Series Preview: Oakland A's v. Texas Rangers

The Oakland A's make their first trip to Texas, as they take on the Texas Rangers for a short, two-game series. Oakland rallied for two wins over the weekend against the Angels of Anaheim to even their first homestand record at 3-3. They'll look to extend their win streak against Texas on Monday.

Who: Oakland A's (6-6) (W-2) vs. Texas Rangers (6-7) (W-1)
When: April 18-19
Where: The Ballpark at Arlington

Series Overview: The A's will meet the Rangers for the first time this season on Monday in the first of what will eventually be 19 meetings. The A's and Rangers had a spirited rivalry last season, complete with tight games, pennant races and chair-tossing relievers. That rivalry seemed to have carried over into spring training, where the A's and Rangers exchanged in a bit of bean-ball with numerous players being hit by pitches in their spring meetings. One of those beanings eventually resulted in Bobby Crosby's fractured ribs. Look for things to get testy in Texas if the starting pitchers plunk anyone early.

Two weeks into the season, the A's are still trying to find themselves, especially offensively. Despite their struggles at the plate, Oakland has managed to go 6-6 on the season. That is especially impressive considering that three of the four clubs they have played are currently sporting .500 records or better. The A's are last in the league in nearly every offensive category right now and are being especially hurt by the early season struggles of Eric Chavez and Erubiel Durazo. Both sluggers are hitting well under .200 and neither has had much success with runners in scoring position despite having numerous opportunities. Look for the A's offense to take off when these two start hitting again.

Texas is coming off of a tough four-game series against the red-hot Toronto Blue Jays. They split the series with Toronto. Like the A's, Texas is still trying to find its rhythm offensively. The Rangers have been hurt, in part, by the early season struggles of slugger Mark Teixiera, who is hitting an uncharacteristic .208 so far this season. Like with Chavez and Durazo, it is only a matter of time before Teixiera begins to hit at his normal levels and the Rangers offense is likely to explode when that happens. Teixiera has historically had great success against Oakland.

Game One: Dan Haren (0-1, 2.77 ERA) vs. Chan Ho Park (1-0, 4.38 ERA)

A's starter Dan Haren makes his AL West debut on Monday night. He is coming off of two strong starts to begin his season. Haren got stuck with the loss on Tuesday night against Toronto, but that loss was more of a product of the A's slumbering offense then his pitching performance. Haren was nearly flawless through 3.2 innings against the Blue Jays that night, but allowed three straight hits, including a three-run homer, with two-outs in the fourth inning to give Toronto the lead they wouldn't relinquish. The A's have scored only three runs while Haren has been in the game in his two starts so far this year. Haren has had very little experience against the Rangers hitters. Gary Matthews Jr. is the only Ranger to have ever had a hit off of Haren. The former St. Louis Cardinal has limited opposing batters to a .167 BAA so far this year. He will have to be stingy with the base-runners again on Monday, as runs tend to score in bunches in Arlington.

The Rangers will send Chan Ho Park to the hill on Monday to square off with Haren. Park is a familiar foe for the A's hitters both from his time in Texas and in Los Angeles. Although he has struggled during his tenure in Texas, Park is off to a good start this season. He limited the Angels to three runs in 6.2 innings pitched in his last start and has a 0.97 WHIP so far this season. The A's have had success against Park over the past few years and will be looking to extend that run into 2005. Chavez, in particular, has hit Park well, having collected eight hits in 20 career at-bats (.400 BA). Mark Kotsay, who enters this series on a roll at the plate, is a career .304 hitter against Park in 23 lifetime at-bats. The A's will look to rest Jason Kendall during one of these two games and Monday might be that game, as back-up catcher Adam Melhuse is 2-4 with a homerun lifetime against Park, while Kendall is a .238 hitter against the Korean righty.

Game Two: Joe Blanton (0-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. Pedro Astacio (0-1, 2.57 ERA )

Rookie Joe Blanton makes his third career start on Tuesday against the Rangers. Blanton was extremely impressive in his last outing, a six inning, one-run performance where he needed only 77 pitches to get through those six frames. Like Haren, Blanton has been stingy with allowing base-runners, having allowed only 10 in his first 11 innings pitched. Blanton has been touched for two solo homeruns this year, and he will have to keep the ball down and away from the Texas hitters, as Arlington has traditionally been a good place to hit homeruns. Blanton made his major league debut against Texas last season, working a scoreless inning. Hank Blalock and Rod Barajas are the only current Rangers to have seen Blanton and neither had a hit against him in that outing.

Blanton will be opposed by right-hander Pedro Astacio, who is making a comeback after a season mostly washed out by shoulder problems. The former New York Met has been impressive in his first two starts this season, allowing only four runs in 14 innings pitched. Astacio has struck out 11 batters in those 14 innings and appears to be healthy once again. He allowed two runs in seven inning in his last start against Toronto, but he was hung with the loss in a 2-1 defeat. The top of the A's order should be busy on Tuesday, as Mark Kotsay and Jason Kendall both have long histories of success against Astacio. Kotsay has 10 hits in 27 at-bats lifetime and has worked seven walks off of Astacio. Kendall has nine hits in 21 at-bats, including a homerun against the veteran righty. Astacio appeared in five games for the Boston Red Sox towards the end of last season and made one relief appearance against Oakland. He allowed two runs in 1.2 innings pitched.