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Fri, Sep 2, 2011 - 7:10 PM ET
 

Rangers-Red Sox Preview

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The Boston Red Sox dropped two of three to their archrivals this week as their AL East lead slipped to a mere half-game.

The schedule doesn't get much easier this weekend - but don't expect Andrew Miller to be intimidated by the Texas Rangers.

Miller turned in his best start in a Red Sox uniform last week against the Rangers, a performance he'll try to duplicate Friday night at Fenway Park as these AL contenders open a key three-game series.

Boston (83-53) went into this week's series against the Yankees with a 1 1/2-game division lead, and that's still where the bitter rivals stood after splitting the first two games.

Thursday's four-hour, 21-minute epic may have felt like it was worth two games in the standings, but fortunately for the Red Sox, that wasn't the case. New York overcame a 2-1 deficit by scoring three times in the seventh inning in a 4-2 victory that pulled it even with Boston in the loss column.

"They played better than us," Dustin Pedroia told the Red Sox's official website. "Long games - we're all tired. ... We move on and try to win (Friday)."

Should the Yankees wind up winning the AL East, the Red Sox may open the playoffs in Arlington, which until last week had been a house of horrors for Boston.

The Red Sox had lost 10 of 12 at Texas (78-60) going in and dropped the series opener 4-0, but they couldn't have played much better in the series' final three games. Boston outscored the Rangers 30-7 in three victories, culminating with a 6-0 win Aug. 25.

Miller (6-1, 4.42 ERA) was largely responsible for clinching the series victory. He held Texas to three hits over 6 1-3 innings in the finale, his most impressive outing yet in Boston's rotation.

That made it a no-brainer for manager Terry Francona to call on the left-hander again Friday when he was lining up his rotation for this week following Sunday's postponement and Monday's off day.

"Some of what (Miller) can do is pretty exciting," Francona said. "We want to give him a legitimate chance to do that."

He'll see one slugger in the Rangers' lineup who wasn't there last week. Adrian Beltre, who had an outstanding 2010 with Boston before signing a five-year, $80 million deal with Texas, came off the disabled list Thursday after missing nearly six weeks with a hamstring strain and had a hit in the Rangers' 7-2 win over Tampa Bay.

Texas leads the Angels by 3 1/2 games atop the AL West.

"It means a lot, just his presence," manager Ron Washington told the team's official website. "It's not that we expected him to come here and be back in the groove he was in before he got hurt, but just his presence helps."

This is Beltre's first trip back to Fenway, where he hit .314 with 13 homers in 75 games last season - a stark improvement over his numbers as a visitor. The third baseman was just 10 for 56 (.179) in 16 trips there with the Dodgers and Mariners.

He's 1 for 6 against Miller.

Boston also should have a key member of its lineup back in action for this series, with Kevin Youkilis expected to be activated from the disabled list after being sidelined by a stiff back. He's a career .339 hitter versus Texas, his best average against any AL opponent.

If Youkilis returns Friday, he will be facing Derek Holland (12-5, 4.30), who didn't start last week against the Red Sox but was excellent last Friday in a more significant matchup. The lefty held the Angels to a run and eight hits over 6 2-3 innings in an 11-7 win.

That excessive support was nothing new. Holland's 7.29 run-support average is the majors' best, just ahead of Boston's Jon Lester and John Lackey.

Holland is 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA in two starts against the Red Sox, whom he hasn't faced since 2009.

Adrian Gonzalez is 0 for 4 lifetime versus Holland, but Texas' pitching staff certainly has reason to fear the slugging first baseman. Gonzalez went 7 for 12 with five homers in the Red Sox's three wins last week.

Boston's David Ortiz is hitting .500 with seven homers during a 15-game hitting streak.

Tagged: Red Sox, Rangers, Adrian Beltre, Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew Miller, Derek Holland

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