A rivalry is renewed at the O.co Coliseum on Monday, when the A's and Rangers meet for the first time this season. Oakland will send Dan Straily against Texas ace Yu Darvish in the opener of the three-game series.
The American League West foes have fought to the finish line in each of the last two years, with the A's coming out on top of the division both times.
"There is a rivalry because of the fact we've been 1-2 in the standings the last couple of years," said Oakland manager Bob Melvin. "It comes as a little bit of a natural rivalry, but it's just a product of what the teams have accomplished over the last couple years."
"Rarely is it a blowout in either direction," added A's outfielder Craig Gentry, set to face his former Rangers team for the first time since his offseason trade. "You can feel the tension, feel the heat as those games went on. You always know it's going to be a good game. I'm looking forward to it from the other side now."
In the last two years, the A's lead the series, 21-17, and have outscored the Rangers, 172-147. Oakland went 10-9 against Texas last year and carries the edge into the opener, with an AL-best 13-5 record.
The 11-8 injury-depleted Rangers, however, have Darvish going.
Straily, who was roughed up by the Angels for six runs in just 3 2/3 innings in his last start, gets the nod for the A's. He's 3-1 with a 4.05 ERA in six career starts against Texas.
The right-handed Darvish is off to another strong start, with a 0.82 ERA in 22 innings over three outings. Twenty-one of those innings were scoreless, as he allowed his only two earned runs of the season in the second inning of his last start against Seattle.
Last season, Darvish was 5-1 in March and April. In 2012, he was 4-0 when the calendar turned to May. This season, he is getting virtually no help from his offense, as he's yet to pitch an inning in which the Rangers had a lead. He did earn a victory in his first outing, but only because Elvis Andrus hit a go-ahead homer after Darvish had recorded his final out but before the bullpen took over.
For now, Darvish isn't obsessing about the lack of run support.
"Of course it's a lot easier if I have a lead in a game," he said, "but if have too much of a lead, then I tend to relax, so it's a fine balance."
Oakland has enjoyed success against the Rangers in recent years, and Darvish in particular. He's 1-6 with a 4.30 ERA in seven career starts against the A's.
"I know what their strategy is against me, and I just have to figure it out from there," Darvish said. "I just have to see how I feel that day and make adjustments and see how their approach is against me the first two innings."
A's: Despite record, defense is a concern
The AL's best team also has the most errors, with the A's entering Monday having committed 20 in their first 18 games -- including at least one in nine straight games for the first time since June 2011.
"I don't like it," said Melvin. "We do take pride in our defense, and we're not seeing the results of that right now. You can't continually keep playing defense like that and get away with it. It's something we have to be more focused about. We did talk about it this series, did some team defense stuff, and we're going to have to stay on top of it. It's as much about being aware of it and having a focus on it, and we'll continue to try to work on it.
"We seem to be able to pick ourselves up and play better in the middle of the game to later on. That, for me, is about focus more than anything else. We've probably been lucky that it hasn't hit us too bad recently."
Rangers: Opponents passing on Prince
Prince Fielder is only hitting .188 with two home runs this season, but lately he isn't getting as many opportunities to swing the bat. Fielder has been walked intentionally eight times already this season, the most by any player in April since Albert Pujols with the Cardinals in 2008, and the most in any month in Rangers history.
Fielder was walked intentionally only five times last season with the Tigers. His career high is 32 in 2011 with Milwaukee.
The White Sox chose to walk Fielder with a man on second in the fourth inning Sunday. He has been walked intentionally in four of the past six games. As a result of all the walks -- 11, counting unintentional free passes -- Fielder's on-base percentage is .316.
• A's starting pitchers have allowed three earned runs or fewer in 16 of their first 18 games, posting a 2.52 ERA, which is the lowest mark in the AL.
• The A's have been successful in 11 of their 12 (91.7 percent) stolen-base attempts, which is tied for the second-best mark in the AL.
• Third baseman Adrian Beltre (strained left quad) will accompany the Rangers to Oakland, but he isn't expected to return to action until Friday when their road trip has continued to Seattle.