Keys to victory: Toronto

Another game, another handful of offensive woes in Cleveland. The first four game series of the year begins tonight in Toronto with the Rangers hoping to keep their road trip from getting out of hand. John Vittas explains how in the latest Keys To Victory.

Texas Rangers (8-13) at Toronto Blue Jays (11-10)

Pitching Matchups

Friday, 6:07 PM: Robinson Tejeda (2-1, 3.55) vs. RHP Josh Towers (1-2, 3.44)

Saturday, 12:07 PM: Kevin Millwood (2-3, 5.46) vs. LHP Gustavo Chacin (2-1, 5.32)

Sunday, 12:07 PM: Brandon McCarthy (1-3, 9.00) vs. Tomo Ohka (1-2, 6.23)

Monday, 6:07 PM: Vicente Padilla (0-3, 5.79) vs. Roy Halladay (3-0, 2.58)

Series Facts:
Since 2002, the Rangers are 31-12 against the Blue Jays, which is the best record of any A.L. team…Michael Young is a lifetime .348 hitter against Toronto with a .552 slugging percentage, the highest against any American League team in his career…Josh Towers is 0-3 with a 7.90 ERA in five outings against Texas.

Keys To Victory
1. The big inning

Yesterday afternoon's loss to Cleveland was a prime example of just what kind of struggles the Rangers bats have been mired in this season. With the bases loaded and no outs in the first, Mark Teixeira hit into a double play and Sammy Sosa grounded out to end the inning. Full sacks, no outs, and nothing to show for it. That first frame basically set the tone for the remainder of the afternoon. Later in the game, with starter Paul Byrd still in the game, Kenny Lofton led off an inning with a deep drive to the alley in right-center for an easy triple. However, the Rangers again stranded a runner and ended the inning with a goose egg on the board. When you're a team that's sputtering along as badly as the Rangers are, you absolutely cannot let opportunities like that go by the wayside without capitalizing on them. Ron Washington stated earlier in the week that he's trying to rid the tea of the notion that they're a bunch of power hitters, and the Rangers did manage to scrape across a run in the second inning with the small ball approach. But in all, the club left Cleveland with a 2 for 16 afternoon with runners in scoring position.2. Rally behind Rob/Protect Padilla
One positive consistency the Rangers have shown so far this season is the performance out of their #4 man in the starting rotation. Minus one rocky start against the Devil Rays, Robinson Tejeda has been outstanding and hasn't shown any signs at all of reverting back to his old ways before his late season recall to the majors in 2006. If there's one guy who has given the Rangers an ample opportunity to win practically every time he takes the mound, it's been Tejeda. The offense responds when he's pitching as well, scoring just over five runs a game when the righty is on the hill. And now part two of this one: Let the record show that Vicente Padilla really hasn't pitched that badly this season outside of a bad first start in Anaheim and again recently in Chicago. But while his pitching lines appear to reflect badly on his performances, perhaps more than anything it's been shaky defense in the field behind him that's victimized Padilla . Take for example April 14th in Seattle, when two errors on consecutive plays caused the Rangers to unravel and gift wrapped a four run inning for the Mariners. Then in the second inning on Wednesday, Ian Kinsler botched a double play with the bases loaded by that caused two runs to score and turned a way out of a precarious position into a full-fledged disaster. Vicente Padilla has been doing his part. The defense must do theirs.

3. Stop pressing
It's easier said than done when you're playing as poorly as the Rangers are at the moment. It's also about the worst thing that can happen to a team on the skids. Signs of a frustrated ballclub began to leak out all over the Jacobs Field turf yesterday afternoon. Mark Teixeira slammed his bat to the ground after popping out during one of his times to bat in an 0 for 5 afternoon. His .240 slugging percentage is now at the very bottom of the American League. Michael Young collected a hit, but it was his only time on base and he showed his displeasure by practically snapping a bat in half. On Wednesday, the six, seven, and eight hitters in the lineup (Hank Blalock, Nelson Cruz, Brad Wilkerson) went a combined 0 for 13 with 11 strikeouts. This is a rattled team right now and it's starting to show on the field. Were it not Ron Washington behind the helm of this ship, you should be worried regardless of how early it is in the year. But once again, here is a man who believes that patience is a virtue and more importantly than that, believes in his players. Like I said, trying to turn a team that swings for the fences into one that swings for the run-producing base hit hasn't been easy for the Rangers. But through this team's struggles, in almost every story or game recap, there's a quote from Washington talking about the faith he has in his club and the belief he has they'll be able to turn things around. You've got to believe that kind of devotion to a group of guys surely won't go unnoticed and that sooner or later things will click for this ballclub. e

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