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 AL West race won't officially end for a little while yet, but we could have a pretty good idea about how it will wind up when Thursday night rolls around. Four games with the Angels give the Rangers a chance to widen their four-game edge into a chasm or they can wind up with the Angels still in spitting distance well past the point when such things make sense. That probably means there will be a split and no real change to the landscape.
Past 2011 Meetings: Based on past games, that split seems like a fairly likely outcome. The Rangers have won four of the nine games between the two teams and dropped two of three to the Angels after the All-Star break to halt their 12-game winning streak.
Pitching Matchups: Monday - Alexi Ogando (11-5, 3.22 ERA) vs. Garrett Richards (0-1, 10.80); Tuesday - Derek Holland (10-4, 4.30) vs. Tyler Chatwood (6-8, 4.07); Wednesday - C.J. Wilson (11-5, 3.28) vs. Ervin Santana (9-8, 3.10); Thursday - Colby Lewis (11-8, 4.01) vs. Jered Weaver (14-6, 2.13)
What's Hot: The Rangers appear to have finally regained their footing after suffering through a stretch of mediocrity after that aforementioned winning streak came to an end. They've won six of their last seven games, seen the desired results of their deals for bullpen help and are averaging more than six runs a game in August. If all remains intact this week, the division race will be all but over.
It won't be easy, especially when the Rangers face Santana on Wednesday. There might not be a hotter pitcher in all of baseball right now. Santana has averaged eight innings a start over his last nine starts with a 1.50 ERA , including three complete games and a no-hitter. The only way the Angels win the division is on the back of their pitching, something that remains possible thanks to Santana.
The Rangers went 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position on Sunday, a rate that probably explains why it was the only game of the sweep that wasn't a blowout victory. The Rangers had 13 hits in their 20 previous at-bats in that situation entering Sunday's game and lead the AL with a .286 average in those scenarios.
What's Not: Weaver has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, but he's shown some chinks in the armor of late. There was his attempt to hit Alex Avila of the Tigers in the head with a fastball, an act that earned him a suspension, and then he got smacked around by the Blue Jays over the weekend. If he's not right, the Angels have no shot.
Weaver, Santana and Dan Haren can only carry a team so far, something that should frighten Mike Scioscia, especially when he goes to the bullpen. Jordan Walden blew his eighth save of the season on Sunday, a number that's going to be awfully painful if the season ends with the Angels a few games out of a playoff spot. All the more reason to wonder why the Angels braintrust felt it was unnecessary to make a move before the trade deadline.
Matt Harrison isn't pitching in this series and the Rangers should use the time off to get him to improve his focus on the mound. He was cruising through Sunday's game without any problem until the A's sent out some dancers to entertain the crowd before the bottom of the sixth. Harrison looked distracted on the mound and promptly let the A's, who had scored twice in the first two games of the series, back into the game with a four-run inning.
Familiar Faces: With nine games already played by these two teams this season, just about everyone qualifies in this category. It's easier to point out guys like Richards, Monday's starter for the Angels who will be making his second career start. He got clobbered by the Yankees last week, a rough intro to big league life that won't improve that much this time around.