The Texas Rangers come out of the All-Star breaking leading the American League West for a third straight season, a first in the franchise's history.
They'll look to pad their advantage tonight in the opener of a three-game series against the division's last-place club, the Seattle Mariners.
Though Texas is just 8-6 over its last 14 games, it still holds a four-game edge over the Los Angeles Angels for first place and won its final two games before the break following a season-high five-game losing streak. Many figured the Rangers' advantage for the top spot would be bigger at this point given its 15-4 start, but second baseman Ian Kinsler is happy with where his club is at.
"I think if you told us that's where we were going to be at the beginning of the season, I'm sure most of us would take that," said Kinsler. "It's been a good first half."
Despite going 37-30 since the quick start, Texas' 52-34 record its the best in club history after 86 games. The Rangers will try to tack on tonight behind left-hander Derek Holland.
A stomach virus cost Holland a month of action and he returned for the first time since June 5 on Saturday versus the Twins. He did not factor into a 4-3 win, allowing three runs over six frames while working around six hits and two walks.
The 25-year-old has gone 5-4 with a 5.05 earned run average in 12 outings this season, which includes mixed results versus the Mariners. He beat them at home on April 12 with 7 1/3 frames of two-run ball, but was hammered for eight runs on eight hits and two walks over 1 2/3 frames of a loss in a rematch at Texas on May 30.
Holland is 6-2 with a 4.24 ERA lifetime versus Seattle in 12 games, including eight starts.
Texas will hope to solve Seattle's Kevin Millwood tonight as the righty is 1-0 with a 1.06 ERA in three starts against the Rangers this year, striking out 14 over 17 innings.
Millwood lasted just 2 2/3 frames versus the Athletics on June 27 due to a nagging groin issue, but bounced back to hurl seven scoreless frames at Oakland on Friday. The 37-year-old scattered three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts, but did not get a decision. That left Millwood 0-2 in seven starts since his last win on May 23 versus the Rangers.
Millwood is 3-6 with a 3.69 ERA in 16 starts this year, one of a few bright spots for a Seattle club that is 16 1/2 games back of first place.
Offense has been an issue as the Mariners' .230 collective batting average is second-worst in the majors, ahead of only the Athletics (.225). They also rank 25th out of 30 teams with 337 runs scored.
"Obviously from an offensive standpoint with the position players, that's the No. 1 area where we have to get a lot better and be more consistent," said Mariners manager Eric Wedge.
The Rangers won 15 of 19 versus the Mariners last season, including seven of 10 in Seattle, but the clubs have split 10 encounters so far in 2012.