The Texas Rangers have looked unstoppable while sweeping the Boston Red Sox under the mat in opening weekend. People were still skeptical and said the bottom half of the Rangers rotation consisting of Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando would falter. The duo stunned everyone and had arguably better outings than C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis.
The next challenge on their path to a 6-0 record to start a year on a mission to silence critics calling the 2010 AL Pennant a fluke, was the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez. The Rangers smoked the Seattle Mariners 7-3, beating King Felix and increased their winning streak to six games.
Now they get long-time nemesis, but recent ally, Vladimir Guerrero and the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles have a revamped lineup featuring Guerrero, Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee. This is a much improved Orioles squad, but i still don't see them doing too hot this year. They might luck their way into third place in the AL East, and that is if their old veterans don't come limping in at the end of the race.
One thing that the Orioles have done, almost, is match the Rangers step for step with a very young, unheard of rotation.
In game one of the three game series, the O's will throw Zach Britton (of Weatherford H.S., Texas) while the Rangers counter with Colby Lewis. Britton has great stuff. I was 0 for 2 against him in high school. He's a strongly built lefty that can reach back and throw 95, with very good off-speed pitches. He had his big league debut in the third game of the year against the Tampa Bay Rays and only gave up one run on three hits in six innings work while giving up three walks and striking out six.
Lewis looked sharp in his first outing against Boston. He had good command of his pitches and had a lot of confidence. This should be a very good battle between a seasoned veteran and the top ranked lefty prospect coming out of Baltimore.
Saturday will pit together Matt Harrison and Jake Arrieta. Be prepared for a pitchers duel. This will be the low scoring game of the series. Ranger hitters are hitting .224 off Arrieta over the last five years. If Harrison can look as sharp against the Birds as he did against the Sox, look for a Ranger win here.
Sundays finale match-up has not officially been announced, but I would guess you'll see Derek Holland versus Chris Tillman. Tillman is a tall, lanky righty that can get on top of the ball and throw it down hill. This is how he can be effective. Although his numbers don't show it, he can pounce on a good hitting squad. This will be a great test against a solid Rangers line-up.
Holland looked great against the Mariners. He had a low 90's fastball that looked even faster. His command was on and his confidence was through the roof. Nothing is harder to face as a hitter than when you look into the pitchers eyes, and the guy on the hill knows he is better than you, even if he is not.
Hopefully Vlad doesn't say "Hi" to his former teammates by continuing his dominance against them. I thought the signing last year was just so he couldn't hit .450 of us any longer.
If the Rangers want to win the series, or even sweep, they can if they use their versatility. This is something that will need to play out quickly however. They are facing young pitching that they won't have deep scouting reports on. To beat Britton and Arrieta, they must stay away from doing what they do best, which is hitting the long ball, and play small ball.
Every baserunner will be vital in this series. The Rangers must use their speed to steal bases and then sacrifice runners over for optimal scoring chances. It's time to lay the ego's down (which are rightfully deserved) start to lay bunts down.
This is what is so special about the Rangers right now. If you need to steal or bunt, you've got Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Julio Borbon and Andres Blanco. If you need situational hitting, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Mitch Moreland and Michael Young can be called upon. For that dagger-in-the-back homerun, Hamilton, Cruz, Kinsler and Adrian Beltre have the ability to get it done. Just refer to the claws and antlers.
This is a complete team that can sweep the O's in Baltimore. It's Time.