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: The St. Louis Cardinals are owners of baseball's best record and are basically a mirror image of the Texas Rangers as far as model baseball franchises go, right down to their top prospects and ability to let high-priced, fan-favorite free agents walk and not live up to their high-priced expectations.
Past 2013 Meetings: The teams haven't met since the 2011 World Series, which of course went the Cardinals' way with an extra-innings, Game 6 comeback to force a Game 7 that the Cardinals won. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Rangers, who were twice one strike away from a world title in Game 6.
Pitching Matchups: Friday — Derek Holland (5-4, 3.30 ERA) vs. Tyler Lyons (2-3, 4.65); Saturday — Martin Perez (0-1, 5.06) vs. Shelby Miller (8-4, 2.08); Sunday — Nick Tepesch (3-6, 4.84) vs. Adam Wainwright (10-4, 2.37).
What's Hot: Finally, the Rangers' offense is starting to show some life. Several players have had a part in that, but none are more responsible than Leonys Martin, who beat out a two-out infield single to extend the Rangers' eighth-inning rally and is hitting .409 over the last week, and A.J. Pierzynski, who's hitting .350 over the same time and had a key pinch-hit before the game-saving tag to end the game on Thursday. The Rangers' bullpen, with the exception of Joseph Ortiz, has been so good lately between Neal Cotts, Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers. They deserve every bit of praise they've gotten recently.
For St. Louis, the National League's top hitter has been hot all season, and this past week has been no different for catcher Yadier Molina, who has to be the game's top backstop going. Over the last week, Molina is hitting .455 with a homer and nine RBIs with just one strikeout in his 22 at-bats. Matt Holliday is hitting .385 with a homer in that same span. On the mound, native Texan Miller is flirting with a sub-2.00 ERA after pitching five shutout innings in his last start. On an unrelated note, Miller was Little League teammates with Oklahoma State and reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year J.W. Walsh and New Orleans Saints rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, a former Texas Longhorn standout and fellow Brownwood native, the same hometown of firefighter Shannon Stone, who died tragically at Rangers Ballpark in 2011.
What's Not: The struggles continue for Elvis Andrus, who's starting to hit the ball hard and looks to be on his way to breaking out of his season-long slump at the plate, but the numbers don't lie, and they show that Andrus is hitting just .080 in his last six games. Lance Berkman, with the exception of his homer on Wednesday, isn't faring much better and will likely sit most of, if not all, this weekend's series with the return of Mitch Moreland at first base. Over the last week, Josh Lindblom has the best ERA of any Rangers starter at 4.91, and that's the best of any starter with the next-best being Yu Darvish and Holland, who each have a 6.00, while Tepesch is sporting a 14.73 ERA in the last week.
Friday's starter Lyons is coming off a string of bad outings, including his last time out when he gave up six earned runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. Even Wainwright, who the Rangers will see Sunday struggled in his last outing, at least by his lofty standards, giving up four runs and seven hits (including two long balls) in seven innings. At the plate, Allen Craig and David Freese, who Rangers fans will remember well, haven't been on top of their games and centerfielder Jon Jay has struggled, leaving many to wonder when a rehabbing Oscar Taveras, arguably baseball's top prospect now that Wil Myers and Jurickson Profar are in the bigs, will get called up.
Familiar Faces: There aren't many players who've seen time with both teams, but there are many bonds that will live forever between these teams. Other than Lance Berkman, who was a key figure in that 2011 World Series championship team before missing much of 2012 with knee injuries, and is now in his first season with the Rangers, there aren't any "true" familiar faces. But these teams have many similarities. Both let their declining fan-favorite, high-priced free agents walk, and now Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are financial albatrosses for the hilarity-laced Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Holland, who will start Friday's series opener, is forever tied to the Cards after he turned in the best postseason outing in Rangers history with his Game 4 performance in the 2011 World Series, when he worked 8 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing just two hits and striking out seven. Molina is part of baseball's pre-eminent catching family and the younger brother of former Rangers catcher Bengie Molina, who helped lead the Rangers to the 2011 World Series against his former team, the San Francisco Giants.