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 A's have righted the ship a bit of late, taking four of five to close their road trip, but the record still sits well below .500 as this series gets underway. The usual culprits are to blame for the wrong turn in the standings -- low payroll, inept offense, overreliance on young arms -- and it would behoove Oakland to try a different approach at sometime in the not too distant future.
Past 2011 Meetings: The Rangers swept the A's in a four-gamer their last meeting in Arlington just before the All-Star break. That was part of the epic winning streak spurred on by a ridiculous run by Rangers pitchers, a streak that seems like it happened much more than a month ago when you look at the standings.
Pitching Matchups: Friday - C.J. Wilson (10-5, 3.35 ERA) vs. Brandon McCarthy (5-5, 3.31); Saturday - Colby Lewis (10-8, 4.12) vs. Trevor Cahill (9-10, 3.93); Sunday - Matt Harrison (10-8, 3.06) vs. Rich Harden (3-2, 4.07)
What's Hot: The crowd should be mighty hot under the collar on Friday night when Wilson takes the mound. His comments about the Oakland stadium and A's fans have gained a lot of traction -- even if they weren't all that controversial -- and figure to make for a more heated atmosphere than your typical mid-August game. If anyone actually shows up to provide the heat, that is.
Ian Kinsler does not share Wilson's disdain for the green and gold. He has an 11-game hitting streak against Oakland, good for a .348 batting average with seven extra-base hits in that span. Since the Rangers tend to do well when Kinsler does well, that's a good omen.
Hideki Matsui might have another year or two left in him yet. Matsui seemed to be limping to the finish line during the first half of the season, but he's come alive since the All-Star break. He's hitting .432 with five homers in 95 second half at-bats, numbers that will likely land him another contract unless he craters before the year is out.
What's Not: Overlooked in the reaction to Wilson's comments about Oakland were some things he had to say about his own team. Wilson admitted that the Rangers sometimes overlook weak opponents like the A's, leading to losses that shouldn't happen. Complacency can be a problem when a team achieves at the level the Rangers did in 2010 and it could lead to a 2011 that doesn't end at the same place if they aren't careful.
Cahill hasn't been terrible this season, but he hasn't taken the step forward the A's wanted to see from him, either. He's seen a sharp rise in both his walk and strikeout rates this season, with the walks rising faster than anyone would like to see from a budding ace. The good news (or bad news from the Rangers' point of view) is that he's just 23 and likely to improve on this shaky season.
There's little reason to believe the Rangers don't have what it takes to outlast the Angels in the AL West, but there's not much to like about a 10-game road trip with things still so close in the divisional race. The longer the Angels hang around, the more likely an upset becomes which means now is as good a time as any to stretch the gap.
Familiar Faces: There aren't many times when you face two pitchers who used to be in your organization during a series, but that's what the Rangers will do this weekend. McCarthy has been on fire of late, 4-0 with a 2.78 ERA in his last five starts, and might yet salvage something of his wilted prospect label.
Harden was an even bigger prospect during his first stint with the A's but injuries turned him into a shell of his former self. He didn't do much of anything with the Rangers last year, but has been decent in his seven 2011 starts thanks to a strikeout rate of more than one an inning.