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: It's the Battle of Texas as the Astros come to town for three games at the Ballpark. It's always fun when interleague brings us the battle for state supremacy, but this year's resumption of hostitilities comes with a nice twist. There's a lot of realignment talk in the air and current plans would place the Astros in the AL West where they'd make an easy rival for the Rangers.
Past 2011 Meetings: First time this year and the two teams will get together again in Houston next week.
Pitching Matchups: Monday - J.A. Happ (3-8, 4.95 ERA) vs. Derek Holland (5-2, 4.78); Tuesday - Jordan Lyles (0-2, 4.30) vs. C.J. Wilson (7-3, 3.03); Wednesday - Brett Myers (3-6, 4.75) vs. Colby Lewis (6-7, 4.80)
What's Hot: It would be interesting to see if Ron Washington kissed the tarmac when the team arrived back in Texas on Sunday. The team went 3-7 during the 10-game road trip and looked awfully tired during long chunks of it. The return home should recharge some batteries while also giving the team a chance to put some room between them and the Mariners.
As rough as the trip was overall, things wound up with two wins in their three games with the Braves. Good pitching accounted for part of the success, but there was also some very welcome offensive contributions from Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz. A return to life by those two bats would make it much easier to fend off Seattle.
There aren't a ton of bright spots for a team that's gone 6-12 since the start of the month, but the Astros have continued to get strong play from Hunter Pence. He's on his way to the best season of his brief and productive career which is probably why he missed the last two games with a sprained elbow. He's questionable for the series, which is good news for the Rangers.
What's Not: Holland cares not for average performance. He's either great -- see shutout of the Indians -- or awful. Awful has been happening a lot more recently which makes you wonder how much longer the rope is going to be on a guy who has built up a sizable enough body of work to pass judgment.
If the season ended today, the Astros would have the first overall draft pick by virtue of having the league's worst record. It doesn't end today, of course, but there doesn't seem to be much chance that the Astros will make their way too far from the cellar when all is said and done. The fact that a new owner is coming in is about the only positive thing on the horizon for the franchise.
The Rangers bullpen isn't going to be fixed overnight, but there's got to be something done about the current state of affairs. The Rangers pulled one lefty for another on Sunday, a sign of how little trust or confidence Washington has in his relief corps.
Familiar Faces: Carlos Lee was only a Ranger for 59 games in 2006 after a midseason trade brought him from Milwaukee in a misguided bid for a playoff berth. Not re-signing him as a free agent led to two draft picks, including Julio Borbon, and it also allowed the Rangers to miss out on one of the worst contracts in baseball. The Astros have paid Lee $63 million already and he is dure $18.5 million this year and next for production that's moved steadily downward during his time in Houston.