Weaver strong early; Pujols/Ruth even

There's a premier pitching matchup on Sunday Night Baseball this evening with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim visiting the Texas Rangers, and 20-game winner Jered Weaver facing almost-perfect second-year man Yu Darvish.

Let's take a look at some of the top things to watch in this contest.

Weaver’s no slouch

Jered Weaver is 13-0 in his last 19 starts in March or April. That’s tied for the third-longest streak of consecutive pre-May starts without a loss in major-league history.

Weaver is 59-26 in his career before the All-Star break. That’s the best mark of any active pitcher.

Jered Weaver, Career in Arlington

In fact, among those who began their career in the All-Star era, only Pedro Martinez and Sandy Koufax have a higher winning percentage (min. 100 starts) in the first half of the season than Weaver’s current .694.

One thing to keep an eye on is that Weaver’s recent run of success has come despite a decline in velocity and strikeouts. He averaged 89.8 miles-per-hour on his fastball and averaged 9.4 strikeouts per 9 innings in 2010, numbers that dropped to 87.7 and 6.8 in 2012.

In his first start of 2013, Weaver threw 94 pitches, but never even hit 89 miles per hour with any of them.

What can Darvish accomplish on Sunday

It would be hard for Darvish to be better than he was in his first start of the season.

But a 10-strikeout performance would make him the first pitcher with back-to-back 10-strikeout games to open the season since Kerry Wood in 2002 and the first in the American League since Pedro Martinez in 2000.

Most K in 1st 2 Starts of a Season
Rangers History

It would also give him at least 24 strikeouts, surpassing team president Nolan Ryan’s 23 in 1989 as the most by a Rangers pitcher in his first two starts of the season.

The last four pitchers prior to Darvish to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning (Dave Stieb, Brian Holman, Mike Mussina and Armando Galarraga) combined to pitch 21 1/3 innings in their next start, yielding 12 earned runs.

Mussina had the best next start of that group, allowing one run in six innings against the Boston Red Sox, the same team he nearly perfected.

Pujols watch

On the 40th anniversary of the designated hitter, Albert Pujols had the best Saturday of any DH, with his 45th career multi-homer game. He passed both Willie Stargell and Stan Musial into 28th place on the all-time home run list.

Pujols may not pass anyone on the all-time home run list on Sunday, but he can surpass a legendary home-run hitter in one regard.

Pujols enters Sunday with 506 career doubles. That’s tied with Babe Ruth for 51st on the Elias Sports Bureau's all-time doubles list. Ed Delahanty and Rickey Henderson rank tied for 49th with 510.

Matchups to Watch

Mike Trout vs Darvish: Trout is 6-for-17 with two home runs in his career against Darvish. In fact, the last pitch he saw from Darvish last season was one he hit for a home run.

Trout dominated the Rangers last season, with a .338 batting average, 1.140 OPS and 17 RBI in 19 games. He’s the only player ever to have six home runs and seven steals against the Rangers in the same season.

Trout gets better with each time he faces a pitcher in a game. In 2012, he hit .291 in his first turn against a starting pitcher, then .378 and .393 in his second and third turns against them.

Josh Hamilton vs Darvish: No starting pitcher got a higher percentage of swings and misses than Darvish last season (29 percent). No hitter had a higher percentage of misses on his swings last season than Hamilton (36 percent).

Hamilton is 1-for-20 in his first five games with the Angels (remember he went 2-for-17 in his last five games with the Rangers, including the loss in the Wild Card Playoff), with 10 strikeouts in 20 at-bats. Of the 19 outs, 14 have come on pitches on the outer-half of the plate, or off the outside corner.

Mark Simon also contributed to this post