W2W4: Rangers-A's

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Maybe it's too early to call this a pivotal series for the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics.

Still, it's pretty big for the Rangers, who go into Oakland for a three-game weekend series trailing the A's by 3 1/2 games in the American League West.

The Rangers can set the tone for what looks like a light schedule in August. After these three games against the A's, Texas doesn't play another game against a team with a winning record until Oakland on Sept. 2.

That's 24 straight games against opponents with losing records, and ugly ones at that (Seattle at 50-57 has the best record of the group the Rangers will see in August). Meanwhile, the A's have 16 games in August against teams that have a winning record.

So win two out of three in Oakland and the Rangers have a big chance to overtake the A's in the AL West.

Here's what to watch for this weekend:

A's out in front: The A's had their lead up to six games in the AL West before back-to-back home losses to the Toronto Blue Jays coupled with three straight wins by the Rangers. Oakland is 7-6 since the All-Star break while the Rangers are 6-8. The A's went 15-10 in July, picking up 4 1/2 games on the Rangers, who were 11-15 for the month. Oakland is a major league-best 43-23 since May 17 with the A's picking up 11 1/2 games on Texas in the standings.

A's bats go cold: The A's hit .222 for July, the worst team batting average in the majors. They scored 3.72 runs per game for the month. They've been shut out three times in their past 17 games. Sounds like a team that's battled cold stretches like the Rangers. The A's managed a winning month in July because of their pitching and patience at the plate. Oakland hitters lead the big leagues with 402 walks.

Close calls: If this weekend's games are close games, flip a coin. The Rangers have baseball's best winning percentage in one-run games at .643. They are 18-10. The A's are next with a .636 winning percentage. They are 21-12 in one-run games. The Rangers are 3-1 against the A's in one-run games this season.

Avoiding Colon: The Rangers will avoid their nemesis Bartolo Colon, who took a no-decision in the A's 5-2 loss in 10 innings to Toronto on Wednesday. Colon is 19-7 against Texas. Instead the Rangers will get left-hander Tommy Milone on Friday and right-handers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin in day games on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. That trio is 5-3 against the Rangers with Milone carrying a 0-3 record and a 4.24 ERA against Texas. Parker is 4-1 with a 2.91 ERA against Texas in his short career. Griffin is 1-0 with a 2.19 ERA.

Can't stop Balfour: He's given the Rangers fits of late and was on the mound when the A's clinched the AL West in the final game of the 2012 season. Balfour is still going strong, though he did have his streak of 44 consecutive saves snapped on July 23 in a 5-4 loss at Houston (it happened on a throwing error by catcher Derek Norris). Balfour still leads the AL in save percentage (96.6 percent) and hasn't allowed a run in 21 of his past 23 appearances. The current Rangers are batting .121 against Balfour. Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and David Murphy all have two hits against him.