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First Place Rangers Take On Last Place Mariners

(Sports Network) - The American League West-leading Texas Rangers already have a comfortable lead atop the division standings. An upcoming three-game series against the last-place Seattle Mariners should help pad the advantage even more.

The two AL West inhabitants will kick off the set Tuesday night at Safeco Field, as the Rangers will continue a nine-game road trip against division foes. Texas dropped two of three in Anaheim over the weekend and suffered a 4-1 defeat on Sunday at the Big A. Cliff Lee was saddled with the loss and gave up all four runs and nine hits through eight innings.

Lee has now gone nine straight starts of at least eight innings, the longest such streak since Toronto's Pat Hentgen reeled off 12 in a row in 1996. Vladimir Guerrero had the only extra-base hit for the Rangers with a double and knocked in the team's only run in the sixth inning.

Texas is eight games ahead of both Oakland and Anaheim in the AL West.

"It's still a dogfight," Rangers outfielder David Murphy said on the team's official website. "We have a good lead, we are where we want to be, but why not add to it?"

Murphy and the Rangers can add to the lead with success in Seattle followed by another three-game series at Oakland. Colby Lewis will get the ball rolling tonight when he makes his 21st start of the season. Lewis has dropped back-to- back trips to the hill, however, and is coming off a strong performance versus the Athletics on Wednesday.

In the 3-1 loss versus Oakland, Lewis was reached for only one run and five hits in seven innings of work. He managed eight strikeouts and has fanned at least five batters in four consecutive appearances. Lewis, who is 9-7 with a 3.40 ERA this season, sports a 2-0 mark and a 0.78 ERA in three starts against the Mariners this season. He beat them with seven innings of one-run ball on June 8 and is 4-2 in 13 career games (9 starts) in this series.

In injury news for the Rangers, slugging outfielder Josh Hamilton is expected to be back Tuesday after being held out of the starting lineup for two straight games due to tendinitis in his right knee. Hamilton leads the majors with a .362 average to go along with 23 home runs and 75 RBI.

Seattle, meanwhile, will bring its seven-game losing streak back to the Emerald City in the opener of a nine-game homestand tonight versus the Rangers, Royals and A's.

The Mariners went winless on its seven-game excursion through Chicago and Minnesota, and is coming off Sunday's 4-0 loss to the Twins at Target Field. Luke French handled pitching duties poorly and was roughed up for four runs and seven hits in six innings to suffer the loss.

"I thought he did a great job," Seattle pitching coach Rick Adair told the team's site. "He was real aggressive and attacked the strike zone. He pitched extremely well, and to me, the confidence level as he progressed throughout the game kept growing."

Chone Figgins and Michael Saunders provided the two hits for the Mariners, who have been shut out three times in the last six games. Sunday's setback ended a stretch of 18 games in 18 days for Seattle.

Jason Vargas will try to pitch the M's back into the win column when he takes the hill Tuesday, but is 0-3 with a 4.58 earned run average in his last six starts. Vargas did not record a decision in a 6-5 loss at the White Sox last Wednesday, as he allowed five runs and eight hits over 4 1/3 innings.

Vargas, a left-hander, remained at 6-5 in 20 starts this season and raised his ERA from 2.94 to 3.20. He is winless in his career against Texas, going 0-2 with a less desirable 6.16 ERA in five games, three of which have been starts.

Texas has won eight of the 10 meetings with Seattle this season and swept a three-game series at Safeco Field from April 30-May 2.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.