Series Preview: Yankees (24-16) @ Rangers (23-17)

The Yankees continue their West-Coast trip with a visit to their friendly neighborhood Texas Rangers. This series is a homecoming of sorts, as Alex Rodriguez faces off against the team that originally gave him his megabucks, and the Yankees get to see how Alfonso Soriano is adjusting to life outside of pinstripes. The Rangers are in second place this season, thanks to their pitching.

Yes, you read that correctly and no, it isn't a typo.  The Rangers starting pitching has been much better this season than it had been in recent years.  Kenny Rogers - who the Yankees will not face - looks reborn and Ryan Drese looks sharp.  Their bullpen trio of Jay Powell, Francisco Cordero and Carlos Almanzar have been lights-out as well. 

Texas' patented strategy of tons of offense and no pitching has shifted slightly.  Their tons of offense still exists, even without A-Rod, thanks to Alfonso Soriano, Michael Young and Hank Blalock.  Young is second in the AL in batting average and RBI, Blalock leads the league in home runs and RBI and Soriano is busy doing his regular thing (.297 BA, five home runs, five steals). 

Texas is a force to be reckoned with offensively, but their pitching success probably won't last.   They've dropped both of their last two series, one to the Tigers and the other to the Royals, neither of whom can be considered good teams.

The Yankees, meanwhile, haven't lost a series in about a month after sweeping Oakland and Kansas City and defeating Oakland again, Seattle twice and Anaheim twice.  Texas is their last opponent from the West Coast for a while, but the Yanks still have two more road series after this one. 

The starting pitching seems to be finally coming around as Mike Mussina has won his last four starts, Vazquez looked excellent in his last outing, Brown is still undefeated and Lieber has looked solid.  The question remains about the fifth starter, however.  It seems now that Contreras will start on Friday, as opposed to Tanyon Sturtze, who the Yankees acquired from the Dodgers.  Neither option is a good one, as far as I'm concerned.

Yankees Road Record: 11-9        Last 10: 7-3
Rangers Home Record: 14-8        Last 10: 4-6

2003 Series Results: Texas won, 5-4

Key Matchups:  E. Young vs. Brown: 12/38... Jordan vs. Vazquez: 12/29... All Yankees vs. Benoit: 7/31 (.226), one home run... All Yankees vs. Drese: 12/33 (.364)... All Yankees vs. Dickey: 3/11 (.273), three doubles.

Probable Pitchers:

Friday: Kevin Brown (5-0, 3.13) vs. Joaquin Benoit (1-1, 5.10)
Lost in the A-Rod/Soriano business is Brown, who was originally drafted by the Rangers and spent the first eight seasons of his career there.  Of course, that was about 18 years ago, so it probably doesn't mean too much to Brown.  Brown still hasn't lost a start, and defeated the Mariners in his last appearance.

Benoit is coming off of nearly identical back-to-back starts against Detroit, one of which he lost, the other he didn't figure in the decision.  This is just his fifth start of the season.

Saturday: Jose Contreras (1-2, 9.47) vs. Ryan Drese (2-1, 2.83)
Contreras has never faced the Rangers before, and throwing him into that stadium as a Welcome-Back present hardly seems nice.  I'm looking for him to be knocked around here, possibly without mercy.  If he falters, he'll likely be banished to AAA or the bullpen and the Yanks will trade for someone like Freddy Garcia ASAP.

Drese has been the Rangers' best starter so far.  He hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of his appearances, despite a fairly ugly walk rate (16 in 41 innings).  He doesn't give up too many hits, but he doesn't have the track record to suggest that he's for real.  But for now, a hot pitcher is just as good as a "real" pitcher.

Sunday: Javier Vazquez (3-4, 3.58) vs. R.A. Dickey (4-3, 5.06)
Vazquez gets his first career start against the Rangers, just a shame it has to come on their turf.  Javy was brilliant in his last start, shutting out Anaheim for seven innings in what turned out to be an extra-innings loss for the Yanks.  The two starts before that were unpleasant, but let's put that behind us, shall we?

After a hot stretch that included a three-start win streak, Dickey has really cooled off. His ERA over his last three appearances is an unsightly 8.81 and he's been touched for 30 hits in his last 14.1 innings.  Looks like that missing ligament is starting to take it's toll.

Predictions and Prognostications: Things could get ugly in this series, mostly for some pitchers' ERAs.  These two offenses are probably going to bring the house down, and I'm definitely predicting unpleasant things for Contreras.  Poor guy, he just misses his family.  Might get sent back home though if he keeps up this kind of performance.  Yanks continue their series streak and win two of three.

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