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 Rangers get another look at one of the most surprising teams in baseball this season as the Indians come to town. This is a very different Indians team than the one the Rangers last saw and it is also a less successful one. They are 23-34 since the start of June, a record that threatens to turn this horse drawn carriage back into a pumpkin.
Past 2011 Meetings: The Rangers swept the Indians in a four-game series in June which was when the Indians were just starting to come back to Earth. That would seem to bode well for this weekend, unless the change in Cleveland fortunes also portends a different outcome to this series.
Pitching Matchups: Friday - Ubaldo Jimenez (6-9, 4.46 ERA with Cleveland) vs. Derek Holland (10-4, 4.14); Saturday - Fausto Carmona (5-11, 5.31) vs. C.J. Wilson (10-5, 3.38); Sunday - Josh Tomlin (11-5, 4.16) vs. Colby Lewis (10-8, 4.14)
What's Hot: Friday night's pitching matchup should be fun to watch. On one side you have Jimenez making his American League debut after the deadline deal that brought him over from Colorado to be a game-changer in the Central race. On the other is Holland, who has allowed zero earned runs in four of his last five starts.
Jimenez isn't the only new face in the Indians lineup. Jason Kipnis is up from the minors, playing second and homered in four straight games this week. He's joined in the infield by another highly regarded prospect, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. He hasn't made quite the same splash, but their arrival means that the Indians might not be strangers to this playoff race business in the years to come.
Things went according to plan for the Rangers bullpen on Thursday, something the team hopes will continue well into October. Koji Uehara gave the ball to Mike Adams who passed it to Neftali Feliz and the Rangers salvaged a little pride in the final game of their series against the Tigers.
What's Not: Maybe returning home will jolt the Rangers back to life because not much else seems to be working. They are just 10-9 since the All-Star break, squandering a great deal of the positive momentum they showed during the 12-game winning streak. The Rangers appear to be a better team than the Angels, but letting them hang around is asking for a disappointing end.
If Jimenez can go back to the form he showed in the first half of 2010, the Indians got a steal in a young starter with a reasonable contract. If not or even if he is just decent, they gave up a lot in a bid for short-term success. As you can see with Chisenhall and Kipnis (and the overall quality of the Cleveland team, for that matter), the Indians are well-stocked for the future and may have compromised that for little overall gain.
You would settle for a lot less than a 781 OPS and 16 homers from the catcher position, but Carlos Santana has still had a disappointing year for Cleveland. He's expected to be a major cog in their offense, but hasn't produced at quite the level you'd expect. Throw in injuries/struggles for Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore and it is all the more amazing that the Indians are in such a good spot in the standings.
Familiar Faces: If you're ever feeling blase about Jon Daniels's work as Indians general manager, just let your mind drift to Travis Hafner. Trades don't get much worse than the one that sent Hafner to Cleveland for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese. They do get worse (see Adrian Gonzalez for Akinori Otsuka), but those old Rangers regimes never did much to make you write off the Hafner deal as a blip on the screen.