The Texas Rangers and Oakland A's face each other for the first three games of 19 between the two this season. The A's are the two-time defending AL West champions and once again find themselves at the top of the division. The Rangers, thanks to a solid homestand, are right with the A's, making this series particularly interesting this early in the season. A few things to watch:
* Bullpens. Oakland has had one of the best bullpens in the big leagues for years, but it's gone through some flux this year. Still, the A's relief ERA is second to the Red Sox in the AL. Jim Johnson lost his closer job after a rough start, but the A's have cobbled together enough arms to get the job done. The Rangers' bullpen had a slow start, but has come on of late as players have figured out their roles. Alexi Ogando has improved and has provided some late-inning relief to get the game to closer Joakim Soria. If these games are close -- and they should be -- watch those bullpens.
* Yu Darvish. The Rangers' ace goes Monday to lead off the series in a place where he hasn't had much success. In two starts in Oakland (one in each of the last two years), Darvish is 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA. Walks have been the biggest reason as he's had 12 in those two starts (10 1/3 innings) and three homers allowed. He has just eight strikeouts in those outings.
* Run support. Darvish has allowed just two runs in 22 innings this season and has just two runs of support. Can the offense give him a little more to work with in Oakland? Two of the hitters that bother Darvish the most are Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Moss, who are both hitting over .300 in their careers off Darvish.
* Offense. The Rangers' offense found its stride during the 10-game homestand, though it took a visit from the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox to do it since they couldn't muster much against the Astros, despite winning two out of three from them. Texas is first in the AL in batting average at .272, third in on-base percentage (.343) and fifth in slugging (.401). Oakland, meanwhile, has the seventh-best batting average, but is fourth in runs scored (while the Rangers are fifth). The A's make the most out of their opportunities.
* Prince Fielder. He showed signs of getting things going at the plate during the club's 10-game homestand. Both of his homers were hit during the homestand. And it's clear that opposing managers still fear him. Fielder has been walked intentionally eight times this season -- all during the last 10 games -- and leads the league in that category. Part of the reason: Adrian Beltre isn't hitting behind him anymore.
* Kevin Kouzmanoff. But the strategy of walking Fielder to get to Kouzmanoff, Beltre's replacement at third, hasn't worked. He's been flirting with a .400 average for the past week (he's now hitting .366) and hit safely in his first 10 games as a Ranger until the streak was snapped Sunday. Kouzmanoff has seven extra-base hits in fill-in duty for Beltre with nine RBI.
* Youngster vs. youngster. The final game of this series features a fun pitching matchup with 23-year-old Martin Perez against 24-year-old Sonny Gray. Both pitchers have ERAs under 2.00 this season and are 3-0. Runs will likely be at a premium.