(Sports Network) - In a possible playoff preview, the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers will start up an intriguing three-game series between division leaders this evening at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
If the current American League standings remain the same at the end of the regular season, the Yankees and Rangers would face one another in the best-of- five AL Division Series. New York presently controls its own destiny for the top seed, owning a 2 1/2-game advantage on fellow AL East member Tampa Bay in the race, while Texas is 7 1/2 games in front of second-place Oakland in the AL West but is well back of the surging Minnesota Twins in the battle for the league's No. 2 seed.
The Rangers will be sending their potential Game 1 starter to the hill for tonight's opener in C.J. Wilson. The converted reliever has been sensational since the All-Star break, having amassed a 7-1 record and an excellent 2.67 earned run average in 10 second-half starts.
That lone defeat did take place in his most recent assignment, though, with Wilson tagged for six runs in 5 1/3 innings by the Twins this past Sunday in Minneapolis. It was the left-hander's first setback since July 11.
A return home may enable Wilson to get back on track, as he's compiled a stellar 10-2 mark with a 3.11 ERA in 16 starts in Arlington this year. The 29- year-old did face the Yankees at Rangers Ballpark on August 10, getting a no- decision in a 4-3 Texas triumph after allowing two runs in 5 1/3 innings of work.
Wilson was dealt a loss at Yankee Stadium back on April 16, however, and is 0-3 lifetime against New York in 19 appearances, all but two of which have come in relief.
Texas hasn't been playing its best baseball during the early stages of September, having recently had a five-game losing streak, but does come into this set off back-to-back road wins over Toronto. In Wednesday's finale, Mitch Moreland drove in three runs to back 6 1/3 solid innings from Colby Lewis as the Rangers came through with a 4-2 victory.
Vladimir Guerrero added three hits and scored twice for Texas, while Nelson Cruz went 2-for-4 with a run scored to help the Rangers salvage a split of the four-game series.
Lewis (10-12) halted a nine-start winless streak by limiting the Blue Jays to one run on five hits while striking out eight batters on the night. The right- hander had received seven losses and two no-decisions over his drought.
"It's definitely gratifying to get double digits [in wins], for sure," Lewis said afterward. "I just really wanted to bounce back after the two poor outings I had. That was the biggest thing I wanted to do today."
The Yankees take the road tonight for a challenging nine-game trek that includes three critical meetings with the rival Rays following this series. New York tuned up for this stretch with a needed 3-2 win over Baltimore on Wednesday, which snapped a string of three straight losses for the Bronx Bombers and prevented the pesky Orioles from a surprising sweep of the three- game set.
Baltimore came awfully close to getting the sweep, though, taking a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning of the finale. However, Nick Swisher put the Yankees ahead to stay with a two-run homer off O's closer Koji Uehara with his team two outs away from another loss.
Swisher's game-winning blast scored Alex Rodriguez, who had singled off Uehara to begin New York's half of the ninth. Brett Gardner had a run-scoring double earlier in the afternoon, while three Yankee relievers combined for three scoreless innings to keep the deficit at a single run.
"The feeling is that we could come back," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "That's the feeling this club has always had. We've had some comebacks and they did a nice job."
Joba Chamberlain (3-4) picked up the win after striking out two Orioles in a perfect top of the ninth. Rookie Ivan Nova began the game for the Yankees and allowed a pair of runs while fanning six over six solid innings in his fourth big league start.
Girardi will hand the ball to Javier Vazquez this evening, with the veteran hurler getting another opportunity to work out his recent struggles. The offseason acquisition hasn't pitched more than 4 2/3 innings in any of his last three starts and was briefly removed from the rotation last month after a sequence of ineffective performances.
One of those subpar showings came against the Rangers in Arlington on August 11, with Vazquez roughed up for six runs and eight hits in a 4 1/3-inning no- decision. He followed up by lasted only four frames in a home loss to Detroit five days later, allowing two runs and issuing four walks.
Vazquez did pitch better in a pair of relief appearances to close out August, permitting just two runs and four hits over a combined nine innings while earning one win, but encountered trouble once again when placed back in a starting role this past Saturday. In a no-decision against Toronto, the 34- year-old gave up five runs and a pair of homers while walking four in 4 2/3 shaky innings.
This will be the seventh career start against the Rangers for Vazquez, who's 2-2 with a suspect 6.56 ERA over the previous six.
The Yankees have won four of five meetings with Texas this season, with the clubs splitting a two-game set in Arlington last month.