June 3, 2014

Texas Rangers Series Preview

After avoiding a disastrous series loss to the up and coming Houston Astros, the Birds were able to salvage the remaining two games to get back over .500 for the first two months of the season.  The most notable story from the past series has to be the injury to Nelson Cruz during Sunday's game.  Midway through the game, Cruz was hit on the wrist by former Oriole Scott Feldman.  Cruz was able to walk to first and eventually score later in the inning but was eventually replaced by David Lough for the remainder of the game.  Thankfully, x-rays came back negative and he is currently listed as Day-to-Day.  In the postgame interview, Buck was optimistic that Nelly would be able to return to the lineup for the series opener Tuesday in Texas.  Personally, I'm not opposed to Cruz taking a day off the let the presumed swelling on his hand heal.  However, this marks the first time that Cruz will return to Texas after spending 8 years in a Rangers uniform before he turned down a hefty offer in the offseason. Over the past month, Nelson has effectively carried the Orioles offense, slugging a club-record 13 homers in May, while winning player of the week honors for his most recent efforts to conclude May.  As for the rest of the lineup, Manny Machado & JJ Hardy finished the weekend strong as Machado belted his first career grand slam on Sunday to put the game out of reach.  It is noted that Manny has begun hit the ball much better than when he initially returned from the DL and looks as though he is return to pre-injury form. Hardy, although homerless in nearly his last 70 games dating back to last season, has raised his average back over .300 and continues to drive the ball to all fields.

One glaring problem is the slump that Chris Davis currently is in the midst of.  Since the Pittsburgh series, Crush has collected only 4 hits, lowering his average in the month of May to a dismal .209 after returning from the DL.  Davis was recently quoted that the team hasn't "clicked on all cylinders" yet this season and if his struggles at the plate continue, the Orioles will continue to play .500 baseball.  One can hope that a return to Texas will allow Crush to break out of his current funk and propel the Orioles' offense into the summer months of the regular season.

As for the Rangers, it seems like yesterday that the O's had faced them in the 2012 elimination game that gave us our first postseason appearance in over a decade.  This is a revamped Rangers squad that has been marred by injuries and offseason moves, shifting the dynamic of a ballclub that once toted a high-powered offense.  Texas made a splash during the winter by landing slugger Prince Fielder from Detroit, only to have his season cut drastically short due to his recent neck surgery.  Additionally, the trade effectively ended second baseman Ian Kinsler's tenure in a Rangers uniform and the loss of Nelson Cruz to the Orioles (thumbs up) has landed the Rangers in 29-28, sitting in 4th. place in the AL West behind the Oakland Athletics.  Fresh off a grueling 11-game road trip that accounted for 7 wins, Texas looks to build momentum against the Birds, with the pitching matchups going as followed:

Tuesday: Jimenez v. Saunders
Wednesday: Norris v. Martinez
Thursday: Gonzalez v. Lewis

The Orioles will be grateful to miss Yu Darvish in the rotation, who is bound for another All-Star appearance this summer in Minnesota and is a perennial Cy Young candidate in the AL.  In addition, this is a Ranger team that reverted back to their old ways in terms of pitching.  For years, Texas was incapable of having enough pitching to support their high powered offenses and with injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, they once again find themselves in the bottom tier of the league in several major pitching categories.  The O's should be able to put runs on the board this series for starters like Jimenez and Norris who aren't blessed with the run support of one Wei-Yin Chen.  As for tonight's starters, Joe Saunders, he has struggled mightily pitching in Arlington since he has been acquired although he pitched a much needed gem for the O's back in the 2012 postseason on the Rangers' home field.  Ubaldo Jimenez has shook off his rough start to the 2014 season and rebounded quite nicely in his 6 starts in May, going 2-2 with a 3.12 ERA.  Jimenez's ERA on the road is nearly 2 points lower than when he takes the mound in Camden Yards and hopes to build on this success tonight.  Even with the depleted roster from recent years, the Rangers are still swinging the bats well, who rank 3rd in the majors in average and 6th in OBP.  Power numbers have dropped significantly from 2013 with the loss of Cruz, Fielder and Kinsler.  Leading the way for Texas is their other major acquisition this past winter, left fielder Shin Soo-Choo, leading the team in homers and OPS and Alex Rios who is hitting well over .300 while driving in a team high 29 runs this season. Joakim Soria bolsters their bullpen with a stellar 2.25 ERA while converting 11 of his 12 save opportunities in 2014.  

Another interesting storyline is the recent activation of 2-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana from the DL. Santana had been rehabbing for most of the season and is finally ready to get a shot at the rotation. This means that a starter will most likely be temporarily moved to the bullpen to make room for Johan.  All three starters in the series seem to be the most obvious choices to be moved although I don't believe that any of the five starters has pitched poorly enough to warrant a move to the bullpen.  Miguel Gonzalez was recently placed in the bullpen to allow Kevin Gausman a spot start in a similar situation and it appears that Gonzalez could have the inside track to the pen due to the success he had when put in that situation earlier.

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