Russ Ortiz will have to stop one of baseball’s best lineups to earn his eighth win.
Ortiz has been one of the National League’s best pitchers with a 7-1 record and a 3.66 ERA in his first season with the Braves. The right-hander has won six of his last eight starts.
With a win on Tuesday, Ortiz can join Colorado’s Shawn Chacon as the only 8-game winners in the NL.
Ortiz will have his hands full against a Rangers lineup that features Hank Blalock, the AL’s leading hitter, and four players in the top-10 in home runs. Texas leads the majors with 89 home runs.
The Rangers have a .270 team batting average led by Blalock’s .352 mark. Texas sluggers Alex Rodriguez (16 home runs), Juan Gonzalez (16), Carl Everett (14) and Rafael Palmeiro (13) each have at least 13 home runs.
Much like last season, the Rangers penchant for scoring runs hasn’t been enough to overcome their poor pitching. They are at the bottom of the majors with a league-high 5.87 ERA.
Texas dipped five games under .500 after dropping three of four to the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend. Rodriguez hit his 16th home run on Monday, but it wasn’t enough as Texas suffered a 5-4 loss to the Orioles on Sunday.
“We’ve got to put ourselves in position to win games,” Rodriguez said Sunday. “We have to rally ourselves. A day off won’t hurt.”
Atlanta has a 4 1/2 game lead in the NL East and hopes to add to that as interleague play begins. The Braves took advantage of interleague play last year, going 15-3 against the AL.
Atlanta is hoping to bounce back from back-to-back loss to the New York Mets. The Braves gave up eight runs in the sixth inning as they lost 10-4 to New York on Sunday.
Atlanta and Texas met for the first time last year in Arlington. The Braves swept a three-game series, scoring a total of 28 runs and had a .336 batting average.
STANDINGS: Rangers - 4th place, 12 GB, AL West. Braves - 1st place, NL East.
RANGERS PROBABLE STARTER: Ismael Valdes (5-2, 4.98 ERA). Valdes is 3-0 with a 3.78 ERA in his last three outings. The 29-year-old allowed two runs, four hits and a walk in 5 2-3 innings to earn his second win over the Orioles in seven days with an 8-4 decision on Thursday. The right-hander is 4-4 with a 3.42 ERA in 11 career starts against Atlanta.
BRAVES PROBABLE STARTER: Ortiz (7-3, 3.66 ERA). Ortiz held Cincinnati to two runs and two hits as the Braves picked up a 15-3 win on Wednesday.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Rangers - Blalock, .352 avg.; Rodriguez and Gonzalez, 16 HRs; Everett, 42 RBIs and 46 runs; Rodriguez, 6 SBs. Braves - Gary Sheffield, .349 avg., 14 HRs and 48 RBIs; Rafael Furcal, 54 runs and 10 SBs.
2002 INTERLEAGUE RECORD: Rangers - 9-9; Braves - 15-3.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Rangers - Texas has had an ERA over 5.00 in each of the past two seasons. The Rangers ranked 27th in the majors with a 5.15 mark in 2002 and they ranked last with a 5.71 team ERA in 2001. … 1B Palmeiro’s 32 interleague homers are the most by any player since interleague play began in 1997. … Texas won a club-record six games in NL parks last year. Braves - Atlanta leads the NL in batting average, home runs, runs, total bases and slugging percentage. … SS Furcal leads the majors with 54 runs and 78 hits. … OF Andruw Jones hit .538 with two homers and six RBIs in three games against Texas last season. He needs to hit two home runs by Thursday to replace Hank Aaron as the youngest player to hit 200 home runs.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 11-16 on the road; Braves - 19-9 at home.
INJURIES: Rangers - IF Herbert Perry (shoulder), 15-day DL; OF Doug Glanville (hamstring), 15-day DL; RHP Chan Ho Park (back), 15-day DL; RHP Jeff Zimmerman (elbow), 60-day DL; OF Rusty Greer (neck), 60-day DL. Braves - RHP Paul Byrd (elbow), 15-day DL.