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Series Preview: Texas Rangers (19-17) @ New York Yankees (25-12)

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Business First: The Rangers had two games rained out this weekend, technically giving them a series sweep with their shortened game one win against the Red Sox. Yes, a sweep is how I’m choosing to look at it. No makeup date has been officially announced for the games, because the next time the two teams meet, they already had a double-header scheduled. General manager Jon Daniels said the team wants to avoid playing five games in three days. July 20 is a possibility, as that is one date that both teams have off, but that would put the Rangers in four different cities in 6 days. It would mean the Rangers would come out of the All-Star break playing 11 straight road games without a break. Then they’d have to fly home and play three against the Yankees before they finally got a day off. Personally, I think they should push the game to the end of the season and play it only if it would have playoff consequences.

One upside to the rainouts is that they allowed the Rangers to push Vicente Padilla’s start back to Thursday to give him more time to recover from a strained ankle. John Koronka, who was scheduled to pitch Saturday, will take the start on Tuesday. The Rangers website also said that they will call someone up for the start on Friday to open up the series against the Astros. That probably means Robinson Tejeda or John Rheinecker. also announced that the Rangers have traded left-handed reliever Brian Shouse to the Milwaukee Brewers for a minor league infielder and a player to be named later. The infielder, Enrique Cruz, normally plays shortstop, but has also played some third base and second base. He was playing at the AAA level in the Brewers organization, but since Oklahoma has Joaquin Arias playing shortstop, the Rangers will move Cruz to AA Frisco. At Nashville, he was hitting .261 with 1 homerun and 10 RBIs.

The Lowdown: The Rangers pulled off a somewhat surprising victory on Friday to leave Boston one game better than they came in, but they have still lost five out of their last seven games. Despite their recent skid, they still sit in the lead in the A.L. West, and actually extended their lead over Oakland to 1.5 games. The Yankees have won nine out of their 12 games this month, including two wins against Boston, two wins against Oakland, and a three-game series sweep against your own Rangers in Arlington. They are tied with Boston for the lead in the A.L. East.

Players to Watch:

Hank Blalock: He has been on fire lately. He comes into the series on a nine-game hitting streak. That hitting streak includes a 2-for-3 performance on Friday in which he had a homerun and two RBIs. Blalock will face three right-handed pitchers in this series in Mussina, Chacon and Wang, and a good thing for him - he is batting .360 against right-handers. Oh, he made some pretty good plays in the Red Sox game, too. Perhaps that will help turn around his defense. He currently has a .955 fielding percentage, six points below his career average. He has also committed 5 errors already this season, almost half of the errors he committed all of last season (11).

Akinori Otsuka: Talk about a brilliant move putting him in the closer’s spot. Since he took the job, he’s put up beautiful numbers and has converted all four of his save opportunities. As the setup man, opponents were batting .256 against him. As a closer, he is holding hitters to a .222 average. His ERA since taking the closer’s role is 1.59, much better than the 2.45 he had as the setup man in April. If the Rangers starting pitching can hang with the Yankees better than they did in their last series, we could see some fun battles between Otsuka and Mariano Rivera.

Gerald Laird: I know the Rangers brass is still hot for Rod Barajas, but I think that we are going to begin seeing a lot more of Gerald Laird. He is batting .325 on the season and is 5 for his last 12 (.467), while Barajas is batting just .223. Laird only has one walk on the year, but he also has not struck out yet this month, and only has 6 whiffs in 41 plate appearances. One strange stat that might help Barajas’ cause is the record between the two catchers. Even though the Rangers have outscored opponents 62-47, the team is only 5-5 when Laird starts. When Barajas starts, the team has been outscored 129-127, but they find ways to win, with a record of 14-12. It’s not a big difference, percentage-wise, but it might not cause the powers that be to start Laird more like I think they will in the very near future.

Yankees Relief Pitching: Despite getting very little help from a starting staff that is scuffling, the Yankees relievers have been outstanding. They have converted 8 out of 10 save opportunities, and they have four pitchers with ERAs under 3.00. As a staff, their ERA is 2.98. Their bullpen, as currently comprised, has also allowed just one homerun in 84.2 innings pitched.

Yankees Outfield: With Gary Sheffield and designated Ranger-killer Hideki Matsui on the DL, the Yankees outfield is seriously depleted right now. Their lineup is still all kinds of scary, but there is definitely some pop missing with players like Bubba Crosby and Melky Cabrera having to take over for the injured all-stars.

Alex Rodriguez: He has been playing below expectations this season, with a .277 batting average, 32 strikeouts and just 29 RBIs. But, he took the hurt to the Rangers the last time he played his old team. He went 5-for-13 (.385) with a homerun, six RBIs and three runs. Maybe he’ll make up for his bat by committing some more of those errors (6 on the season, by the way) that sent George Steinbrenner into yet another one of his rants last week. Am I the only one who thinks he’s about the worst thing in baseball right now?


Game 1:
Monday, May 15, 6:05 CST

TEX: RHP Kevin Millwood (3-3, 5.13)
NYY: RHP Mike Mussina (6-1, 2.56)

Millwood gets the tough draw of going against one of the hottest pitchers in the A.L. in Mike Mussina. Every one of Mussina’s starts have been quality, his only loss coming to Minnesota when he allowed 3 earned runs in 6.2 innings. Opposition has been able to get to him a little bit with the long ball, but it hasn’t hurt much, as Mussina has been phenomenal about keeping runners of the bases. He has allowed two homeruns in two separate starts this year, but each time the opposing team only scored three runs. The Moose has also been a little better at home than on the road this year, coming in with a 3-0 record and a 2.41 ERA. Fortunately for the Rangers, Millwood has been much better on the road than at home, coming in with a 2-0 record and a 3.00 ERA (he is 1-3 with a 6.81 in Arlington). Millwood is coming off extended rest, thanks to rainouts, after the worst start of his career when he allowed nine earned runs in 1.1 innings against the Twins.

Game 2:
Tuesday, May 16, 6:05 CST

TEX: LHP John Koronka (4-1, 3.65)
NYY: RHP Shawn Chacon (4-1, 3.68)

Koronka finally gets to take his .154 average against left-handed batters to a team that has a lot of leftys. The Yankees have four regular starters (Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, Jason Giambi and Crosby) that bat left-handed, and have another on the bench in outfielder Kevin Reese. This will be Koronka’s first career start against the Yankees. Chacon comes in as the other good Yankees starter. He has been on a roll lately after allowing nine earned runs in his first two starts. In his last four starts, Chacon is 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA. That includes a start against Texas that he won, allowing one earned run in 6.1 innings. The key to Chacon could be walks. In his last two starts, he has allowed 9 walks in 11 innings, which was a big part of why he lasted only 4.2 innings in his last start against Boston.

Game 3:
Wednesday, May 16, 6:05 CST

TEX: RHP Kameron Loe (2-3, 4.23)
NYY: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (3-1, 4.04)

Loe and Wang are both coming off of great starts. Loe got his win on Friday in the rain-shortened shutout of the Red Sox. He will need more than one good start to get back on track, though, especially considering that he allowed five earned runs in five innings the last time he faced the Yanks. But, as with Millwood, it should be noted that Loe has been a star on the road. He may have an overall ERA of 4.23, but away from Arlington, he is 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA. As for Wang, he’s not the kind of pitcher that will strike out a lot of hitters. He only has 18 Ks in 49 innings. But, that’s probably okay, because he has also allowed only one homerun this season. He is coming off of his best start of the year, earning a win against Oakland by shutting out the A’s for 8 innings and allowing only three hits.


Mon 05/15/06, 1:06 pm EST



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