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 there has been a bigger surprise in the American League than the Indians this season, we'd love to hear about it. Even manager Manny Acta's mother picked them to be also-rans in the Central this season, but here we are in June and the Tribe has a five-game lead. So that means it is a battle of first place teams for the next four days. Not a bad little weekend plan if you can tear yourself away from a certain local basketball outfit.
Past 2011 Meetings: Thursday night will be the first dance between these two clubs.
Pitching Matchups: Thursday - Dave Bush (0-1, 4.43 ERA) vs. Carlos Carrasco (4-2, 4.91); Friday - Alexi Ogando (5-0, 2.33) vs. Justin Masterson (5-3, 3.07); Saturday - Derek Holland (4-1, 4.96) vs. Fausto Carmona (3-6, 5.31); Sunday - C.J. Wilson (5-3, 3.22) vs. Mitch Talbot (2-1, 4.50)
What's Hot: The Indians have enjoyed playing at the Jake this season, compiling a league-best 19-6 at home so far this year. Asdrubal Cabrera has been having a breakout season regardless of the stadium, but his play has been particularly strong in Cleveland. He's hitting .333 with six homers and 23 RBIs, making him a guy the Rangers will have to focus on over the next four days.
Elvis Andrus really likes hitting against the Indians. He's gone deep twice against them in 13 career games with a .396 batting average. For the sake of comparisons, he's only homered six times in 333 games against every other team in baseball.
The Rangers will find it very difficult to come back against the Indians in the late innings. Tony Sipp, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith and Rafael Perez have provided a sturdy bridge to closer Chris Perez. They aren't big names or, in Smith's case, the most original ones, but they've been awfully effective.
What's Not: Matt Harrison's blister popped up at a pretty bad time. He's made four good starts in a row after hitting a rough patch at the end of April. Bush hasn't pitched much and hasn't pitched long stretches when he has appeared, so he won't be able to pitch deep into the game. That could wind up taxing the bullpen at the start of a long series and, as we all know, this bullpen is capable of frustrating you on full rest.
Last year it looked like Carmona found a way to harness the potential we saw from him back in 2007, but this year has been a big step backward. Although the Indians have gotten some unexpected work from Masterson and Josh Tomlin in the rotation, they'll need Carmona or some one else to step up if they are going to stay the course this season.
Josh Hamilton has just five hits in his last 31 at-bats and hasn't homered since his first game back off the disabled list. Life is still better with him in the lineup, of course, but it would be nice to see him contribute more than an intimidating presence in the lineup. Perhaps quitting chewing tobacco will do the trick.
Familiar Faces: The Indians are an oddball mix of journeymen (Orlando Cabrera, Jack Hannahan, the bullpen) and budding talent (Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo). The latter group will be familiar one day, perhaps, and the Indians hope it won't be because you see their names and remark that you can't believe those guys are still in the big leagues.
The only guy who actually spent any time with the Rangers was Travis Hafner, but he's currently on the disabled list and he played just 23 games with Texas in the first place. At least they got Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese out of the deal.