As the interleague schedule begins full-bore (ignoring the whopping one series played last month), there are a lot of good matchups. Five of the 14 series feature teams with 30 wins apiece facing off. But there is one series that stands out more than the others, pitting the team holding the best record in the American League against a team from the National League with the same record, good for third in the league. That is the matchup in San Francisco pitting the Rangers against the Giants.
These two teams are going in opposite directions since April, though. The Rangers paced baseball with a 17-6 record, but are just 16-19 since. Their lead over the heavily hyped Angels has been slashed from nine game down to four games in the five plus weeks since April concluded. As for the Giants, they only had a 12-10 April, putting them 3.5 games behind the red hot Dodgers to start the year. The Giants are 21-15 since that start, but have actually lost a half game on the Dodgers, who continue to merrily march along at the top of the NL West.
The Giants' offense isn't nearly as bad as it was last year, despite their 35 homers being the second lowest total in the NL. The main reasons for the success of the offense are a pair of outfielders acquired in trades this offseason: Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan. Cabrera, brought in from the Royals for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, leads the NL with 87 hits and has a .934 OPS in his second tour of duty in the NL, while also adding ten stolen bases. Pagan, acquired from the Mets in a swap for Andres Torres, has an .832 OPS and 12 steals. San Francisco is also getting a shocking amount of contributions from journeyman Gregor Blanco, who has an .858 OPS in 48 games with the team.
The shocking contributions from these three are seemingly overshadowing the pefromance of San Francisco's usual offensive contributors. Buster Posey is still raking with an .828 OPS behind the plate, but Pablo Sandoval has only played in 24 games this year. Youngster Brandon Belt has struggled despite an uptick in playing time, OPSing just .700 for the season without a homer.
The Giants' pitching staff has performed about as well as could be expected, with a 3.27 ERA that is the third best in the NL. Unfortunately for the Giants, their two best starters (Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner) will not be getting starts this series. Tonight's game will be started by Barry Zito, who has a 2.98 ERA despite a strikeout rate of 5.29 and a walk rate of 3.80. A .237 BABIP has certainly helped with that low ERA. Game two on Saturday will see Ryan Vogelsong go to the hill. Despite a 2.38 ERA, Vogelsong's 6.49 strikeout rate and 3.44 walk rate don't project a ton of future success, and the .262 BABIP indicates he's been quite lucky as well. Sunday's game three puts Tim Lincecum on the hill. The two-time Cy Young winner has been unlucky this year, despite striking out over a batter per inning. He's walking 4.75 batters per nine, by far a career high, and has been doomed by a .324 BABIP and a 60.9% strand rate, signifying that things just aren't going his way. He's been nowhere near as bad as his 5.83 ERA indicates.
Now, the Rangers. Their offense is still dynamic, with an .802 OPS for the season. Josh Hamilton leads them with an 1.094 OPS and 21 homers for the year, just silly totals for early June. Aside from Hamilton though, the offense isn't as frightening as it was last year. The only regular aside from Hamilton with a SLG at .500 or better is third baseman Adrian Beltre, who clocks in right at .500. Beltre and catcher Mike Napoli are the only non-Hamilton Rangers with double digit homers with ten apiece. While the Rangers aren't overflowing with power like last year, they do get on base at a good clip. Three starters have OBPs of at least .360, while two members of the bench do as well.
Texas's pitching staff has been on a downswing lately, and the injury to Neftali Feliz hasn't helped them out much in that regard. They'll pit Matt Harrison against Zito tonight. Like Zito, Harrison has a low strikeout rate, but his walk rate is also much lower than Zito's. Scott Feldman, who replaced Feliz in the rotation, will start game two against Vogelsong. Feldman has not been good this year in either a starting or relieving role. In 25 2/3 innings, he has a 7.01 ERA, 14 strikeouts, 13 walks, and has allowed four homers. Not good. Game three will see Alexi Ogando make his first start of the year, replacing the now disabled Derek Holland. Ogando has been a monster working out of the bullpen for Texas this year, striking out 33 and walking only seven in 31 2/3 innings.
I'm not sure if this series is too difficult to predict. The Rangers have been scuffling lately, losing three straight series to AL West rivals. The Giants on the other hand are fresh off three series wins against the Diamondbacks, Cubs, and Padres. With the current state of affairs of the Rangers pitching staff, I'm going to say that the Giants win the first two games of the series, and that the final game is more of a low-scoring affair that Texas comes out on top of.
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