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08/17/10 1:29 AM ET

Series a measuring stick for Rangers, Rays

These are the series for which top-shelf teams long, the ones in which they can measure themselves against premium competition.

Whether this set between the Rangers and Rays is a so-called preview of a postseason series to come remains to be seen, and each team is approaching it differently.

"It's August," said Rangers manager Ron Washington, "so you never want to talk about the playoffs and who you might play."

The opportunity to face off against a team with one of the best records in the bigs, however, is still appealing.

"But these are two good teams going against each other," Washington said. "Anytime you face the Rays, you better be ready to play some baseball."

For Rays manager Joe Maddon, it's an opportunity to scout the new-look and new-philosophy Rangers, just in case they should meet down the road.

"The guys that I don't know are the guys you really want to pay attention to," Maddon said. "I want to see if Bengie [Molina] is what I remember of him, and I want to see if Jorge [Cantu] is what he looked like earlier in the season. Then [Brandon] Boggs on the bottom, and [Andres] Blanco -- I don't know these guys really well. The guys that I don't know always bother me."

The Rangers seem destined for a postseason berth, and Maddon, for one, is not surprised by the their success.

"They were pretty good last year, too," Maddon said. "I know this year they're making a lot more noise. The real difference with them -- for me having been an AL West guy for many years -- is that they used to always pound the ball. But now they pitch. They've got good starting pitching. Their bullpen has been as effective as ours this year. I think the big difference between then and now is their pitching and their defense.

"They're willing to run now, too. Their whole game has shifted. They were just about pounding the ball -- Texas baseball, hot air, get it up and let it fly -- then eventually, they kind of morphed into a different team, a more complete team. I think that's where the difference is with them."

Rays starter Matt Garza likened the Rangers lineup's pounding, as Maddon called it, to a more familiar foe, the Blue Jays. In his last start, which came against Toronto and its thunderous lineup, Garza tossed eight frames without allowing an earned run but took the hard-luck loss.

"The Rangers can do the same as Toronto but on a more consistent basis," Garza said. "Their whole lineup's got a lot of pop from top to bottom. It's going to be a tough series, but I think we can definitely get it."

Rangers: Hunter put to the test
As if facing the tough Rays lineup weren't a tall-enough chore in and of itself, Rangers starter Tommy Hunter will have to do it on three days' rest with scheduled starter Rich Harden placed on the disabled list. Hunter, however, pitched just three innings (50 pitches) last time out against the Red Sox, so the Rangers and Washington hope he's up to the chore.

"He threw a bullpen yesterday and things went well," said Washington, "and we thought it worked well with him going on Tuesday as opposed to Wednesday. He only threw 50 pitches, and he's pitched well this season, and we felt it was the best to go with him after seeing him toss his bullpen session."

Rays: Garza's dry spell
It's been an interesting stretch for Garza, who tossed a no-hitter on July 26 against the Tigers, only to continue to pitch while running into some hard luck. In three starts since making history, the right-hander is 0-2 with a 3.05 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 20 2/3 frames.

Worth noting
Derek Holland will likely start on Wednesday following the rotation shuffle due to Harden's injury, and Washington offered him a full vote of confidence. "He's been dominating pretty much every start up until his last one [in the Minors]," Washington said. "No one can dominate every game. Sometimes there's going to be one or two which gets away, but for the most part, he's been solid." ... Monday night's game marked a stretch of 10 consecutive tilts against teams from the American League West for the Rays.

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