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: One last date with the Mariners and, hopefully, one last weekend without a playoff spot sealed up. The Rangers haven't exactly run through the tape at full speed, something that isn't terribly important as long as they don't let the Mariners play spoiler over the next three days.
Past 2011 Meetings: Chances are pretty good that it won't take much longer than Saturday for the Rangers to pop the corks. They've beaten the Mariners 12 of 16 times this season, so taking two straight, all they need if the Angels win Friday, shouldn't exactly be scaling Everest. Of course, we would have said the same thing about taking care of the Angels earlier in the month so you might want to pack some provisions.
Pitching Matchups: Friday - Anthony Vasquez (1-4, 8.25) vs. Matt Harrison (13-9, 3.42); Saturday - Felix Hernandez (14-13, 3.32) vs. Alexi Ogando (13-8, 3.58); Sunday - Charlie Furbush (3-6, 6.29) vs. Derek Holland (15-5, 3.92)
What's Hot: Edwin Encarnacion is what's hot, my friends. His homer in extra innings last night meant that the Rangers can lose one game this weekend and still clinch the division title if the Angels win out. The alternative was next week's series being played with something on the line and you don't want to stick your face into that bear trap.
Josh Hamilton's been cruising at the plate this month, raising hopes that he is going to have another brilliant playoff run this time around. That prospect probably doesn't excite too many people in the Bronx, but we're not looking at things from their perspective.
This will go down as the worst season of Ichiro's U.S. career, but at least he's ending it with some hope for the future. He's been better in August and September and it looks like the Mariners are putting a decent lineup around him for next year, so we might still get one more chance to see the vintage Ichiro in action. Foe or not, there haven't been many players more fun to watch over the last decade.
What's Not: Thursday's loss to the A's made you wonder if the Rangers bullpen is going to get the job done come the postseason. Not only did Darren Oliver and Mike Adams fail to get the job done in big spots, but Ron Washington seemed to show no confidence in his relievers when Colby Lewis started to get into trouble. If Mark Lowe is out for the ALDS, there's reason to wonder if the situation is really much better this time around.
The release of the Moneyball movie has given hack columnists around the country license to dust off their screeds against actually trying to build teams around something more than moxie. Gerry Fraley takes the honors for the Dallas Morning News, but we suggest you don't bother reading his takedown of Moneyball. The headline -- Moneyball gets attention, but Ron Washington gets results -- should be enough to make you realize he doesn't even understand what he's talking about.
It feels like it has been 100 years since the Mariners did anything but play out the string in September. That's worked out well for the Rangers, obviously, but it is too bad for a franchise that looked like it was on the brink of a leap into the upper echelon within the last 10 years. They've rebuilt their farm system and there's some hope in Seattle, but it might be a while before they are back as a consistent winner.
Familiar Faces: If the Mariners do turn things around, Justin Smoak and Blake Beavan will likely be part of the turning. Beavan won't pitch this weekend, but Smoak is having his best month as a pro and will try to show the Rangers crowd what they gave away for Cliff Lee. It is unlikely that there will be any seller's remorse, unless, of course, Smoak leads an improbable sweep that leaves the AL West in the balance come Monday.