It will be a meeting of two teams that have played each other in the American League Division Series the past two years, with the Rangers winning in five games in 2010 and four games in 2011.
The Rangers come into the series with the best record in baseball (15-4) and have a 5 1/2-game lead over Oakland in the American League West after taking two out of three games from the Yankees. Texas has won six straight series to open a season for the first time in club history.
The Rays, meanwhile, are off to another solid start at 12-7 after a stirring walk-off win in Thursday's game that gave them a home series sweep over the Angels.
"Obviously we have a ton of respect for them," Rangers infielder Michael Young said. "This is the American League, every team is going to be tough. We just have to focus on getting better every day. Right now, our pitching is what's gotten us off to such a good start. They just keep us in the game every night."
The game features a pitching duel between two starters who haven't lost yet. Rangers lefty Matt Harrison and Rays right-hander James Shields both bring 3-0 records to the mound, and for Shields, it'll be about trying to keep that going by taking it into the late innings, as usual.
Shields has worked eight innings or more 18 times in his last 34 starts (dating back to April 19, 2011), the most in the Majors during that span, including each of his last three starts -- one shy of the club record (he set it last Aug. 26-Sept. 11, and Albie Lopez did it from Sept. 20, 2000-April 3, 2001). The Rays have won 12 of his last 15 regular-season starts, dating back to Aug. 3 of last season.
Shields said he's sensing a developing rivalry with Texas.
"I'll tell you what, they've gotten off to a hot start, for sure," Shields said. "That's one team you just can't take lightly. You've got to go out there and pitch your game, stay aggressive and really make your pitches. If you make mistakes, they're going to hit you."
Rays: 'Minimalist' road trip
The Rays come into the series on what they are calling their "minimalist trip."
"It's just a three-day trip, and it's a great opportunity for us to practice our minimalist tendencies," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I'm hoping everybody just brings their little carry-on luggage, one pair of jeans, three shirts, some socks. Those who wear underwear, bring underwear, and your toiletries.
"As we move forward into this century, I think minimalism is going to become a more popular concept. So we are just doing our best right now to promote that particular concept. We're starting with our trip to Texas."
This is Shields' ninth regular-season start against the Rangers. While he's struggled with them in the postseason, he's actually 5-2 with a 3.05 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 59 innings against them in the regular season. Current Rangers are batting .220 (33-for-150) lifetime against him, but Elvis Andrus is 7-for-12.
Rangers: Harrison cruising early
Harrison has pitched 21 2/3 innings in three starts and has logged a 1.66 ERA to go along with his undefeated record. He's been a huge part of the Rangers' fast start in the American League West.
"The big thing is just staying aggressive, staying ahead of hitters and keeping the ball down," Harrison said. "That's the mindset I wanted to establish in Spring Training, and I've been able to carry it over so far this season."
The Rangers have won 12 straight regular-season series going back to last year. They haven't lost a three-game series at the Ballpark since July 1-3 against the Marlins last season.
Rays reliever Fernando Rodney is 6-for-6 in save opportunities and has recorded the final out in nine of the Rays' 11 wins.
After three sellouts against the Yankees, the Rangers report there are only standing-room and obstructed-view seats remaining for the series against the Rays.