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 2013 season.
The Opponent: The Tampa Bay Rays come to town for a one-game tiebreaker for the second wild card spot in the American League, and they do so having lost two of three games in Toronto to fall back into a tie with the red-hot Rangers, winners of seven straight to close the regular season.
Past 2013 Meetings: The Rangers lead the season series 4-3, which is why they're getting to host the Rays, who had to fly in from Toronto Sunday night. The Rangers won a series in Arlington back in April and then split a four-game set in Tampa two weeks ago.
Pitching Matchups: Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55 ERA) vs. David Price (9-8, 3.39)
What's Hot: There hasn't been a Rangers player hotter than Craig Gentry over the past week-and-a-half since he was inserted into the starting lineup for David Murphy in left field and he hasn't looked back since. He has nine hits in his last seven games, three RBIs, seven runs and is a perfect 6-for-6 on stolen-base attempts. Alex Rios continues his hot streak, as well, hitting .346 over the past seven games with a homer and a cycle under his belt. He's also tied for the team-high in RBIs over that span with eight, tying him with Leonys Martin, who has started to swing a hot bat again after a cold spell over the past few weeks. Over his past five starts, Martin Perez is 2-2 with a 3.48 ERA and he is tied for the lead for wins by American League rookies. The 22-year-old lefty has yet to face the Rays this year. Rangers relievers Neal Cotts, Jason Frasor, Robbie Ross, Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria have a combined 0.00 ERA over the last week in a combined 15 1/3 innings, and Nathan has pitched on four straight days.
The Rays are hot at the plate right now, led by first baseman James Loney, who has a walk-off home run under his belt this week and is tied for second on the team over the past seven games with five RBIs with a .435 average. Ben Zobrist and rookie sensation Wil Myers are hitting .357 and .346, respectively, over the last seven games and third baseman Evan Longoria has been a run-producing machine with nine RBIs in the last seven games. Over his last five starts, David Price is 1-2 with a 3.78 ERA, but is coming off a seven-inning outing against the Yankees in which he allowed two runs in a win. With that said, Price has a career ERA of 10.26 and an opponents batting average of .357 in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
What's Not: It's the usual suspects here for the Rangers: David Murphy and Mitch Moreland. Fortunately for the Rangers, Ron Washington has finally figured out he can't play Murphy every day, and he surely won't be in the lineup Monday night against the Rays' lefty. Adrian Beltre, who is clearly banged up, even before tweaking his hamstring Sunday, is hitting just .250 over the past week.
The Rays' bullpen is almost as good as the Rangers'. Even though he hasn't been charged with a run over the past week, Rays closer Fernando Rodney has had some bumps in the road. He's allowed three hits in 1 1/3 innings and is coming off a game Sunday in Toronto when he needed 33 pitches to navigate his way through the ninth inning to keep the Rays' season alive for at least another day.
Familiar Faces: In a bit of a twist in this category, Rangers fans will be reunited Monday with Nelson Cruz, who returns from a 50-game PED suspension. He's been added to the roster and it's assumed he'll be in the starting lineup, especially with Price on the hill. Over his career, Cruz has killed Price to the tune of 9-for-21 with three home runs against the reigning Cy Young winner. Despite missing the last 50 games, Cruz is still second on the team with 27 home runs and if nothing else gives the Rangers a much-needed "fear factor" for opposing pitchers that they've lacked for two months.