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 2011 season.
The Opponent: The A's enter this series with a serious need to make a move in the standings if they hope to play a lot more meaningful games this season. They're 7.5 games out of first and have been trending in the wrong direction for the last two weeks. If they don't win this series, there isn't much chance to believe they can be a factor in the long term.
Past 2011 Meetings: The Rangers have dropped four of six to Oakland this year, but a lot has changed since the teams last met on the field. The A's were 19-18, managed by Bob Geren and Brett Anderson started a game in that May series. They're now 39-49, managed by Bob Melvin and Anderson is on the disabled list with an uncertain future.
Pitching Matchups: Thursday - Rich Harden (1-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. Derek Holland (6-4, 5.10); Friday - Gio Gonzalez (8-5, 2.31) vs. C.J. Wilson (8-3, 3.02); Saturday - Brandon McCarthy (1-5, 3.33) vs. Colby Lewis (8-7, 4.29); Sunday - Trevor Cahill (8-6, 3.17) vs. Matt Harrison (6-7, 3.28)
What's Hot: Finally, after a long period of up and down play, the Rangers as a team find themselves in this column. They outscored the Orioles 30-11 during this week's three-game sweep with the team firing on all cylinders during the victories. Closing out the first half with more of the same would leave the team in a very strong position when the second half gets underway.
Adrian Beltre's bat is proving that it doesn't only appear when he's about to become a free agent. He's been on a serious tear since July began -- .521 with 10 RBIs -- and the entire offense has taken off as a result. If the Rangers can ever get every key cog in the lineup firing at once, they might actually be able to create some breathing room.
The A's pitching staff remains the one part of the team worthy of praise and Gonzalez is at the top of that list. He's allowed just two runs in his last 22 innings with 24 strikeouts. The fact that he won only two of those starts tells you much of what you need to know about the team's offensive capabilities.
What's Not: Ron Washington made it clear that Holland's spot in the rotation is in no immediate danger, but you have to wonder how much longer that will be the case. He's got a 7.18 ERA in his last five starts and he can't slip much more below average before the team won't have any choice about replacing him.
Hideki Matsui had one of the best transitions from Japan to the United States of any player so it is hard to accept that he might be finished as a productive big leaguer. His best month of the season was April and even that was below the standard you'd accept for an offensive player in the middle of a lineup. A superb second half might be the only way he gets another shot on this side of the pond.
It's nothing to panic about at this point, but Mitch Moreland has been in a fairly sustained slump. He's lost 60 points of OPS since the middle of June and is seeing a bit more of his playing time go to Mike Napoli with every passing day. Again, nothing to make you crazy but worth watching as the second half gets underway.
Familiar Faces: McCarthy came off the disabled list on Monday and pitched well against the Mariners. Naturally, the A's supported him with no offensive firepower and he picked up a loss. He's got just one win in 10 starts this season even though he's turned in a quality outing in half them.