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: Barring a highly unlikely run to the World Series by the Astros, this will be the last time the Rangers face the Astros in anything other than your run of the mill divisional contest. The Astros are coming to the American League West, which means that the brief run of the Silver Boot will likely be consigned to the dustbin containing the Astros' old rainbow uniforms and those buttons pushing David Clyde for the Hall of Fame.
Past 2012 Meetings: The Rangers took two of three from the Astros in Houston last month, including a Sunday win when Colby Lewis pitched well and drove in two runs. The one loss came when the normally famished Astros offense blasted three homers.
Pitching Matchups: Friday - Jordan Lyles (1-5, 5.40 ERA) vs. Yu Darvish (7-4, 3.72); Saturday - Lucas Harrell (6-4, 4.83) vs. Justin Grimm (8-3, 1.87 at Double-A Frisco); Sunday - Bud Lewis (5-4, 4.81) vs. Lewis (5-5, 3.13)
What's Hot: The offense still isn't quite humming at ideal speed, but the Rangers were able to take two of three from the Diamondbacks thanks in part to Craig Gentry's well-timed hot streak. Gentry isn't going to be a guy who carries this offense, obviously, but the team is going to need the occasional moments from players like him if they will remain in control of the AL West.
At 5'5" and 155 pounds, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve doesn't look much like a professional baseball player. Heck, he doesn't look all that much like an adult. He hits like one, though, and Altuve's got the inside track on the Astros' All-Star spot as a result.
Joe Nathan's 31 strikeouts against two walks is one of the more staggering ratios we've come across in recent years, especially for a player without a history of such outsize disparities. With injuries happening everywhere you look on the Rangers pitching staff, it is nice to have that kind of stability at the back end.
What's Not: Darvish got a couple of extra days off to prepare for this start in hopes of fixing his control issues. He's walked 18 in his last 20.2 innings of work, an unsustainable path to follow over the course of the true season. The $64 million question is what the Rangers do if the problem has more to do with the league figuring out Darvish than it does with anything Darvish is doing.
We mentioned the normally famished Astros offense up above, but there's no better way of illustrating it than reminding you went down on Wednesday night. That was when Matt Cain struck out 14 Astros en route to one of the most dominant perfect games in the history of baseball.
Is it time to blow out the candle we lit to help summon Mike Napoli's return to 2011 form? If not, is it time to start thinking of 2011 as a career year and readjust our expectations so that Napoli stops being such a disappointment this year?
Familiar Faces: Carlos Lee is on the disabled list, which means that there's no one with ties to the Rangers on the roster at present. The faces will all be familiar soon enough, though. Just think about how much you see the Angels, A's and Mariners.