A healthy Hamilton is the spark that ignites the Rangers offense.
To any sort of baseball fan, it's no secret that the Texas Rangers are the hottest team in the majors right now as they are in the throes of an 11-game winning streak.
They're a team running on all cylinders and poised for a productive stretch run. If the Rangers are going to have any problem winning their second-straight AL West Championship, it's going to be due to the Anaheim Angels.
The Texas Rangers will start a three-game series in Anaheim today—so what better time than now for the Rangers to pad their four-game AL West lead?
Best case scenario: the Rangers sweep and increase their winning streak to 14 (tying a franchise record) and, better yet, catapulting their lead from four to seven games in the AL West.
Worst case scenario: the Rangers are swept by Jered Weaver et al—no problem, although it's never good to be swept by your divisional rivals. However, it wouldn't be the end of the world, because they'd still have a 1 game lead.
A series win would be sufficient—but the way the Rangers have been playing the last two weeks—they are much more likely to be the sweepers rather than the sweepees.
Here's a breakdown of the pitching match-ups over their three-game series in Anaheim...
This is the most visible the baseball will ever be when it is thrown your way from the right hand of Alexi Ogando.
In the Rangers' three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the pitching match-ups—especially the first one—favor the Texas Rangers.
Game 1: Alexi Ogando vs. Tyler Chatwood
This one really needs no further explanation. Alexi Ogando is coming off 12 days of rest. He's more than doubled his innings pitched output this year from last year's (counting playoffs). He also exposed a few chinks in his armor—over his last three starts, his ERA has been above four.
There was cause for concern that Ogando might be fatigued. In many ways, this start will answer many questions in regards to this supposition. Tired armed or not, Ogando's control has never wavered—over the aforementioned previous three starts he's walked only three while striking out fourteen.
Chatwood has never faced the Texas Rangers before. Chatwood is a fine pitcher, and in all likelihood will have a good Major League career. However, in his last start, he allowed 5 bases on balls—over his last three starts, the 21-year-old has walked 10.
Over that span of three games, Chatwood has a sub-three ERA. He's been getting lucky. The Rangers have the second-highest batting average in MLB at .272. If Chatwood puts runners on, he's toast. Plain and simple.
The Halo's have never faced Ogando before—at least, not as a starter. Ogando pounds the strike zone with relentless efficiency and walks few. Sure, the Anaheim Angels are the second best-hitting team in the AL West, but after the Rangers—who're number one—there's a really big drop off. In other words, Ogando can pound the zone as is his MO, and he really has little to worry about.
Take a good look. This may be your last chance at pitch recognition.
Game 2: Derek Holland vs. Dan Haren
Over his last two starts Holland has finally shown glimpses of consistency that he has been hinting at since his Major League debut in 2009.
He'll need a strong start as he's taking on an excellent pitcher in Dan Haren. Haren has had a renaissance of sorts this year, as he has been relying more and more on a cut-fastball—to great success.
Like Angels' staff ace, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren is a strikeout pitcher that does so without an overpowering fastball. Haren's ERA sits at 2.75 and puts him on pace to have his first-ever sub-three ERA in his career. In 14 career starts against the Rangers, Haren is 4-6 with a respectable 3.70 ERA.
Haren also loves pitching at Angel Stadium. Over his career there he's held the opposition to a stingy .163 batting average. For the Rangers to have success against Haren, they're going to have to attack early and attempt to get runners on. Unlike game 1 starter, Tyler Chatwood, Haren rarely issues a free pass—this season he's surrendered only 20 walks, to his 117 strikeouts.
Derek Holland is coming off—arguably—the best two game stretch of his young career. Holland has gone the distance in his last two starts and has seen his ERA drop from 5.10 to 4.38 in that span. In each of his complete games he has struck out at least 7 and not allowed more than 5 hits. Control has been an issue in his career, and in those previous two games, Holland has failed to issue a free pass to more than 2 batters—an excellent sign.
In six career starts against the Angels, Holland is 3-3 but with a rather ugly 5.03 ERA.
Not to dampen the Derek Holland parade, but his last two starts were against two of the worst hitting teams in Major League Baseball—the Oakland A's (4th from last in BA) and the Seattle Mariners (Dead last in BA).
ANGELS X-FACTOR: When Holland doesn't have his best stuff, it doesn't take long for the opposition to figure it out. Three starts ago, Holland didn't even complete one full inning as he was shellacked by the Florida Marlins. He has a tendency to try to blow away every batter when he's struggling, and the results are usually unsavory.
CJ gets to pitch in his home state of California.
Game 3: CJ Wilson vs. Jered Weaver
Manager Ron Washington juggled his pitching rotation during the Seattle Mariners series to guarantee that his ace, CJ Wilson, would get a chance to match up against the Halo's Jered Weaver.
That was an excellent call—you always want your best taking on their best.
CJ Wilson and Jered Weaver share many similarities aside from the fact that they are their team's number one starter.
Jered Weaver was born in Northridge, CA just about a one-hour drive (barring Cali traffic) from Wilson's hometown of Fountain, Valley, CA.
Both are—perhaps—in the midst of their finest seasons to date: Weaver is 12-4 with a microscopic 1.90 ERA and 123 strikeouts. Wilson is 10-3 with an ERA just inches above the two-run threshold (3.11), and has 124 K's in fewer innings pitched than Weaver.
They both love pitching in their home state of California. In two career starts at Angel Stadium, Wilson is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 12 innings pitched. Weaver is 38-17 over his five seasons pitching in Angel Stadium.
This year, Weaver is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA against the Rangers. Wilson is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA against the LAA so far this season.
This is going to be one of the best pitching match-ups of the season for these two teams—and it certainly won't be the last time these two pitchers (and teams) lock horns in 2011—after this three game series the Rangers and the Angels will face each other on 10 more occasions.
RANGERS X-FACTOR: Mike Napoli. The Rangers' free agent signing of Mike Napoli is huge in this series for two reasons: first of all it means the Rangers don't have to pitch to him—he hit .281 with 9 homers against the Rangers. Second, Napoli was the primary catcher for the Angels and is quite familiar with Jered Weaver. This cannot be discounted—as any advantage against one of the game's best is always huge.
Mike Napoli's experience catching many of the best pitchers on the Angels' staff is certainly not to be discounted.
Alexi Ogando will prove too much for the Angels' bats and the Rangers will win game one easily 4-1 and push their MLB-best win streak to 12. Ogando will go seven innings and strikeout 8. Elvis Andrus will continue to pound the ball providing multiple RBI opportunities for the Rangers' heart-of-the-order.
Derek Holland will get into trouble in the middle innings—and Dan Haren will quiet the torrid Rangers bats, as the Angels will take this game 7-4.
CJ Wilson will reign supreme in the battle of the California-born aces. Josh Hamilton will go yard, and the Rangers will win an old-fashioned pitcher's duel 3-1.
With the series win, the Rangers will be riding a nice 6-game lead in the AL West as they get ready to take on the always-troublesome Toronto Blue Jays.