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Preview: Athletics at Pirates

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Two unlikely division leaders - and their surprising All-Star aces - will square off when the Pittsburgh Pirates host the Oakland Athletics for a three-game interleague series beginning Monday. Oakland will send 40-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon to the mound against Pittsburgh left-hander Jeff Locke. Both pitchers have emerged as the most consistent starters for their teams, which find themselves in the middle of close races as the All-Star break approaches.

Pittsburgh, which is tied with St. Louis for the National League Central lead and the best record in baseball, hasn't just beaten up on bottom-feeders - the Pirates are 8-5 against division leaders Arizona, Atlanta and Detroit. The Athletics maintained their slim half-game lead over Texas in the American League West by routing Kansas City on Sunday to wrap up their fourth straight series victory. The Pirates lost 4-3 in 11 innings Sunday to drop two of three to the Chicago Cubs, and they have lost consecutive series for only the fourth time this season and the first since early June.

TV: 7:05 p.m. ET, CSN California (Oakland), ROOT Sports (Pittsburgh)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Athletics RH Bartolo Colon (11-3, 2.78 ERA) vs. Pirates LH Jeff Locke (8-1, 2.12)

Colon already has his highest win total since 2005 - also the year he last made the All-Star team and won the Cy Young Award with the Los Angeles Angels. He had won eight straight starts before suffering a setback Wednesday against the Cubs, but he still recorded his 10th consecutive quality start. Colon is 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts against the Pirates, but he hasn't faced them since 2007.

Locke hasn't lost since his season debut April 7 and he earned his eighth straight win last time out against Philadelphia. The 25-year-old gave up three runs - two earned - over 5 2/3 innings and has not permitted more than three earned runs since April 18. Locke has never faced Oakland.

WALK-OFFS

1. The A's have won all nine previous meetings, most recently sweeping an interleague series in 2010 in Oakland.

2. Pirates 2B Neil Walker sat out Sunday's game with a sore right side and is scheduled to have an MRI exam on Monday. Brandon Inge filled in for Walker on Sunday.

3. Pittsburgh LF Starling Marte is riding a 12-game hitting streak after hitting a game-tying home run in the ninth inning Sunday.

PREDICTION: Pirates 3, Athletics 2

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130708/preview-athletics-at-pirates