Business First: First bit of business is to wrap up the dreadful series the Rangers just had with the Yankees. Nothing can really be said about the last game that couldn’t be said about the first two games. The Rangers were afflicted by lousy pitching and by a big inning in favor of the Yankees. Tonight it was the fourth, when the Yankees scored 5 runs en route to an 8-5 win over the Rangers. Robinson Tejeda tanked in his Arlington debut, pitching about like he did in most of his minor league games at Oklahoma. He allowed 6 runs, all earned, on 7 hits in 3-plus innings. He faced 7 batters in the fourth without recording an out. One bright note is that Brad Wilkerson extended his hitting streak to ten games to tie his career high.

By way of more business, the Rangers announced toeday that Fabio Castro, who was placed on the 15-day DL with a groin strain to make room on the roster for Tejeda, has departed for extended Spring Traning in Arizona. He is also expected to spend a month rehabbing in the minor leagues, either at AA Frisco or AAA Oklahoma. I wonder how legitimate this injury is. He somehow injured his groin, while only pitching 5.2 innings. The injury surfaced just in time for their callup of Tejeda, even though he had not pitched for 10 days. And for a relatively minor injury like a groin strain, the Rangers have already announced that Castro is expected to spend a month rehabbing in the minors, on top of the time he will spend at extended Spring Training. Sounds to me like the Rangers are just finding an excuse to keep Castro off the roster while retaining him under Rule 5 stipulations.

The Lowdown: The Rangers broke their 6 game winning streak hard. Like, dropped it from a 100 story building and shattered it. But, despite getting swept in three games by the Yankees, the Rangers come into a three game homestand against the Minnesota Twins with a 0.5 game lead over Oakland in the A.L. West. The Twins are coming off a 2-1 series win against Detroit, but they have just won 4 out of their last 10 games. On the season, Minnesota is just 3-12 on the road, with only one of those wins coming against a team not located in Kansas City. The Twins are currently fourth in the A.L. Central, 9 games behind the Chicago White Sox.

Players to Watch: Brad Wilkerson: Wilkerson isn’t just fun to watch because of the strikeout race anymore, even though he is up to 45 and still leads the major leagues (5 more than Jonny Gomes). During his current 10-game hitting streak, Wilkerson has gone 15-for-34 (.441) with two homeruns, 11 RBIs and 11 runs. His batting average has increased from .195 to .270, and his on-base percentage has improved to .347, up from .281. His strikeout rate has also improved greatly. He has not struck out three times in a game since April 20, but he is still on pace to strike out 228 times this year.

Joe Mauer: The Minnesota prospect is one of the hottest hitting catchers in baseball. He comes in with a .312 batting average, a team-leading 12 walks and a .383 OBP that is second-best on the team. His bat has also been much hotter on the road than at home, as he is batting .364 on the road. His road slugging is also 100 points higher on the road than at home, and his OBP is 46 points higher. The two upsides for the Rangers are that Mauer does not hit for much power (he only has 1 homerun on the season) and he has to face Koronka in the first game, who has been lights-out against leftys.

Michael Cuddyer: Although he has not been driving in runs (only 8 RBIs), he has a solid .310 batting average and a .603 slugging percentage. He only has 3 homeruns on the season, but he does have 6 doubles. He’ll get on base, and he’ll get on in scoring position. That’s the pesky stuff that can get into a pitcher’s head and cause him to make pitches he should not make. The Rangers will have to look out for that.

Twins Pitching: This is the good and the ugly. The Rangers go against three pitchers that have a combined record of 5-11 and a combined ERA of 8.49. They manage to miss the only good starter the Twins have had this year in Johan Santana. But, if the starters manage to get the ball to the bullpen with a lead, look out. The bullpen is not that scary from top to bottom, but they do have two dominant guys on the back end with Juan Rincon (2-0, 2.20) and Joe Nathan (1-0, 2.70, 4 saves).

Rangers Starting Pitching: You know they have to be chomping at the bit to prove themselves again after a series in which the Rangers got outscored 22-13. It would be just their luck to follow the Yankees with a Twins team that is second to last in the A.L. in runs scored and slugging percentage, third from last in home runs and ninth in batting average with a .256. Not to mention that 3-12 road record.

Game 1: Monday, May 8 - 6:05 CST


Tex: LHP John Koronka (3-1, 3.55)

Min: RHP Brad Radke (3-3, 7.29)

It is a minor miracle that Radke even has three wins considering his ERA. He only has one start (his last, against Kansas City on May 3) in which he has allowed fewer than four earned runs. Half of his starts have been on the road, and his ERA in those game is 10.83. At home this season, Koronka is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA. Both of these pitchers are coming off great starts. Radke won his last game against Kansas City, allowing just 1 earned run in seven innings, while Koronka also allowed just one earned run in 8.1 innings in a game against Baltimore that the Rangers won in the 12th inning. He may have allowed his first extra-base hit to a lefty in that game, but he is still holding the wrong-handers to a .147 batting average. Unfortunately for him, the Twins only have two left-handed position players (Mauer and Justin Morneau) on their roster.

Game 2: Tuesday, May 9 - 7:05 CST


Tex: RHP Kevin Millwood (3-2, 3.52)

Min: RHP Carlos Silva (1-5, 8.59)

Silva was on the losing end of his only good start of the season. He is coming off a loss to Kansas City in which he allowed just one earned run in 7 innings pitched. In every other start, Silva has allowed at least 5 earned runs. He has been particularly susceptible to the long ball, such as when he allowed 7 homers in two games against Chicago and Detroit. Millwood has been running in the opposite direction, seemingly getting better with each start. Since his first two forgettable starts as a Ranger, Millwood is 3-0 with a 2.31 ERA. His last start was a complete game win against Baltimore. Normally the start after a complete game scares me, but Millwood only threw a very encouraging 99 pitches.

Game 3: Wednesday, May 10 - 1:05 CST


Tex: RHP Vicente Padilla (3-2, 4.58)

Min: RHP Kyle Lohse (1-3, 9.71)

Ahh, and afternoon game. Who doesn't love an afternoon game? And what can you say about this matchup, other than that it would be stunning if this were not the slug fest of the series. Padilla will be trying to get back on track, as he has allowed 11 runs (8 earned) in his last two starts. Lohse has been even worse in his last two starts by allowing 13 earned runs, both against the Tigers. He has allowed 6 or more earned runs in four of his six starts this year.


Sun 05/07/06, 11:22 pm EST



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