Verlander, Darvish clash in battle of aces

Runs may be at a premium on Thursday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington where Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers open a four-game series against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.

"Those two guys are pretty impressive. You talk about Verlander: Cy Young, MVP. He's really good, look at history," Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said. "And then you look at Yu Darvish. Last year, he was really good, and this year, he's a lot smarter. And I definitely think that Yu Darvish has some of the nastiest stuff in the game. So it's going to boil down to who executes the right way, fundamentally sound baseball, and it's going to be not too many runs scored in that game."

Darvish has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, posting a 6-1 mark with a 2.73 ERA and a major league-best 80 strikeouts. Verlander, meanwhile, is only 4-3, but is pitching to a 1.93 ERA and, of course, has been the American League's strikeout king in three of the last four seasons.

"In May, getting excited, I try not to," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "It's great for the fans. If it doesn't go in our favor, it doesn't end our season. If Verlander has his stuff, it will be a long night. If Darvish has his stuff, it will be a long night. By long night, I mean runs will be at a premium, and it will be the first one to make a mistake."

Darvish, who is on pace to strike out 300 batters for the first time since Arizona teammates Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson did it in 2002, won his fourth consecutive decision on Saturday in Houston, as he held the Astros to three hits - two home runs - and three runs in seven innings. He also fanned eight batters in the win.

The Japanese right-hander's roll could continue on Thursday, as he is a perfect 3-0 in three starts versus the Tigers with a 3.60 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 20 innings.

Verlander comes into Thursday's opener on the heels of his worst outing of the season. The former AL Cy Young winner and MVP lost to Cleveland on Saturday, as he allowed four runs (3 earned) and six hits, while walking five batters in five innings.

"I felt like when I needed to make a pitch, my fastball just totally evaded me," Verlander said. "It was a battle the whole night for me. I felt just off- kilter, wasn't quite right."

He is 7-2 lifetime against the Rangers with a 2.02 ERA in 11 starts.

Lost in the hoopla of the terrific matchup in the opener is the fact that both of these teams sit atop their respective divisions.

Texas has won six of seven and holds a comfortable seven-game lead in the AL West, while Detroit is just a half-game up on the upstart Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, a division that is separated by just five games from top to bottom.

After winning 10 of 12, the Tigers have lost five of their last eight.

Texas was 7-3 against the Tigers last season.