Series Preview: Rangers at Red Sox

USA TODAY Sports

Two first teams enter, and probably exit that way, too.

The Red Sox are in first place in the American League East, 2.5 games up on both the Orioles and the Yankees. The Rangers are 1.5 up on the surging Athletics in the AL West, with the next-closest threat 11 games back already. These two clubs could very well exit the series the same way they entered it -- leading their respective divisions -- but then again, the Rangers swept the Sox last time they faced off, by a combined score of 16-4, so let's not get assume anything.

The Sox are a pretty good team, as they're in first despite injuries and a tough division, but the Rangers could very well be the class of the AL, and therefore should not be taken lightly. Anything can happen in three games, of course, but we've already seen that when the Rangers helped start the month of May off on the wrong foot for Boston.

Ian Kinsler is currently on the 15-day DL with a stress fracture in his rib cage, but Alexi Ogando will be back from his own DL stint in time to start against the Red Sox in this series. The Red Sox are still missing Will Middlebrooks in this series, and Shane Victorino is not expected back on Wednesday when he's eligible, but are otherwise healthy.

Game 1 (7:10 pm ET): Justin Grimm vs. Ryan Dempster

Grimm has had a much better go of things in his second trip to the majors, as he's tossed just under 53 innings in nine starts, and compiled a 114 ERA+ and three times as many strikeouts as walks in the process. The Red Sox didn't face him last time around, and, in fact, have never faced the 24-year-old right-hander. Oddly enough, the Sox drafted Grimm back in 2007 in the 13th, but he went to college instead and was selected by the Rangers in the fifth round of the 2010 draft.

This nearly-Sox pitcher will take on Dempster, who was a Ranger before signing with Boston this past off-season. Dempster missed the Rangers last time out, and has scuffled a bit of late, but he went seven innings with just two runs allowed in his most recent outing against the Phillies. More of that to kick off the series would be a plus, especially since it would guarantee the Sox would finish this three-game set up with an AL East lead, however slim, intact.

Game 2 (7:10 pm ET): Alexi Ogando vs. John Lackey

Ogando has been on the DL with a biceps strain since May 16, coincidentally the same injury that cost his opponent a few weeks in April. Ogando has been productive when he has pitched, though, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is noticeably lower (2.0) than what he managed in his career prior to 2013 (3.0). The strikeouts are down, at just 6.7 per nine, but more pressing is the walk rate that's jumped nearly a full walk all the way to 3.4 per nine. As the Red Sox are second in the AL in free passes, that could be their ticket to beating Ogando.

Lackey is currently second among Red Sox starters in ERA+, and while in the preseason that kind of thing would have been assumed to mean disaster, right now it means he's about 49 percent better than your league-average starter in terms of ERA. He's been great his last three times out, with 19 innings 18 strikeouts, and just six walks to go with three runs. A little worrisome is that all three runs scored on homers, but if he can keep runners off base, that shouldn't be a problem. His FIP is 3.79, and if he can stick around that level all year long, then he's going to be of immense value to this rotation.

Game 3 (7:10 pm ET): Derek Holland vs. Jon Lester

Holland has been excellent, posting a 159 ERA+ with four times as many punch outs as free passes. He's been overshadowed by teammate Yu Darvish, but he's absolutely getting the job done, and could be the owner of the best game pitched against Boston in this series. He'll take on Jon Lester, who has managed to rebound from a rough 2012 to post a 124 ERA+ and 3.53 ERA over his first 12 starts. May was a little rougher on Lester, as he posted a 3.92 ERA for the month, but he also faced a slew of tough opponents in the Rays, Indians, Yankees, and these very Rangers. He tossed a quality start against Texas in that game while striking out seven -- something similar would be a good way to end the series, though, maybe this time the Red Sox can pull off the W.

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