The Rangers have an admirer in Jim Leyland, but that doesn't mean the Tigers manager enjoys it when Detroit has to visit Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
The two teams, which entered a four-game series leading their respective American League divisions, opened the set on Thursday night, as Texas ace Yu Darvish bested Detroit stud Justin Verlander. Right-handers Rick Porcello and Nick Tepesch will do the honors in the second game on Friday.
"I look at this as [the Rangers] have a real, real, really good team and a real tough opponent," Leyland said. "I respect everybody we play, but you have to respect this team after what they've done the last few years and what they've done this year where they don't have Josh [Hamilton] back and they've made some moves and they just keep marching on."
Detroit has lost four of its last six. The Tigers took two out of three from the Astros in their last series, and have the four-game series against the Rangers before two more against the Indians from May 21-22. Detroit dropped two out of three against Cleveland last week.
Texas, meanwhile, is coming off a 6-3 road trip that included stops in Chicago, Milwaukee, Houston and Oakland. The Rangers have won seven of eight and 18 of 26 overall.
"There are some places where their players don't get the national attention that others get," Leyland said. "Minnesota and Texas, a little bit. These guys don't seem to get the national attention other places get. I don't know why that is. These guys really got good players. They're good.
"It's a credit to Ron Washington and a credit to their players. Saying all that, we think we're a pretty good team, too. This is a really good team and Ron does such a good job with it."
Porcello is looking to earn his second win of the year on Friday, and lower his 6.68 ERA in the meantime. Porcello has thrown three consecutive quality starts since his first-inning meltdown against the Angels on April 20, but he has just one victory to show for it. He's struck out 18 over 19 1/3 innings.
Tepesch, 3-3 with a 4.03 ERA, stopped a two-game losing streak when he beat the Astros on Sunday. He's 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA in Arlington.
"He threw the ball over the plate and executed the game plan very well," Washington said. "He had a good sinker working [against Houston], and his breaking ball had bite. He did a lot of good things."
Tigers: Bottom of the lineup contributing
• The ninth spot in the Tigers lineup this year is responsible for a .304 batting average, eight doubles, four triples, four home runs and 22 RBIs. Entering Thursday night, the Tigers led the league in average, hits, RBIs and extra-base hits from the ninth spot.
• Evan Reed made his Tigers debut on Thursday, throwing 2 2/3 innings of relief, surrendering a Nelson Cruz solo home run and striking out one.
Rangers: Infielders carrying Rangers
Leyland said second baseman Ian Kinsler and third baseman Adrian Beltre have much to do with the Rangers' extended success over the years. Each scored two runs in the series opener on Thursday.
"I think Kinsler is one of the best players in the American League," Leyland said. "I just have the utmost respect for him. You don't hear that much about him, but I think this guy is one of the best players in the American League."
Beltre had a season-high seven-game hitting streak snapped Thursday night, but he is still hitting .382 with six extra-base hits and nine RBIs over his last eight.
"The third baseman is without question one of the best players in the American League," Leyland said. "I won't say who it was, but I had one of my coaches tell me the other day that he is one of the five best players in the American League. He's just a terrific player. He's a terrific defender and he's a terrific hitter."
• As of Thursday night, there were 5,500 tickets still available for Friday night's game. There were 1,750 available for Saturday's and 11,000 available for Sunday's series finale.
• Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter is two home runs shy of 300 in his Major League career. He would become the 17th active player with 300 or more.