The Yankees (68-47) took the series opener on Monday, 8-2, to take a one-game lead over the Rangers (67-47) for the best record in the AL. While October is still more than a month away, this week's series is crucial for both teams' playoff plans.
"I think it's extremely important, because the two best records in the American League are the teams that are playing [in this series]," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "What every team strives to do is to get into the playoffs, to win your division and then to have home-field advantage. These games could determine a lot of that."
New York has won five of its last six games. Hiroki Kuroda is scheduled to start on Tuesday and will look to keep the Yankees unbeaten on a seven-game homestand.
The Rangers are in the midst of a six-game road trip and a stretch of nine straight games against teams from the AL East. Texas will send Matt Harrison to the hill.
Harrison had a bad stomach virus that zapped him in his last start against the Red Sox on Wednesday. He lasted just 4 1/3 innings, giving up five runs on eight hits and had an IV during the game. The left-hander said he is fully recovered, though.
"I feel good. I'm ready to rebound from my last start and go out and do my job," Harrison said. "The biggest thing is I didn't have any energy. I felt drained and that was compounded by the humidity, it definitely made it harder to maintain hydration. I still wanted to go out and win the ballgame. There were just times I didn't make the pitch I needed to and times I just didn't make good pitches."
Harrison is 9-3 with a 3.24 ERA in 13 road starts. His next two starts will be on the road, and he should also have at least five more starts away from home. That will give the southpaw a shot to break the club record for wins on the road in a single season. Scott Feldman won 12 road games in 2009.
"It's just a matter of making your pitches. I guess I do it better on the road than at home," Harrison said. "I don't have any explanation. I take pride in every start home or road. It's just worked out more on the road."
The Yankees will challenge Harrison, though, as they are 35-22 at home this season.
Rangers: Martinez set to make debut
Luis Martinez will make his first Rangers start on Tuesday. Martinez was called up from Triple-A Round Rock on Saturday when Mike Napoli went on the disabled list with a strained left quad muscle.
Geovany Soto started behind the plate on Monday, his third straight start and seventh since being acquired from the Cubs on July 31. Soto will do most of the catching while Napoli is sidelined, but Rangers manager Ron Washington wanted Martinez to work with Harrison.
"I have a lot of confidence in his receiving and throwing ability," Washington said. "He's comfortable with Harrison, he caught him in Spring Training. Soto is going to get the bulk of the playing time, but Martinez will play some."
Martinez hit .270 with two home runs, 22 runs and 27 RBIs in 65 games for Round Rock. He caught 22 games for the Padres last season.
Josh Hamilton is heating up offensively in large part because he is not chasing as many balls outside the strike zone. The outfielder went 1-for-3 on Monday and is 10-for-21 with three homers and nine RBIs in his last six games.
"He's not chasing balls a mile out of the zone," Washington said. "He's only chasing a half-mile out of the zone."
Yankees: Kuroda fulfilling expectations
Kuroda has been solid for the Yankees this year with a 10-7 record and 3.24 ERA.
The right-hander has won seven of his last nine decisions and is 2-1 in the second half of the season. The Yankees are 12-10 when Kuroda starts.
"He's met our expectations definitely. He has pitched outstanding for us," Girardi said. "Each start he really gives us a chance to win. He's given us distance. He's been extremely consistent. It's what we expected when we got him. The one thing we talked about with Hiroki was this guy can really pitch and locate, and he's done that."
Kuroda will face the Rangers for the second time this season. He lost to them on April 24 but pitched well enough to win. Kuroda allowed two runs on five hits in 6 2/3 innings, but the Yankees lost, 2-0.
Derek Lowe made his Yankees debut on Monday when he came out of the bullpen in the sixth inning. He pitched four scoreless frames and struck out four to earn his first save this year.
Lowe joined the Yankees on Monday. The Indians designated him for assignment on Aug. 2 and released him on Friday. Lowe had an 8.77 ERA in his last 10 appearances with Cleveland but hopes to be rejuvenated in the playoff race.
"I've always loved this time of year and playing in big markets and having every game mean something," Lowe said. "I don't care what my role is here."
Lowe was a starter in Cleveland but will be a reliever for New York.
Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz had an RBI single in the first inning on Monday to extend his hitting streak to a season-high eight games.
Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson is 4-for-12 with two homers and three RBIs in his career against Harrison.