OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 09: Grant Balfour #50 of the Oakland Athletics celebrates after the last out of their game against the Detroit Tigers during Game Three of the American League Division Series at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on October 9, 2012 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
On Deck will be here all season to provide you with everything you need to know (and a few things you don't) about every Rangers series during the 2013 season.
The Opponent: Those pesky Oakland A's have gone from being a "lucky", gritty thorn in the Rangers' side to a clear-cut World Series contender and have now been in first place for over a month with the Rangers giving chase. The Rangers made up two games on Oakland Wednesday and Thursday thanks to the Toronto Blue Jays — the first time in more than 30 days that the Rangers had gained ground on Oakland.
Past 2013 Meetings: The Rangers hold a 6-4 advantage over the A's this season, with the last meeting ending in the famous Gentry-Andrus-Pierzynski walk-off throw out at home plate of Josh Donaldson that resulted in a postgame celebration for the ages.
Pitching Matchups: Friday — Alexi Ogando (4-3, 3.05 ERA) vs. Tommy Milone (9-8, 4.10); Saturday — Matt Garza (7-1, 2.95; 1-0, 1.88 as Ranger) vs. Jarrod Parker (6-6, 4.07); Sunday — Derek Holland (8-6, 3.18) vs. A.J. Griffin (10-7, 3.90).
What's Hot: Quite simply: The Rangers' bats. Since being shutout in consecutive games on Saturday and Sunday, the Rangers have scored 27 runs in their four-game winning streak — albeit bolstered by their 14-run output on Tuesday and by the fact that three of those games were against the lowly Angels. But bats that had been ice cold are coming to life, led by David Murphy and Mitch Moreland, while Elvis Andrus pushed his hitting streak to 15 games on Thursday night. Matt Garza has pitched into the eighth inning in both of his Rangers starts (both victories).
Oakland shortstop Jed Lowrie is hitting .440 over the last week with a homer and six RBIs to go with three doubles. After a horribly slow start to the season that somehow hasn't cripped the A's offense, Yoenis Cespedes is starting to pick it up and is hitting .269 over the last week with a team-high seven RBIs. Milone's last start was fantastic, as he gave up just a run in seven innings, and that A's bullpen — oh, that A's bullpen — is much better than the Angels' and along with the Rangers' might be the two best units in the league, led by closer Grant Balfour.
What's Not: Over the past week, Ian Kinsler is hitting just .231 and was moved from the leadoff spot to the 3-hole in the Rangers' lineup during that time. Despite his poor average, he does lead the Rangers with seven RBIs over the last seven games and is driving in runs in key situations. While the Rangers' bullpen has been their strength this season, Robbie Ross and Joakim Soria are both in awful stretches right now.
Parker and Griffin, who will start Saturday's and Sunday's games, respectively, combined to give up 10 earned runs in 12 innings of work in their previous starts. And going up against Garza and Holland, the Rangers might have the advantage in the last two games when it comes to the mound matchups. Coco Crisp is hitting just .125 over the last week and the A's top hitter, Josh Donaldson, isn't on top of his game at the moment, as he's in a 4-for-22 skid with seven strikeouts.
Familiar Faces: Both Nelson Cruz and Alexi Ogando started their careers as outfielders in the A's system, but neither got close to seeing the bigs in that organization and were quickly moved along, with Ogando eventually being developed as a pitcher. Ron Washington spent more than a decade as a bench coach and third-base coach for Oakland during the "Moneyball" days.