for this game

A's eye sole possession of first place in AL West

Sep 5, 2013 - 2:43 PM (Sports Network) - On paper, the Oakland Athletics get a bit of a break over the next week. But the A's still have to take care of business on the field and look to grab sole possession of first-place in the American League West on Thursday night in the first of four straight meetings with the Houston Astros.

The Athletics wrapped a tough 13-game stretch against a number of playoff contenders on Wednesday, but emerged tied for first place in the AL West with Texas after beating the Rangers 11-4. Oakland took two of three in the series to give the rivals matching 80-59 records.

The Rangers are off on Thursday ahead of a set versus the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Oakland, meanwhile, will play consecutive sets against sub-.500 clubs in Houston and Minnesota before a three-game series in Texas from Sept. 13-15.

The Athletics won for the ninth time in their last 12 games with Wednesday's 11-4 victory, getting four homers in the contest. Josh Donaldson and Daric Barton both went deep during a six-run sixth inning, while Brandon Moss and Coco Crisp added longballs.

Oakland righty Jarrod Parker remained unbeaten since May 22 to set a franchise record, going six innings and giving up two runs, five hits and no walks with four strikeouts.

Parker is 9-0 in 18 starts since his last loss -- besting Catfish Hunter's 17- game unbeaten streak from June 2-Sept. 3, 1973.

The A's also moved to 3-0 this season against Texas ace Yu Darvish -- something Oakland manager Bob Melvin attributes to his team's knack for jumping on one of the best pitchers in baseball.

"The key is to get him out of sync early in games, and we've been able to do that," said Melvin.

Sonny Gray tries to stay in a groove tonight in his sixth career start. He is 2-2 with a 2.57 earned run average in seven overall appearances this year and the rookie is coming off a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.

Gray scattered five hits and a walk over 6 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out seven. It was the 23-year-old righty's best start since he hurled a career- high eight scoreless frames to beat Houston on Aug. 15.

Facing the Astros for the first time, Gray set a personal best with nine strikeouts.

Houston has split its last four games and avoided a three-game sweep at the hands of Minnesota with Wednesday's 6-5 win. Trevor Crowe doubled home Jonathan Villar for the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Villar had begun the frame with a single and was sacrificed to second ahead of Crowe's walk-off hit.

"That's how you play winning baseball," Astros manager Bo Porter said, referencing the fundamentals that resulted in the winning run.

Brad Peacock draws the start tonight for the Astros and is 3-5 with a 5.98 ERA in 14 games this season, including 10 starts.

The righty made five starts to begin the season before shifting to a relief role, but returned to the rotation in August and went 2-2 with a 3.94 ERA in five starts.

Peacock won back-to-back outings ahead of a 7-1 loss to Seattle on Friday, allowing five runs on seven hits and four walks over 4 2/3 innings, his shortest outing of the month.

"He just didn't have his offspeed stuff working tonight," Porter said of Peacock. "He forced himself into some fastball counts and they put some good swings on it."

The 25-year-old faced the Athletics twice as a starter in April, going 0-1 with a 5.19 ERA.

The A's are 12-3 versus the Astros this season.