Weekend Series to Test Texas Rangers' Makeup

Ian KwasowskiContributor IMay 14, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 01:  Starting pitcher John Lackey #41 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim delivers a pitch in the second inning against the Boston Red Sox during game one of the American League Division Series at Angel Stadium on October 1, 2008 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Tomorrow at 7:05 pm Texas will face off with its division rivals, the Los Angeles Angels.

The Halos have completely dominated the A.L. West for the past few seasons, but after stumbling out of the gates in 2009 due to injuries, they've managed to arrive in Arlington with a record of 17-15.

That's good enough for a second place berth in the West, two games behind the first place Rangers. Friday night's game is the first time the two teams have met in the young season, and will begin an important weekend where both ballclubs will look to test each other's mettle.

Friday sees Joe Saunders (5-1) attempt to continue his hotstreak against Rangers ace Kevin Millwood (3-3). Saunders' most recent victory came at the expense of the heralded Zack Greinke, blanking the Royals in Anaheim on May 9.

The Texas offense has struggled to give Millwood adequate run support lately, leading to his .500 record. His career ERA is an uninspiring 4.65 in seven starts against Texas, so look for Kevin Millwood to continue his 2009 success while Rangers' sluggers attempt to redeem themselves.

Saturday night expects the return of native Texan John Lackey, who began the season on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation. He's got a .500 career record against the Rangers in 27 starts and must prove he can go the distance.

Unfortunately for Lackey, he'll make his season debut on the road against one of the American League's most potent lineups.

Don't count him out, though. His presence for Los Angeles has been sorely missed and Lackey's teammates will be ready to back him up. He'll be facing the enigmatic right-hander Vicente Padilla, who's pitched two straight games of one-hit ball. This'll be an important one to watch, much like Sunday afternoon.

The Jered Weaver-Scott Feldman duel takes place in broad daylight Sunday, highlighting two pitchers who've seen recent success on the mound. Weaver (3-1) leads the Angels in strikeouts with 35 and lowest ERA at a daunting 2.45.

The Rangers' bats have proven vulnerable to elite pitching talent and have often been forced to mount late rallies to get the job done when failing to score runs early in games.

What Weaver can do remains to be seen, as Feldman has embraced his return to the rotation, winning both his starts. Feldman will attempt to avoid going 1-4 in his career to the Angels Sunday.

The availability of Texas closer Frank Francisco will be questionable, as he sat out the series with Seattle due to a case of bicep tendinitis.

Francisco played catch Thursday, which led to widespread hope that he'll be around this weekend. He's been everything the Rangers could have hoped for and more, going 9-for-9 in save situations, retaining a 0.00 ERA.

Los Angeles has gone to its bullpen frequently in the series with Boston this week, utilizing four different relievers for at least an inning of work on Thursday night. Expect the Rangers to take advantage and attack the Angels pitching the entire weekend as they battle to solidify their place at the top of the division.

Texas hits the road next Tuesday and would be in a great position to continue their success if they can take care of business at home the next three days.