deficit but still lost their fourth straight."We're fired up and to have that rally killed like that, it's disappointing," said outfielder Alex Rios, who was controversially called out at third on a single by Adrian Beltre to cut short a six-run eighth.Colon and Darvish have both struggled to pick up wins of late. On Aug. 12, Colon was tied for second in the major leagues with 14 wins while Darvish was tied for ninth with 12. In the month-plus since, the two pitchers have combined for a single win.Darvish (12-8, 2.84 ERA) is winless in five starts and has lost three straight for the first time in his career. He held Pittsburgh to a run and four hits in seven innings of a 1-0 loss Monday. It marked the sixth straight start in which the right-hander received two runs or fewer of support."He really threw the ball well," manager Ron Washington said. "He moved the ball around well. He kept it down in the zone."Colon (15-6, 2.85) was able to do what Darvish wishes to do, snapping a five-start winless streak Sunday with a 7-2 victory over Houston in which he allowed one run and struck out seven in six innings.After surrendering a single and an RBI double to the first two batters, he was virtually untouchable after."I feel like I have more power than the last (few) outings," Colon said.The game will feature a distinct clash of styles as baseball's premiere strikeout artist faces one of its best control pitchers.Though he still leads the major leagues handily with 246, Darvish has struck out 7.50 batters per nine innings over his last two starts after averaging 13.78 over his previous seven.Colon has pitched to contact, and his 4.97 strikeouts per nine innings are the second-lowest total in the major leagues.Colon also has the second-lowest ratio of walks per nine innings in the AL at 1.37, while Darvish's 3.23 per nine innings ranks among the 20 highest in the majors.No team has given Darvish more headaches than the Athletics.Oakland is responsible for five of his 17 career losses and reached him for five runs and a season-high six walks in five innings of an 11-4 victory Sept. 4.Brandon Moss has homered off Darvish in each of his last two starts against the Athletics and hit his 27th home run Friday.Darvish, who went 32 2/3 innings without giving up a home run earlier this season, has allowed 24 since April 30, the fifth-worst total in baseball.Colon's 19 wins against Texas are his most against any team, but he's 2/3 with a 4.29 ERA versus the Rangers since 2009. He lost to Texas on Sept. 3, yielding four runs -- one earned -- in five innings.Mitch Moreland has slumped for Texas, going 0 for 18 with 11 strikeouts, but he has homered twice in 12 at-bats against Colon.
The Rangers were shut out 1-0 on Saturday despite a bunch of chances offensively:
* They had a baserunner in 8 of their 9 innings
* They had 7 PA with runners on base and LESS than 2 outs -- they were 0-for-7 and only ONE of those 7 PA was a productive out
* They got the leadoff batter on twice and couldn't advance him past 1st base in either instance
* Their best chance came in the bottom of the 4th, when A.J. Pierzynski singled with 2 outs and then Geovany Soto doubled to left field... This is something Texas has struggled with all season -- the have has scored from 1st base on a double only 35.4% of the time this season, 25th in the majors.