The Lowdown: The Texas Rangers come into this series with a 0.5 game lead in the AL West and a three-game wining streak. The Baltimore Orioles come in as the 4th place team in the AL East, 2.0 games behind Boston. They came up with a big win last night against Toronto, but they have lost 3 out of their last 4 and 5 out of their last 8.

The Rangers will have the benefit of going against a Baltimore team that is third from the bottom in the AL in ERA. The only teams with worse ERAs are the Kansas City Royals and the Minnesota Twins. Even better for the Rangers is the fact that the Orioles have allowed the second most homeruns in the AL, just five fewer than the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rangers, on the other hand, are fifth in the AL in ERA for starters, and seventh in the AL in total ERA.

Players to Watch: Orioles Leadoff Hitters: With Brian Roberts going on the DL on Sunday, the Orioles suddenly have a big hole at the top of their lineup. In two games batting leadoff, Corey Patterson is just 2-for-10. He’ll hit for some power, but he’ll also strikeout a lot. His batting average is just .278. It will be particularly interesting to see the lefty go against John Koronka. Yesterday, the Orioles tried Brandon Fahey as a leadoff hitter, and he went 0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts in a game where the Orioles scored 9 runs.

Bullpens: The Rangers have only converted 5 out of 12 save opportunities, and the Orioles have converted 7 out of 11. We already know all about the Rangers bullpen woes, which are hopefully being smoothed over by the transition of Akinori Otsuka to the closer’s spot. Chris Ray is legit for the Orioles. He has converted all 7 of his save opportunities, has struck out 12 in 11 innings and sports a 2.61 ERA. It’s a miracle if the rest of the bullpen can get him the ball, however. Nobody else in the bullpen has an ERA under 4.00. The bullpen without Ray is 2-2 with a 4.15 ERA.

Brad Wilkerson: Believe it or not, Wilkerson isn’t just worth watching for the strikeout race anymore, although he is up to 39 on the season. His batting average is up to .242 thanks to a recent hot streak that has seen him go 9-for-17 (.529 BA) in his last six games. In those games, he also has 2 homers, 4 RBIs and 5 runs.

Kevin Mench: He hit another dinger last night to bring his season total to 8. His batting average is also up to .322, and he’s got 23 RBIs in his last 11 games.

Miguel Tejada: I don’t know if this will come as a surprise to you, but Tejada is a good hitter. If that’s news, I suggest you just stop reading this right now. He is batting .423 with 8 homers and 26 RBIs. He’s also got just 11 Ks, awfully low for a power hitter, and has a .458 OBP.

Game 1: Wednesday, May 3, 7:05 CST

Probables: Tex: LHP John Koronka (3-1, 4.25) Bal: RHP Daniel Cabrera (2-2, 5.68)

In their first game of the two-game series, the Rangers go against youngster Daniel Cabrera. The Rangers should be patient with Cabrera, as he will throw a lot of pitches regardless of how many innings he actually goes. He is only averaging just over 5 innings per start, but he averages 98.4 pitches. In five starts this year, he only has one game with fewer than 100 pitches. He is also extremely effective in games when he throws a high percentage of pitches for strikes. In his three good starts, he threw 57 percent of his pitches for strikes, and compiled an ERA of 1.42.

In his two bad starts, he only threw 46 percent of his pitches for strikes, and had an ERA of 18.57. So, the name of the game against Cabrera is patience.

Texas will throw Koronka at the Orioles. Koronka is off to a really surprising start, and is due for a good game after a rough last outing against Cleveland (5.2 IP, 4 ER). Unfortunately for Koronka, the Orioles lineup is not saturated with leftys. Wrong-handers are batting .071 against Koronka this year with 6 strikeouts and 0 HR.

Game 2: Thursday, May 4, 7:05 CST

Probables: TEX: RHP Kevin Millwood (2-2, 3.89) BAL: LHP Bruce Chen (0-3, 7.27)

After a rocky start to his Ranger Career, Millwood seems to be hitting his stride. He is 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA in his last 4 games. However, he is continuing his trend from last season of being much better on the road. It should be troubling that he is pitching this game in Arlington, considering that he is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA on the road, but 0-2 with a 5.06 ERA at home. Yikes.

It should also be noted, however, that Millwood only has one start (a 5-inning shutout no-decision) at home since he started his current hot streak.

The Rangers will go against Bruce Chen. He made a good comeback last year, posting his best ERA (3.83) in a season with more than 8 appearances since 2000. His 13 wins also marked a career high. But he is off to a bad start this year, to say the least. In five starts this season, he has only pitched through the sixth inning once, and in that game he allowed 5 earned runs in 7.2 innings. Something the Rangers should like is that he is averaging almost 2 homeruns allowed per start (9 homers in 5 games).


Tue 05/02/06, 9:25 pm EST



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