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: When last in Tampa, the Rangers were riding Cliff Lee to a Game Five win in the first round of last year's run to the World Series. Lee is gone and so are several members of the Rays that starred for the team last season but the series still has some juice thanks to both teams residing near the top of the standings.
Past 2011 Meetings: It feels like the first time, mostly because it is the first time.
Pitching Matchups: Monday - Derek Holland (3-1, 4.68 ERA) vs. Wade Davis (4-4, 3.71); Tuesday - C.J. Wilson (5-3, 3.25) vs. Alex Cobb (0-0, 8.31); Wednesday - Colby Lewis (4-5, 3.90) vs. David Price (6-4, 3.54)
What's Hot: The Rangers start Memorial Day in first place and that's a very good spot to be, historically speaking. Sixty percent of teams in first place on the holiday go on to make the playoffs which is a nice thing to keep in mind when Neftali Feliz is mucking things up on the mound. As far as staying in first place, it's helpful that the Rangers will miss James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson during this trip.
The decision to sign Manny Ramirez didn't work out so well for the Rays, but his fellow idiot from Boston, Johnny Damon, has fit right in. He's hitting .271 with seven homers and 28 RBIs to help the Rays scoring runs a year after losing Carl Crawford to free agency. Ramirez's departure has actually been a win-win as it leaves the DH spot exclusively to the defensively challenged Damon.
Relievers also left the Rays in droves during the offseason, but you'd never know it by looking at the productivity of the bullpen. Castoffs like Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz and Joel Peralta have done great work at the end of games and have been a big reason why Tampa's remained a contender in the deep AL East. See, Rangers fans, there's reason to hope things will get better in the pen.
What's Not: We mentioned Feliz above, but we'd be shirking our duties if we didn't include him at the top of the list of not hot things in Texas right now. Two more bad outings against the Royals over the weekend mean that the concern-o-meter is through the roof about the Rangers closer. Ron Washington pulled him mid-inning on Sunday, but there's no other guy to call on right now so Feliz is going to keep getting chances.
Sam Fuld became a cult hero in April when he stepped in to help the Rays snap their season-opening losing streak with great plays at the plate and in the field. He's collapsed in May, though, hitting just .159 and losing his mojo for stealing bases on the rare occasions he actually gets on base.
Dave Anderson's decision to send Mike Napoli to the plate worked out well for the Rangers on Sunday, but the third base coach is playing with fire. He already contributed to Josh Hamilton's injury and a somewhat competent tag by Royals catcher Brayan Pena would have meant a longer day of work on Sunday. Anderson is a gambler, perhaps a bit more than he should be given the quality of the team.
Familiar Faces: It's a bit surprising that the Rays' busy offseason didn't leave them with any players with Rangers pedigrees when the dust settled. Or maybe it is just surprising that all of those years with revolving bullpens in Arlington never brought Farnsworth or Cruz to town since they seem to have played for everyone else in baseball at one point.