Series Preview: Texas Rangers @ Oakland Athletics - The Hunter

They''re still mad - Rick Yeatts

The Rangers travel to Oakland to begin a ten game road trip through the American League West which could go a long way to determining if they'll be playing for the division title or a Wild Card spot in baseball's final two months

Series Schedule:

Friday, August 02 9:05: LHP Tommy Milone vs. RHP Alexi Ogando

Saturday, August 03 3:05: RHP Jarrod Parker vs. RHP Matt Garza

Sunday, August 04 3:05: RHP A.J. Griffin vs. LHP Derek Holland

In 2010, the Rangers eventually coasted to a division championship. But before they reached the pinnacle in the West for the first time in a decade, they had their challenge moment in late July when the Angels came to Arlington for a four game series with the Rangers up five games.

The potential for the Angels came in the form of a series win, or sweep, and therefore a pennant race. However, the Rangers won three or four, went up seven games on the Angels and Deion Sanders danced into the end zone over the final two months of the season while the Angels slipped to 3rd place in the West.

In 2011, the Rangers fielded perhaps the best team they've ever had. They were the defending American League champs and the reigning American League West champs. Their challenge moment came in late August when the Angels came to Arlington for a three game series with the Rangers up two games in the West.

The Rangers had lost three straight games to Boston the previous three nights by a combined score of 30-7. The Angels had manipulated their rotation so that Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver would pitch in the series. The Rangers, however, won two of three and took a three game lead. One month later they were up nine games in the West and finished off the season with a series sweep in Anaheim to reach a franchise record 96 wins.

In 2012, the Rangers began the season 16-5 and had folks evoking the 1998 New York Yankees as a comparison. Obviously, that lofty goal was never attained but the Rangers were a very good team in 2012. In addition to the pedigree of being back-to-back American League Champions they also won consecutive division titles for the first time since '98-'99.

Their challenge moment came in the final series of the season against the second place Oakland A's. The Rangers held a two game lead going into game 160. With one win in the three game set, the Rangers would win a third consecutive West title for the first time in franchise history. The Rangers failed the challenge this time, were swept by Oakland, and regulated to a play-in Wild Card game. You obviously know the rest.

For the first time in four seasons, the 2013 Rangers come into a challenge moment as the hunter instead of the hunted. Going into the All-Star break, the A's held a two game lead in the West. The Rangers came out of the break and went 2-8 in their first ten games to drop to six games back of the A's. However, the Rangers have won four straight, have reduced the lead to three and a half games. They now have a chance to set themselves up for a division run with a solid series in Oakland.

Here are all of the possible outcomes we could be facing come Sunday afternoon:

  • Rangers sweep - The Rangers trail the A's in the AL West by .5 game
  • Rangers win 2 of 3 - The Rangers trail the A's in the AL West by 2.5 games
  • A's win 2 of 3 - The Rangers trail the A's in the AL West by 4.5 games
  • A's sweep - The Rangers trail the A's in the AL West by 6.5 games
You'd obviously rather be in Oakland's position right now, but, as the Rangers learned last October, sometimes the hunter hits his mark.

Here's a breakdown of the pitching match-ups against them pesky Oakland A's:

  • Alexi Ogando: 4-3, 6.37 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, .269 BABIP, 79.6% LOB, 4.07 FIP, 4.66 xFIP, 1.0 WAR - Last three starts: 5 runs allowed in 15.1 innings
  • Tommy Milone: 9-8, 6.80 K/9, 2.29 BB/9, .277 BABIP, 73.5% LOB, 4.32 FIP, 4.35 xFIP, 1.0 WAR - Last three starts: 7 runs allowed in 15.2 innings

Advantage: Alexi Ogando hasn't been particularly sharp since his return from the disabled list on July 23. In two starts since his return, Ogando has gone 9 2/3 total innings. And while he hasn't been beaten up all that much (three runs allowed against New York on the July 23 and one run allowed against Cleveland on the July 28), he's simply not striking out very many (just 3 Ks total) while tiring early.

It could be rust. It could be more of the same command issues that have plagued him this season. It could simply be that Ogando isn't really cut out to be a starting pitcher. Nevertheless, Ogando has pitched fairly well against Oakland in his career and beat the A's in Oakland as recently as May 15.

The good news: Tommy Milone has never beaten the Rangers. The bad news: The Rangers have never beaten Tommy Milone at the O.Co Coliseum. The good news: The Rangers beat Tommy Milone as recently as June 19 when Milone allowed six runs in 5 1/3 innings at The Ballpark. The bad news: Tommy Milone has allowed twice as many runs on the road as he has at home.

  • Matt Garza: 7-1, 7.70 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, .258 BABIP, 79.6% LOB, 3.65 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, 1.3 WAR - Last three starts: 5 runs allowed in 21.0 innings
  • Jarrod Parker: 6-6, 6.00 K/9, 3.36 BB/9, .248 BABIP, 72.4% LOB, 4.64 FIP, 4.71 xFIP, 0.5 WAR - Last three starts: 9 runs allowed in 19.0 innings

Advantage: Besides Jon Daniels' endless adoration for The Count, July 03 is probably the reason the Rangers decided it was a good idea to acquire Matt Garza. July 03 was the day that Garza went to the O.Co Coliseum and out-pitched Bartolo Colon as the Cubs beat the A's 3-1. In that game, Garza went eight innings, gave up only four hits, struck out five A's and allowed only a Brandon Moss home run. That's the kind of performance the Rangers are looking for against their current top division rival.

Since coming to the Rangers, Garza has been as good as advertised. Garza has allowed only three runs in 14 1/3 innings and the Rangers have won both games he's started.

Since the 2012 season ended, Jarrod Parker hasn't been as good as expected. Parker was something of the quasi-ace of the A's staff last October but has dealt with injuries in the 2013 season and hasn't seen the jump in production that many assumed. Parker's strikeout rate has dropped by nearly one K per nine while his walk rate has risen this season. In addition, he's allowed more home runs this year while getting fewer ground balls. It's all a recipe for a pitcher taking a bit of a step back.

In two starts against the Rangers this season, Parker is 1-1 and has allowed five earned runs in 14 innings.

  • Derek Holland: 8-6, 8.27 K/9, 2.57 BB/9, .318 BABIP, 75.5% LOB, 3.05 FIP, 3.53 xFIP, 4.1 WAR - Last three starts: 9 runs allowed in 21.1 innings
  • A.J. Griffin: 10-7, 7.10 K/9, 1.98 BB/9, .244 BABIP, 77.3% LOB, 4.57 FIP, 4.22 xFIP, 1.0 WAR - Last three starts: 11 runs allowed in 18.1 innings

Advantage: Derek Holland had one of his more frustrating starts his last time out against Anaheim on Tuesday. Dutch allowed four runs in a game for the first time in over a month and fought himself all night just to get through the six innings he completed. The Rangers, of course, won that game by scoring 14 runs. That was more runs than the Rangers had scored in all of Holland's six losses combined.

Holland faced the A's once back on May 14 where he allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings in a game where he looked great early before fading in the middle innings. The Rangers did end up winning that game in extra innings. It was the Rangers only extra inning win of the season until they won in the the 10th on Tuesday.

A.J. Griffin still refuses to stop trying to look like Jered Weaver. Therefore, I continue to refuse to acknowledge A.J. Griffin.

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Oakland A's (63-45, 1st Place in AL West)

Rangers' Record vs. Oakland: 6-4 (2-1 at O.Co Coliseum)

Oakland's Recent Results: 1-2 home series loss against the Toronto Blue Jays

Oakland's 2013 Home Record: 34-18

O.Co Coliseum Park Factors (LHB/RHB): HR: 74/92 - Runs: 90/97

SB Nation Athletics' Blog: Athletics Nation

Match-up: (as of 08/02) Rangers Athletics Advantage
Batting (RAR) -16.6 (13th) -3.9 (11th) Don't look now but the A's are beginning to have difficulty hitting
Base Running (RAR) -9.7 (30th) 3.4 (11th) Don't look now or ever
Starters (RAR) 57.8 25.2 Look now
Bullpen (RAR) 43.7 (3rd) 38.0 (5th) Two of the best 'pens in baseball
Defense (UZR) 13.0 (9th) 12.6 (10th) Virtually the same
Overall (UZR + RAR) 88.2 75.3

We're coming for that lead, Oakland

Questions to Answer:

  • True of False: Josh Donaldson is history's greatest villain?
  • Who is your Return of the McLemore Approved Player to Watch in this series? (Nelson Cruz's last hurrah to really piss Oakland off.)
  • Over/Under: 2.5 balls the Rangers lose in the bright California sun during the day games on Saturday and Sunday?
  • What's your guess for line (IP/H/K/BB/ER) by Alexi Ogando as he tries to regain his form tonight against Tommy Milone?
  • Yea or Nay: The Rangers leave Oakland having gained ground in the AL West?
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