Kevin Millwood get the season rolling Monday in LA
The Rangers are set to open their 2007 campaign Monday night against the Los Angeles Angels. Today, Rangers Insider takes a look at some of keys to beginning the season on a winning note.
Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels
Monday, 9:05 CST: Kevin Millwood vs. John Lackey
Tuesday, 9:05 CST: Vicente Padilla vs. Kelvim Escobar
Wednesday, 2:35 PM: Brandon McCarthy vs. Ervin Santana
Series Facts: The Rangers haven't won an opening series since taking two of three from the Detriot Tigers in 1999.
Keys To Victory
1. Control Vlad
It's usually the case for basically every team in baseball, but none more so than the Texas Rangers. For his career, Vlad the Impaler has amassed a white hot .431 average off Texas pitching. According to STATS Inc., that also just happens to be the highest batting average among active players with at least 150 at-bats against a particular team. And, when he went 0 for 1 (with four walks) against the Rangers on August 5th of last year, it marked the end of a massive 44 game hitting streak against Texas pitching. Not to mention the fact that he's also batting just over .300 (18-59) all-time against Kevin Millwood. So how do you stop him? Well, you already know the guy can hit basically everything. I would suspect that pitching around him is the likely choice, although throw something down low and he'll golf it into right center for a double. Try to get one in on the letters, like Brad Penny of the Dodgers did during last year's All-Star Game, and he'll take you out of the park. Basically, if there is some sort book of rules on how to pitch to a guy with Spiderman arms like Vladimir Guerrero, then I'd like to see it.
2. Frustrate John Lackey
Over the years, Opening Day starter John Lackey has shown he has the capability of evolving into one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. But in the past, the Rangers have been able to take advantage when he's scuffling and have made him pay. In a game last August, Lackey was wild and the Texas offense jumped on the occasion by working the native Texan for six walks and touching him up for a grand slam. In another late season outing, an all but eliminated Ranger team lit up Lackey and a slovenly defense in the field behind him for six runs and ten hits and chased him after just four innings. In his career against the Rangers, the Angels pitcher has a 5.63 ERA. He's good, but he's also human. Not to mention the fact that there's no Jerad Weaver or noted Ranger killer Bartolo Colon to worry about this time around the Angel rotation.
3. Don't fear the bullpen
It's the opening week of the season, it's Los Angeles, it's K-Rod. The last thing you want to see is one of the best closers in the game standing on the hill with your team behind in the ninth inning, and with a team earned run average in the 3's last season, Rodriguez returns as the back end of possibly one of the most lethal bullpens in baseball. Last season he led the majors in saves with 47, struck out 98 guys in 73 innings while posting a 1.73 ERA. He still has Scot Sheilds to flank him on one side and is now aided by Justin Speier, a free agent pickup from the Blue Jays during the off-season. Between the aforementioned Sheilds, Hector Carrasco, and off-season pickup Darren Oliver, the Angels bullpen features three guys who can also start if necessary. It's a dangerous group of guys to have to face when you're behind late in a game, and quite possibly the perfect type of setting to see how the tutelage of Rudy Jaramillo has worked out for a reprogrammed Hank Blalock.