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 2012 season.
The Opponent: After dispatching the Yankees in two of three games, the Rangers play host to another team that figures to be in contention for a playoff berth this season. The Rays have broken out to a 12-7 start, leaving them tied for first place in the East with the Orioles, and another series win would simply extend the Rangers' seeming superiority over their competition a little bit further.
2011 Rewind: The Rays eked into the playoffs with a win on the wild final day of the regular season and then went on to lose in the opening round of the playoffs to the Rangers for the second straight season. They made it on the strength of their pitching staff, Joe Maddon's inventive managing and strong defense. The next step is going to require a bit more punch in the lineup.
Pitching Matchups: Friday - James Shields (3-0, 2.76) vs. Matt Harrison (3-0, 1.66); Saturday - Jeff Niemann (1-2, 4.11) vs. Colby Lewis (2-0, 2.03); Sunday - David Price (3-1, 2.63) vs. Derek Holland (2-1, 4.78)
What's Hot: Figuring out who's off to a better start between Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton is pretty much the textbook definition of a nice problem to have. Hamilton's numbers are a little bit better, but Kinsler's work to set up his teammates in the lineup has been invaluable to the team's ability to score runs in bunches. The only real hope is that the two are able to spend a whole year clear of injury.
Watching Maddon manage over the course of a series is really an education in how a manager can positively impact his team. His style of mixing, matching, shifting and subbing might not work on a team with a better lineup, but he maximizes every ounce of talent he has at his disposal in Tampa.
This is about as unnatural a rivalry as there is in sports, but it has become one of the best ones all the same. Two playoff series in two years obviously ramp things up, but there's even more similarity in the way both organizations have built themselves up with painstaking planning in every level of the organization.
What's Not: It's still April, but it is getting harder to believe that we aren't going to keep talking about how Mitch Moreland is the one weak spot on a team that is otherwise loaded. It won't be long before his struggles lead to talk of a trade to solidify the spot and give the Rangers every shot of winning the World Series this time around.
The Rays are scoring more runs than the average this season and their offense hasn't been a drag on the team, but it still feels like they are one bat short of what they're going to need to make a long run this season. Maddon has gotten a lot of mileage out of the players on hand, but there's a reason why the team is looking to sign Hideki Matsui.
Let's hope Derek Holland's last start was just a function of his career-long struggles with the Yankees and not anything else. Sunday will give us some indication.
Familiar Faces: Carlos Pena is back with the Rays, continuing a long, varied journey around the major leagues that got underway when the Rangers made him a first round pick in 1998. He didn't stick around Texas long, but he's been swinging a hot bat for the Rays over the first month of the season.