Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 5/7/12

Getting this one up a little late today due to the extremely busy news day....sorry about that. By the time you're reading this, the first game in the series will have already begun (and possibly concluded), so we'll see how accurate my analysis is pretty quickly, right? Anyway, there is a very weak slate of games going during this week. There are a total of four series between teams at .500, and the rest is filler. So we've got slim pickings here, but this Rangers-Orioles series, between two of the teams playing the best this season, seems like a really good choice. I just featured the Orioles a week ago, and the Rangers got featured a couple of weeks ago, so there won't be a ton of meat to this series spotlight.

The Orioles are six games into a 15 game stretch where I said they'd be lucky if they finished 5-10 during. Six games in, the Orioles are 5-1. They could not win another game for a week and a half, and they'd still be at a mark that I considered a success. That's some pretty extraordinary stuff. The Rangers on the other hand, have hit a tough patch lately. They still have a nice lead in the AL West, but have lost three straight series to the Rays, Blue Jays, and Indians, with only the Rays series happening in Arlington. The Rangers will conclude a ten game road trip with four in Baltimore, while the Orioles are kicking off a nine game homestand. The Rays and Yankees will be following the Rangers into Charm City over the next week and a half.

In Boston this weekend, the Orioles feasted on a weak Red Sox pitching staff, scoring 23 runs (but doing it over 39 innings as opposed to 27). The sweep of the Red Sox came with a price however, as the Orioles were forced to use 23 innings worth of relief pitching. At least two of those came from DH Chris Davis. As a result of the exhausting weekend for the bullpen, Baltimore made a pair of roster moves today, demoting Tommy Hunter (who started on Sunday) and backup catcher Ronny Paulino, while promoting pitchers Jason Berken and Stu Pomeranz from AAA Norfolk. At the very least, that should give the bullpen some breathing room this week.

The Rangers are coming off of a disappointing series loss in Cleveland, where the only game they took came in 11 innings on Saturday. The dynamic Texas offense only scored 10 runs during the series, and starters Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish were both saddled with their first losses of the year. Darvish didn't pitch that poorly, but Lewis got shelled for 10 hits and six runs. Unlike the Orioles, Texas's bullpen is well-rested, only throwing seven innings over the last three games. It's a night and day comparison between the two teams.

The pitching matchups over the series look largely even, but the Orioles catch a break by missing Darvish. The Rangers will have to face Baltimore's terrifying threesome of Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen, and Jason Hammel over the final three games of the series. Chen and Hammel both have ERAs under 3.00, while Arrieta is at 3.52. Arrieta has a near four to one strikeout to walk ratio, while Hammel has struck out nearly a batter per inning. While Chen has the low ERA, his underlying peripherals aren't that impressive, and he's really only grouped with the other two starters based on that ERA. Brian Matusz will start tonight, and he's coming off two quality starts against top notch offenses in the Blue Jays and Yankees. He may have finally turned the corner.

As for the Rangers, Matt Harrison (who's allowed 14 earned runs over his last 8 1/3 innings) will oppose Matusz on Monday, and Neftali Feliz (coming off his worst start of the year against the Blue Jays last week) will take on Arrieta on Tuesday. Lewis (who had a poor start this weekend) opposes Chen on Wednesday, and the best pitching matchup of the series happens on Thursday, with Derek Holland taking on Hammel. Holland allowed one run over seven 1/3 innings in his last start, but allowed 12 runs in 13 innings prior to that start.

The Rangers offense has struggled lately with Adrian Beltre confined to pinch hitting duty since last Monday. He's expected to start tonight, though. Texas's other offensive superstars, Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton, have both struggled this week as well. They've combined for just one extra base hit over the last week, which isn't a good sign for the Rangers at all. Baltimore on the other hand, has 12 homers over the last six games. Catcher Matt Wieters is continuing his fantastic season after a ten hit week, and the defensively inept Mark Reynolds has two homers and six RBI this year. He's also walked mroe than he's struck out, which is stunning for him.

Now, the pick. Over the course of the season, the Rangers are pretty much universally regarded as one of the best teams in baseball. But right now, they're in a bit of a rut, and the O's are surging. I'm going to go a little crazy and predict that Baltimore's hot streak continues, and they take three out of four games, with the lone loss coming on Wednesday.

Photos courtesy of Daylife.com

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This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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