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American League Preview from The Sports Network

Friday, September 7th (All times eastern)

Texas Rangers (82-55) at Tampa Bay Rays (75-62), 7:10 p.m.

Probable Starting Pitchers: Texas - Derek Holland (10-6, 4.79) Tampa Bay - Jeremy Hellickson (8-10, 3.41)

(Sports Network) - The Tampa Bay Rays try to gain some ground in the American League East on Friday when they open a three-game series against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field.

With Baltimore and New York fighting for the top spot in the division this weekend, the Rays figure to benefit somehow, provided they can take care of their own business.

But that may be easier said than done against a Rangers team that owns the best record in the AL and enters tonight's tilt having won four of their last five with a 5 1/2-game advantage in the AL West.

Texas beat up on the lowly Kansas City Royals this week, taking three of four after Michael Young singled home Ian Kinsler with the winning run in a 5-4 victory in 10 innings on Thursday.

"We know what we're capable of and we are going to continue to fight every out, every inning and give ourselves the best chance to win," Kinsler said.

Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre also hit back-to-back homers for the Rangers, who will hand the ball to Derek Holland in Friday's opener.

Holland won his third straight start on Sunday in Cleveland, as he held the Tribe to a pair of runs and seven hits in seven innings to run his record to 10-6, while lowering his ERA to 4.79.

"I feel like I'm becoming more consistent," Holland said after the start. "I had to get into a groove, and I feel like I'm getting into that groove now."

The left-hander beat the Rays two starts ago and is 4-2 with a 6.20 ERA in seven starts.

Tampa, meanwhile, is also riding high entering this series after taking two of three from the Yankees. The Rays, though, were denied a sweep in that set, falling, 6-4, on Wednesday.

"I still like the idea about winning two out of three against a very good baseball club," Tampa manager Joe Maddon said. "We weren't going to win the rest of our games from now until the end of the season, but if we play with that kind of intensity, intent and effort, God bless it; I'll take it."

The Rays are two games behind East co-leaders Baltimore and New York while sitting 1 1/2 back of Oakland for the AL's second wild-card slot.

Heading to the hill for the Rays on Friday will be righty Jeremy Hellickson, who is 8-10 with a 3.41 ERA. Hellickson lost his second straight start last Friday in Toronto despite a decent effort that saw him allow two runs and four hits in six innings.

Hellickson lost to the Rangers in his only other start against them.

These teams have split six matchups this season, but this will be the first series in St. Petersburg, where the Rangers have gone 5-13 during the regular season since the beginning of 2007. However, they are 4-1 there in the playoffs.

09/07 10:29:49 ET