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: There's nothing quite so nice as seeing a team playing out the string sitting in front of you when you're trying to clinch a division title. The Mariners are employing a lineup that's all about 2012 and beyond, which should mean the Rangers can continue their march back to the playoffs while seeing what life is like when you aren't stocked with talent.
Past 2011 Meetings: The Rangers have won 10 of 13 from the Mariners this season. There are three more games between the teams after this weekend, news that can't make the Angels particuarly happy with the scheduling office. Remember, kiddies, the last series of the year only matters if the Angels can stay within three games.
Pitching Matchups: Friday - C.J. Wilson (16-6, 3.01) vs. Blake Beavan (4-5, 4.32); Saturday - Colby Lewis (12-10, 4.29) vs. Anthony Vasquez (1-3, 7.29); Sunday - Matt Harrison (12-9, 3.56) vs. Felix Hernandez (14-12, 3.30)
What's Hot: There's no question that Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball right now. Once you take him out of the equation, though, is there anyone you'd rather see on the hill than Wilson? He's got 17 straight scoreless innings under his belt and has spent the last two months propping up a rotation that has looked fairly exhausted most of the time.
When you're watching Elvis Andrus have an awful at-bat or make a lackadaisical play with his glove, it is easy to forget that he is just 23 years old. There's a lot of room for him to improve and he's providing some hope that improvement is coming with his play this month. He's hitting .333, which is nice but much less encouraging than the 12 walks and five doubles that reveal heretofore unseen dimensions to his game.
Tom Wilhelmsen struggled when he was with the Mariners in April and May, but he's been a new man since returning to the club in August. He's allowed five runs in 19 innings of relief work -- just one in the last 14.1 -- and has a 19-to-4 strikeout ratio over that span. Seattle is all about finding building blocks right now and Wilhelmsen is giving hope that he might be one.
What's Not: Finding things not to like about the Rangers right now is pretty difficult, but the continued regression of Mitch Moreland has been pretty hard to watch. It isn't like anyone had grandiose notions of Moreland developing into a latter-day Pujols, but he's been a drag on the offense for a good long time now and even his modest future looks like a pipe dream at this point.
It is a good thing that the Mariners lineup is so young right now because if you raised the average age of the players by just 18 months things would be seriously depressing. You can swallow this kind of rebuilding for a year or two, but the Mariners need to take some big steps forward soon or they'll waste the career of King Felix on players who aren't worthy of sharing the field with him.
At least the Mariners are committed to the process. They reupped G.M. Jack Zduriencik, a show of support for the road that the Mariners have started down. There have been more mistakes -- Franklin Gutierrez is signed through 2013 -- than hits, so there must be a strong belief that the pipeline Jack Z built is going to deliver gold sooner rather than later. Continuity is important, but it can also be a road to nowhere.
Familiar Faces: Justin Smoak left Wednesday's game with a groin injury, a poor bit of timing for a player who finally seemed to be finding himself. He's getting on base almost 40 percent of the time this month and flashing all the promise that made him the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee trade. Injuries remain a problem, obviously, but Smoak can still be part of the revival in Seattle.