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On Deck: Rangers at Orioles

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    NEWSLETTERS

    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 2012 season.

    The Opponent: The biggest surprise of this baseball season hasn't been Albert Pujols forgetting how to hit once he arrived in Anaheim. It has been the Orioles' 19-9 start that has them on top of their division. It has been a long time since the Orioles played the role of anything but doormat in the AL East, so it bears mentioning even at this early point in the proceedings.

    Past 2012 Meetings: It's the first dance for the Orioles and Rangers and there's not even a point in looking back to 2011 since this Orioles team is clearly forging their own path. The question now is whether they can stay on that path long enough for the August rematch to be worth something.

    Pitching Matchups: Monday - Matt Harrison (3-2, 5.40 ERA) vs. Brian Matusz (1-3, 4.67); Tuesday - Neftali Feliz (1-1, 3.81) vs. Jake Arrieta (2-2, 3.52); Wednesday - Colby Lewis (3-1, 2.97) vs. Wei-Yin Chen (2-0, 2.76); Thursday - Derek Holland (2-2, 4.43) vs. Jason Hammel (4-1, 2.09)

    What's Hot: The Orioles have been touting center fielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters as talented leaders of a better tomorrow for quite a while, but things finally seem to be falling into place after previous glimpses led to nothing all that exciting. Both of them have been playing the kind of complete offensive games that the Orioles need to shake off the years of losing once and for all.

    Mitch Moreland's finally hitting. He's coming off his best week of the season offensively, which came in handy thanks to the injuries that took some bats out of the lineup. We'll leave any conclusions about Moreland helping the offense while the team lost four of six games to others because it's just good to see Moreland being useful.

    You wouldn't usually bet on a pitcher making the switch from pitching in Colorado to pitching in the AL East, but Hammel has been a very pleasant surprise for the O's this year. He's seen a sharp rise in strikeout rate, something that makes you wonder if familiarity won't spell the end of his hot streak, but, for now, Hammel is finding life in the American League to his liking.

    What's Not: Three straight lost series in a row for the Rangers now and that's certainly not a development anyone was looking forward to in Arlington. Nothing has gone off the rails, but things aren't clicking in all categories like they were went the year was just getting started.

    The Orioles bullpen got pretty worn out on Sunday in Boston as the O's and Red Sox wound up playing 17 innings. We'll have more on that game in just a moment, but the Orioles bullpen, including former Ranger Pedro Strop, has been very sound this season so the Rangers catch a break if they are overly fatigued.

    After Mike Napoli homered in a win over the Yankees on April 25th, he was hitting .271 with a 997 OPS. He will enter Monday night's game with a .238 average and an 827 OPS. That, dear friends, is a pretty significant slump.

    Familiar Faces: We mentioned Strop and Buck Showalter is still the Orioles manager, but let's talk about Chris Davis for a moment. Sunday's 17-inning affair gave Davis one of the odder statistical lines that you could ever hope to see. He went 0-for-8 with five strikeouts at the plate, but he wound up as the winning pitcher after throwing the final two innings of the game.

    Davis' best moment was striking out Adrian Gonzalez with two on and none out in the bottom of the 17th. He followed that up by getting Sox outfielder (and Sunday's losing pitcher) Darnell McDonald to bounce into a double play. The Rangers struggled to find a way to make Davis a productive member of the squad. Perhaps they weren't trying the right position.