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06/03/10 1:04 AM ET

Division leaders clash as Rays visit Rangers

They may not have been the trendiest picks to lead their respective divisions during the offseason, but that doesn't change where Texas and Tampa Bay stand in the standings. The Rangers and Rays rank among the top teams in the American League, and they'll try to establish a potential postseason pecking order when they meet each other in Friday's series opener.

Texas and Tampa Bay have not met yet this season, and Rays manager Joe Maddon is impressed by how much the Rangers have improved over the course of a year. The AL West leaders have always been able to hit, but now they can pitch, too.

"They got better," said Maddon of the Rangers. "I think they're pitching substantially better. And you've got Vladimir [Guerrero] playing like he did a couple of years ago right now. And that's definitely going to make them a better ballclub."

That may be the case, but the AL East-leading Rays could wind up missing Guerrero, who is batting .335 with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs. The veteran is listed as day-to-day with an left eye injury sustained during batting practice Wednesday. Guerrero didn't start Thursday, but his potential presence will still play a major role in Tampa Bay's preparation for the Rangers.

And if the Rays are worrying overtime about Guerrero, they'll save some mental energy for shortstop Elvis Andrus. Andrus, the second-youngest player in the AL, has gotten off to a surprising start on the offensive end. Andrus has long been touted as a special defensive player, but his hitting and speed further round out an imposing Texas lineup.

"Their shortstop makes them a different team," Maddon said. "So I think they beat us primarily with pitching and defense."

It'll be an interesting matchup between two of the AL's best teams, but one thing is certain: Maddon is happy that this will be the last time his club will have to play in Texas this year -- unless they meet in the postseason.

"That is good," Maddon said. "They always were a pain in that ballpark, even when I was with the Angels."

Rays: Davis out to keep momentum
Right-hander Wade Davis, who is 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA this season, will look to build on his previous outing, when he went 6 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on six hits and two walks against the White Sox. It was much improved from when he allowed five runs over just 3 2/3 innings against the Red Sox. Now, Davis wants to continue his momentum.

Davis, a veteran of just 16 big league starts, is still trying to turn his substantial potential into production. The 24-year-old has never won more than three consecutive starts, but he's also never lost more than back-to-back games at a time. The Rays are 6-4 in his 10 starts this year, and Davis has completed six innings five times. He's also allowed three earned runs or fewer seven times.

Rangers: Wilson trying to reverse course
Left-hander C.J. Wilson, a converted reliever, started out the season on a hot streak but has cooled down recently by going 0-2 with a 9.56 ERA in his past three starts. He is 3-3 with a 3.48 ERA on the season but will look to do much better in the series opener than he did in his previous start, when he allowed five runs over six innings against the Twins.

Truth be told, Wilson may actually have a secret weapon heading into this start. The Rangers were able to get him an extra day of rest in between outings, which may give the southpaw some extra life in his arm. Wilson threw seven consecutive quality starts but has now gone three outings without one, and Texas needs him to get back to his dead-level best.

Worth noting
The will be the Rays' first meeting with Rangers this season but second trip to the state of Texas. Tampa Bay took two of three from Houston on May 21-23. ... The Rays went 3-6 against the Rangers last season and were 1-5 in Arlington, winning their final game there last season. ... Tampa Bay starters allowed 29 earned runs in 28 innings at Rangers Ballpark, going 0-5 with a no-decision. ... Texas is 18-9 at home this season, tied with Minnesota and Oakland for the best record of any AL team.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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