One reason the St. Louis Cardinals last year became the majors' first 100-win team since 2011 was their dominance at Busch Stadium, where they went 55-26 and swept eight series.
This year, St. Louis is 15-18 when playing at home, one reason why it trails the Chicago Cubs by 9 1/2 games in the National League Central. And if this weekend is any indication, the Cardinals may not make up much ground or keep pace.
That's because the Texas Rangers are heading to town to start a weekend series Friday night. At 42-25, Texas owns a 6 1/2-game lead in the American League West over Seattle and is 18-15 on the road.
With a 5-1 victory Thursday in Oakland, the Rangers took three of four from the Athletics and improved to 5-2 on a 10-game road trip which started with a two-of-three win against Seattle.
Texas clubbed 11 homers in the series at Oakland, one of the majors' best pitchers' parks. The outburst included four Wednesday night, when the Rangers wiped out a 5-0 lead against A's ace Sonny Gray and posted a 7-5 win.
"It was a huge win for us," Texas manager Jeff Banister told texas.rangers.com. "It did not look good but it was another chapter in the book these guys have been writing this year."
The Rangers are deep and balanced, enabling them to overcome off years from Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland, who are hitting .197 and .232, respectively. They've gotten a huge bounceback year from Ian Desmond, the former Washington shortstop who signed as an outfielder and has merely batted a team-high .310 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs.
The 30-year old Desmond, who was seen by many as a cautionary tale after turning down a huge multi-year contract offer from the Nationals early last year and then settling for a one-year deal with Texas in late February, could play in next month's All-Star Game.
Ace left-hander Cole Hamels (6-1, 3.14) starts the series opener for Texas. Hamels is coming off a 6-4 victory Sunday over Seattle, allowing only four hits and a run in seven innings with two walks and five strikeouts. He's 3-4 in 12 career starts against St. Louis.
Michael Wacha (2-6, 4.91) looks for his first win since April 23 when he takes the mound for the Cardinals. Wacha at least has a good start to build off, holding Pittsburgh to two runs off three hits and three walks with five strikeouts on June 10 in St. Louis' 9-3, 12-inning victory.
After posting a season-high five-game winning streak on a road trip through NL Central rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the Cardinals resumed their home field disadvantage with 5-2 and 4-1 losses to Houston in a two-game interleague set.
"We just couldn't put enough pressure on them," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.