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 Pittsburgh Pirates are in the midst of their first winning season in more than 20 years thanks to some timely trades and the guidance of former Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle. The Pirates and Rangers are equally desperate as both sit 1 1/2 games back in their respective divisions but both are in relatively comfortable situations for the Wild Card games.
Past 2013 Meetings: The teams haven't met this season. The Rangers are 10-2 against the Pirates in history, including a perfect 6-0 mark at Rangers Ballpark, but this isn't your dad's Pirates team.
Pitching Matchups: Monday — Yu Darvish (12-7, 2.91 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (6-7, 3.74); Tuesday — Martin Perez (9-3, 3.41) vs. Francisco Liriano (15-7, 2.98); Wednesday — Matt Garza (9-4, 3.90) vs. A.J. Burnett (7-10, 3.31).
What's Hot: Since returning from his back trouble on Friday, Elvis Andrus picked up right where he left off before missing four straight games. He's hitting .462 with four RBIs in his last three games, and had a big home run in Anaheim over the weekend. There might not be a hotter bat right now than Alex Rios', who has three homers and five RBIs in his last six games. Perez is in the midst of what could be a Rookie of the Year season as he's coming off a one-run effort in seven innings against the A's, and for the most part, the Rangers' bullpen is on fire again.
The Pirates have one of the favorites for the NL MVP award in Andrew McCutchen, who enters the game on a tear of his own. In his last six games, he's 9-for-20 with two homers and six walks. Former Ranger Marlon Byrd is hitting .286 in that same time and is in the midst of a career year. Similarly to the Rangers, the Pirates' bullpen has been lights out and now has closer Jason Grilli off the disabled list, while the starters haven't been too hot lately.
What's Not: Robbie Ross might find his innings scarce after giving up four runs on four hits without recording an out in his last outing in Oakland. Yu Darvish had the worst outing of his season, possibly his career, in that same game and looks to bounce back on Monday night and be the ace the Rangers are confident they have in the second-year Japanese pitcher. Adrian Beltre is just 3-for-23 in his last six games and is hoping a return home from a couple of pitchers' parks could be the remedy.
Burnett and Liriano are both coming off awful starts, which saw them each last just three innings while giving up five and seven earned runs, respectively, and the Rangers will look to continue those tortuous numbers for both of them.
Familiar Faces: As mentioned prior, the Pirates' savior has been Clint Hurdle, who spent a brief time in Texas as the Rangers' hitting coach in their 2010 World Series run. Since, he's led the rejuvenation in Pittsburgh along with young players and some trades, like former Ranger Marlon Byrd, who was acquired from the New York Mets and is in the midst of a career season.