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 wasn't all that long ago that the Mariners looked like they were going to make a run at the top of the AL West. That had as much to do with the Rangers stumbling around as anything Seattle did -- they were never more than three games over .500 -- but it doesn't much matter now. The Mariners lost their last five games before the break and will be totally out of the race without a blistering start to the second half.
Past 2011 Meetings: The Rangers swept them in Texas in the second series of the season and then dropped two of three during their first visit to Seattle. C.J. Wilson has two wins against the Mariners while All-Star teammate Michael Pineda lost both of his starts.
Pitching Matchups: Thursday - Derek Holland (7-4, 4.68) vs. Jason Vargas (6-6, 3.49); Friday - Colby Lewis (8-7, 4.38) vs. Doug Fister (3-10, 3.09); Saturday - C.J. Wilson (9-3, 3.20) vs. Felix Hernandez (3-9, 3.19); Sunday - Matt Harrison (7-7, 3.04) vs. Blake Beavan (1-0, 2.03)
What's Hot: When we last saw the Rangers, they were just about the hottest thing in all of baseball. They won their last seven games in the first half thanks to a perfect balance of hitting and pitching and showed all the signs of being the team everyone was waiting to see all season. Let's hope that a few days of vacation haven't changed the mojo.
Ian Kinsler's stats for the entire season are still on the modest side, but his play over the last month gives hope that the second half will live up to the Rangers' wildest dreams. He's getting on base nearly 40 percent of the time, making an impact with his baserunning and playing well defensively. It is no surprise that the Rangers offense has taken off at the same time Kinsler's play took a leap forward.
The Mariners might have the best starting rotation in the American League, something you can see in the numbers of the guys pitching this weekend. That group doesn't include Pineda, who has been sensational as a rookie, but does include Beavan who has done well in his first two starts of the season. As you probably surmised from Fister's record, the problem is that the hitting is as bad as the pitching is good.
What's Not: Until you remember that he's just the fifth starter on a winning team, Holland's struggles can feel bigger than they really are. The team isn't going to win or lose the pennant because of him, but he still eeds to be better if he wants to be part of the effort to go back to the World Series.
Ichiro is en route to the worst season of his major league career and the Mariners have to be wondering about the best way to utilize him going forward. His game has always been reliant on a high batting average, but he's at .270 and adding very little to the team's offensive attack from the top of the order.
That said, it's not like they have a better option. A look at the Mariners batting stats to this point in the season feels like looking at the worst team in the league during the dead ball era, which is all the more reason to be impressed by the way their pitching staff has kept them in the mix to this point. The good news for the Mariners is that the desperate straits have led them to try young players like Dustin Ackley, Greg Halman and Kyle Seager in an attempt to find something approaching a modern offensive attack.
Familiar Faces: The Mariners would also like Justin Smoak to be part of the future, but he isn't showing enough consistency to make that a sure thing. He had a good start to the year, but he's hitting just .193 with a .351 slugging percentage in his last 202 at-bats. The Cliff Lee trade is looking better every day.