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KC@TB: Price three-hits Royals in eight-inning gem

Rays manager Joe Maddon has been nothing if not consistent in his insistence that no game or series is more important than the next one. But in the big picture, this three-game series between Tampa Bay and Texas could be huge for Maddon's club.

David Price and Derek Holland will kick off the series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Monday, with the Rays looking to crawl toward the top spot in the American League East against the Rangers, who own the best record in the AL.

"We've just got to be playing at the top of our game, which I think we are. We have the pitching lined up pretty good," Maddon said. "I think, overall, our game has picked up a lot. Furthermore, we'll be hitting outside again, so I think that'll be interesting to see.

"I feel good about where we're at right now, and I feel good about how it looks moving forward."

And Maddon has to feel good about Price taking the mound. The Rays lefty has been dominant all season en route to the Majors' best ERA at 2.28, setting himself up as a favorite in the AL Cy Young race. He took a no-decision in his last outing, but deserved the win, allowing three hits while striking out eight over eight scoreless innings against the Royals.

"He's pretty good," said Rangers outfielder David Murphy. "He's got as good of left-handed stuff as there is in the game."

Price beat the Rangers the last time he faced them on April 29, and he knows the atmosphere in Texas won't be favorable for him. He'll be a year older Monday after celebrating his 27th birthday on Sunday's rare off-day, but should we expect anything different from the lefty?

"I'll go out there and continue doing the same things I've been doing," Price said. "I'll definitely be older, hopefully a little bit wiser, but I don't know about the maturity level. It's all about having fun, that's what we do."

Holland, meanwhile, is coming off his first win since July 25, as he allowed three runs over seven innings and beat the Orioles on Wednesday. The lefty said he liked the way he attacked hitters in that outing and hoped to do more of the same going forward, looking to finally get back to what's made him effective in the past.

Holland has opposed a slew of aces since the All-Star break. He has gone up against Angels righty Jered Weaver twice and Detroit's Justin Verlander once in recent weeks. Now he'll square off against another top hurler.

"I take the same approach as I do any other start," Holland said. "They're all great pitchers. I'm trying to make a name for myself. I have to worry about myself and making my pitches."

Rays: Zobrist raking since move to short
Ben Zobrist, an everyday player at second base and right field, essentially became the Rays' starting shortstop a few weeks ago, and that experiment has gone about as well as possible. In addition to providing solid defense at short, Zobrist has hit .361 (17-for-47) with six doubles, a triple, three homers, eight RBIs and 10 runs as a shortstop.

Tampa Bay has gone 9-4 with Zobrist starting at shortstop, although that record has also corresponded somewhat with the return of Evan Longoria. The Rays are 11-3 when Longoria starts at designated hitter this season and 16-10 when he starts at third base.

Rangers: Beltre in rarefied air
Adrian Beltre accomplished two rare feats recently, becoming the second player in Major League history with a three-homer game and a cycle in the same week. The last hitter to do it was Joe DiMaggio in 1948. Beltre became the sixth player to hit for the cycle in Rangers history against the Twins on Friday, two days after blasting three home runs against the Orioles.

"Hitting three home runs in a game is great, but the cycle, that's awesome," Rangers manager Ron Washington said on Friday. "It's not easy to do. We got him on fire at the right time. He had been struggling, but it was only a matter of time with Beltre. He stung the ball all night."

• Nelson Cruz, who secured his fourth straight 20-homer season with a long ball on Sunday, is 5-for-10 with a home run off of Price. That's the highest average of any player with at least 10 at-bats against him.

Worth noting
• Holland has struggled against current Rays hitters. In 115 plate appearances, Tampa Bay players have hit .362 with a .417 on-base percentage and a .676 slugging percentage against Holland, with B.J. Upton (1.486 OPS) and Longoria (1.428 OPS) doing most of the damage.

• The Rangers are expecting Michael Young back from paternity leave on Monday.

• The Rays have the best record in the Majors against the AL West at 21-11.

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