These two teams are awfully similar to one another. Each has a lefty ace -- David Price and Cliff Lee -- and each has a deep bullpen fond of shutting down opposing lineups deep into the night. Both teams score about the same amount of runs per game, get on base at roughly the same rate and use their speed to good effect on the basepaths.
That makes edges tough to find and it makes the mouth water about the kind of baseball that we'll be seeing over the next week.
Frankie Piliere's Scouting Reports: Rays | Rangers
Division Series: Twins-Yankees | Giants Braves | Phillies-Reds
|Oct. 6||Rangers 5, Rays 1 | Box Score | Ed Price||TBS||1:37 p.m.|
|Oct. 7||Rangers 6, Rays 0 | Box Score | Ed Price||TBS||2:37 p.m.|
|Oct. 9||Rays 6, Rangers 3 | Box Score | John Hickey||TBS||5:07 p.m.|
|Oct. 10||Rays 5, Rangers 2 | Box Score | John Hickey||TBS||1:07 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||Rangers 5, Rays 1 | Box Score||TBS||8:07 p.m.|
Why the Rays Will Win
The Rays aren't the kind of team we're used to seeing come out on top in the American League East. They don't have a lineup studded with power or a roster filled with high-priced superstars, and they don't beat their opponents with shows of overwhelming force. They beat them with those quaint notions of patience, defense and pitching.
There are plenty of old-timers who look at the Rays and turn up their noses at a .248 team batting average because it ranks near the bottom of the American League. Those wrinkles are keeping them from seeing that the Rays scored 802 runs this season, however. That's good for third in the league and it is a testament to prioritizing getting on base by any means necessary.
The Rays walk more than any team in the league, something that should work in their favor against a Rangers staff that has a weakness when it comes to issuing free passes. Players like Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist remain effective offensively because of their ability to draw walks and the Rays find themselves hitting with runners on base very often thanks to their discerning eyes.
They match their ability to take advantage of mistakes with an unwillingness to make them when they are in the field. The Rays are above average at almost every defensive position and offensive stars Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria double down on their value by stealing runs in the field while they are providing them at the plate.
Fielding might be the biggest edge that the Rays have in this series. The Rangers aren't a terrible fielding team, but they don't prevent runs with their gloves at the same rate as Tampa Bay.
And, as mentioned, the Rangers give more of them away with wildness from the mound. The Rays don't walk many hitters, and they posted the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the American League this season. From Price to closer Rafael Soriano, the Rays feature hurlers who pump strikes and don't beat themselves. That's the best route to success in the regular season or the postseason.
Rays Official Roster
|John Jaso (C)||Kelly Shoppach (C)||David Price (LHP)||Rafael Soriano (RHP)|
|Ben Zobrist (2B)||Sean Rodriguez (IF)||Matt Garza (RHP)||Joaquin Benoit (RHP)|
|Carl Crawford (LF)||Reid Brignac (IF)||James Shields (RHP)||Grant Balfour (RHP)|
|Evan Longoria (3B)||Rocco Baldelli (OF)||Wade Davis (RHP)||Dan Wheeler (RHP)|
|Carlos Pena (1B)||Desmond Jennings (OF)||Randy Choate (LHP)|
|Dan Johnson (DH)||Chad Qualls (RHP)|
|Matt Joyce (RF)||Jeff Niemann (RHP)|
|B.J. Upton (CF)|
|Jason Bartlett (SS)|
Why the Rangers Will Win
When we last saw the Texas Rangers in the postseason, they were a team that could slug the ball with the best of them. What they couldn't do was pitch particularly well and that's why all three of their late-'90s trips to October ended with quick losses to Yankee teams that went on to win the World Series.
It's not the late '90s anymore. The 2010 Rangers are back in the playoffs because they have a pitching staff that's the equal of any other contender in the American League. They can thank general manager Jon Daniels and his bold trade for Lee for that change of fortune.
The Rangers had a good staff before Lee arrived, but they didn't have that ace who you would count on to win two of five games and tip a series in his team's favor. He hasn't been spectacular since hitting Texas, but no one who remembers the 2009 playoffs doubts Lee's ability to swing a series in just that fashion. That cancels out Price, and C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis will give the Rangers an advantage on the mound to start the other two games.
And, in another radical departure from those old Rangers teams, they won't lose anything when the games go to the late innings. Darren O'Day, Darren Oliver and Alexi Ogando -- they should really have a nickname given the shared first initial of their last names -- have all been terrific in front of the absolutely filthy Neftali Feliz. These Rangers won't hand many games over on the mound.
That means the question is what they'll get from their lineup. Don't misunderstand that statement, because the Rangers are a highly competent offensive outfit. They scored the fourth most runs in the American League and have no problems hitting for power or getting on base, but there are concerns about the fitness of their two most dangerous hitters. Nelson Cruz had two long DL stints and Josh Hamilton enters the postseason with broken ribs that wiped out his September and maybe his shot at the MVP award.
When those two are healthy, the Rangers can put up more than enough runs to win any game. Make no mistake, though, the Rangers will win because they can pitch.
Rangers Official Roster
|Elvis Andrus (SS)||Matt Treanor (C)||Cliff Lee (LHP)||Neftali Feliz (RHP)|
|Michael Young (3B)||David Murphy (OF)||C.J. Wilson (LHP)||Darren O'Day (RHP)|
|Josh Hamilton (CF)||Mitch Moreland (IF)||Colby Lewis (RHP)||Darren Oliver (LHP)|
|Vladimir Guerrero (DH)||Andres Blanco (IF)||Tommy Hunter (RHP)||Alexi Ogando (RHP)|
|Nelson Cruz (RF)||Jeff Francoeur (OF)||Derek Holland (LHP)|
|Ian Kinsler (2B)||Esteban German (IF)||Dustin Nippert (RHP)|
|Bengie Molina (C)|
|Jorge Cantu (1B)|
|Julio Borbon (LF)|
Like we said up top, these two teams are very well matched in almost every phase of the game. That is especially true of the pitching staffs, a situation that makes it very hard to predict a winner with a ton of conviction. It is just as easy to see Lee and Wilson throwing gems as it is to see Price and Matt Garza shutting down the Rangers, and there isn't a key reliever on either side who seems particularly likely to blow a game in the late innings.
Ultimately, we keep going back to the mix of the Rangers' tendency to walk hitters and the Rays' willingness to take those walks. That's going to mean an extra chance or two per night for the Rays and those chances are going to pay off often enough to send them on to the ALCS. RAYS IN FIVE