AL Wild Card leaders to clash in Arlington
Red Sox lead Rangers by one-half game for pivotal series
BOSTON -- It's safe to assume there won't be much scoreboard watching going on at the Ballpark in Arlington this weekend.
For the Red Sox and Rangers, who enter Friday as the top two teams in the American League Wild Card standings, all eyes will be on the diamond, where the clubs will duel in a pivotal three-game series with legitimate playoff implications.
Though Boston comes into the matchup sporting a half-game lead over Texas in the race for the AL's fourth and final postseason berth, it is the Rangers who have recent momentum on their side in head-to-head dealings with the Red Sox.
Victorious in five of six meetings against Boston this season -- including an impressive three-game sweep in Arlington last month -- Texas will send ace Kevin Millwood to the hill on Friday, followed by 22-year-old southpaw Derek Holland and right-hander Dustin Nippert, both of whom pitched admirably against the Red Sox in starts earlier this year.
But if there is any hype surrounding this series, it hasn't seeped into the clubhouse of either team, as both clubs are treating every game with the same importance as the stretch run kicks into high gear.
"It's way too early to start making it out to be a huge Wild Card series," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "It's an important series because the Red Sox are a good team, but we need to play well to have some success. The one thing I know is that the Wild Card is very unpredictable, so to say it's going to be decided in August, that's not going to happen."
"It doesn't matter who we play," Sox slugger Victor Martinez said. "Obviously, it's going to be a big series for both teams, but at the end of the day, it's just another game. We're going to keep playing our game and see what happens."
Despite a lull last week in which it dropped six consecutive games to division rivals Tampa Bay and New York, Boston regained some of its swagger this week with a series victory over AL Central-leading Detroit -- displaying a resilience that comes as no surprise to Texas manager Ron Washington.
"They're a good team," Washington said. "They're no different than anybody else in that they're going to hit some bumps in the road. There was a time when the Yankees were getting their tails whipped, and they turned it around. The Red Sox know what they're doing. They know how to win. They've been doing it for a long time.
"They're not going anywhere."
Boston doesn't have the luxury of trotting out its own No. 1 starter -- 14-game winner Josh Beckett -- against the Rangers' Millwood, but Jon Lester is no slouch. The hard-throwing left-hander, who took a perfect game into the seventh inning when he beat Texas in a June 6 gem at Fenway Park, gets the nod in Friday's series opener, paving the way for veteran Brad Penny and 23-year-old rookie Junichi Tazawa.
Pitching matchups aside, offensive production figures to play an equally important role as the teams vie to create some separation in the standings. But in terms of added pressure, both sides claim they feel none.
"I wouldn't exactly say these are make-or-break games," Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay said. "Texas is right behind us in the Wild Card standings, so a lot's going to be made of that. But ultimately, it's still the middle of August. They're all big from here on out."
John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.