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: If not for a meltdown by Francisco Rodriguez and a 10th inning balk, the Braves would be entering this weekend series in the same dire straits as the Rangers. They got the win and avoided a sweep to a New York team, however, which means the visitors are the only ones riding a losing streak.
Past 2011 Meetings: None. This weekend's series kicks off a couple of weeks of interleague play for the Rangers, who will be looking for their first ever win at Turner Field after a 2003 sweep.
Pitching Matchups: Friday - Colby Lewis (5-7, 4.97 ERA) vs. Randall Delgado (first MLB appearance); Saturday - Matt Harrison (5-6, 3.31) vs. Derek Lowe (3-5, 4.02); Sunday - Alexi Ogando (7-1, 2.71) vs. Jair Jurrjens (8-3, 2.13)
What's Hot: It's a pretty good shorthand for how both these teams are scuffling right now to point out that the Braves' best hitter in June has been Chipper Jones, who left Thursday night's game with the Mets with an injury. He probably won't play Friday and his status for the entire series is uncertain which makes a weak Braves offense downright feeble.
Facing an underpowered offensive team qualifies as the hottest thing about the Rangers at present. The team is now 27-33 after winning nine of their first 10 games, still good enough for first place in the AL West but not by much over a Mariners team that has very little business thinking about a playoff run. Things looked a little better before this nightmarish run of 17 roadies in 20 games got underway, but it is about time for a few more Rangers to start living up to the back of the baseball card.
Maybe facing a guy making his first ever big league start will help do the trick? Delgado steps in for the ailing Tommy Hanson on Friday night and it will actually be the first time he ever pitches in a game above the Double-A level. It can be tough to face a guy with no track record because you don't know what to expect, but the Rangers need to find a way nonetheless.
What's Not: The Rangers pitching has not been good since June got underway. The staff ERA is 4.94, they've given up 18 home runs in 15 games and opponents are slugging .440 against them. Outside of Ogando and C.J. Wilson, they have no expectation of competency from their starters and the bullpen remains a crapshoot of epic proportions. Darren O'Day and Scott Feldman could be back soon, but when that's your ace in the hole you've got issues.
Usually the Rangers offense carries them through rough patches with their pitching staff, but that hasn't been working out of late. Listing the guys who are hitting well would take much less time than rattling off the struggling parties, so we'll just say that all the ships could use a rising tide right about now.
Of course, the Braves don't have all that much to write home about offensively. Dan Uggla has probably been the worst player in baseball this season, They have the third-lowest on-base percentage in the National League which explains just how important their pitching staff has been in keeping them in the playoff mix this season.
Familiar Faces: This is the first time Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison will face the team that sent them packing in the 2007 trade for Mark Teixeira. The trade obviously tells you something about Jon Daniels' acumen as a general manager (and probably saved his job, to be honest), but it also tells you a lot about the Braves' player development process. They dealt four future big league regulars (Jarrod Saltalamacchia as well) for a player who was in town for a year and still got back to the playoffs quickly on the back of homegrown talent.