By Evan Brunell
The Rays and Rangers will meet for the second year in a row. Last season, Texas came away with a victory, needing the maximum five games to do so. They would go on to advance to the World Series before losing to the San Francisco Giants. Both teams are in dramatically different places this time around, with the Rays team undergoing turnover while the Rangers' offense is one of the most fearsome in recent memory. Let's break down each team's position and determine who has the advantage....
Tampa Bay Rays (host games 3, 4)
91-71, AL wild card champions
Manager: Joe Maddon
Team batting statistics: .244 batting average (25th in AL), .322 on-base percentage (13th), .402 slugging percentage (13th)
Team pitching statistics: 3.58 ERA (8th), 1.22 WHIP (2nd), 2.27 K/BB (2nd)
Star player: SP James Shields -- 16-12, 249 1/3 IP, 2.82 ERA, 3.25 xFIP, 65 BB, 225 K
Texas Rangers (host games 1, 2, 5)
96-66, AL West champions
Manager: Ron Washington
Team batting statistics: .283 batting average (1st), .340 on-base percentage (5th), .460 slugging percentage (2nd)
Team pitching statistics: 3.79 ERA (13th), 1.24 WHIP (5th), 2.56 K/BB (5th)
Star player: C Mike Napoli -- .320/.414/.631, 432 plate appearances, 30 HR, 75 RBI
SCHEDULE (Click here to view the entire postseason schedule)
|Full Playoff Coverage|
Game 1: TB @ TEX, Sept. 30, 5:07 p.m. -- Matt Moore (1-0, 2.89 ERA) vs. C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94)**
Game 2: TB @ TEX, Oct. 1, 7:07 p.m. -- James Shields (16-12, 2.82) vs. Derek Holland (16-5, 3.95)
Game 3: TEX @ TB, Oct. 3, 5:07 p.m. -- Matt Harrison (14-9, 3.39) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (13-10, 2.95)
Game 4*: TB @ TEX, Oct. 4 -- Colby Lewis (14-10, 4.40) vs. David Price (12-13, 3.49)
Game 5*: TB @ TEX, Oct. 6 -- James Shields (16-12, 2.82) vs. C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94)
* If necessary | ** all pitching matchups projected
TEAM BREAKDOWN (Click player name for statistics)
Texas: Mike Napoli, Yorvit Torrealba
Tampa Bay: John Jaso, Kelly Shoppach
The Rays' catcher situation is like that of shortstop: Choosing between bad or worse. Jaso and Shoppach have both combined for extremely disappointing seasons while Napoli was one of the best offensive players in the game, robbed of his due because his counting statistics aren't up to snuff due to playing in just 113 games, but Napoli can do serious damage. Torrealba isn't a zero either, but most of his value comes on defense.
Texas: Mitch Moreland, Napoli
Tampa Bay: Casey Kotchman
Kotchman came out of nowhere to give Tampa fantastic value out of first base, hitting at a .306 clip and providing his usual stellar defense at first place. While no one expects Kotchman to keep this up next season, what matters is right now. And right now, Kotchman is head and shoulders better than Moreland, although if Texas goes with Torrealba behind the plate and Napoli at first base, this conversation changes.
Texas: Ian Kinsler
Tampa Bay: Ben Zobrist
Both Kinsler and Zobrist had excellent seasons -- both at the plate and in the field. Picking one or the other amounts to nitpicking as both players have 30 stolen bases. Zobrist holds a small edge in batting average and Kinsler holds a small one in slugging percentage. Even fielding numbers aren't any help. This is as even as it gets.
Texas: Elvis Andrus
Tampa Bay: Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac
As mentioned before, Tampa's shortstop spot is horrible. Between Rodriguez, Reid Brignac and Eliot Johnson, Rays shortstops combined to hit .193/.256/.282. League average was .266/.321/.386. That's simply awful, awful production. The Rangers clearly win out here, with Andrus' solid bat and strong glove.
Texas: Adrian Beltre
Tampa Bay: Evan Longoria
Evan Longoria has been one of the best third basemen in the game for a long time. Up until this year, you could have argued that he was the best AL third-baseman for years running. Alas, Beltre's second straight excellent season has supplanted Longoria, coming off a down year. Beltre's 32 homers rank fifth in the AL, and he missed a month and a half! Add in his all-world defense, and he runs away from Longoria even though Longo is still a threat and hit .289/.454/.589 in September.
Texas: David Murphy
Tampa Bay: Desmond Jennings
Murphy looked like he would have a lost season, but turned it on down the stretch and forced the Rangers to move Josh Hamilton to center for the playoffs in order to get Murphy's bat in the lineup. It's easy to remember that Jennings debuted with fantastic numbers in August, but September told a very different story. All in all, both players have things working both for and against them and nothing quite standing out.
Texas: Josh Hamilton
Tampa Bay: B.J. Upton
This is pretty easily Hamilton's domain here after Upton hit just .243. Hamilton remains one of the best players in the game despite being injury-prone. When he's on the field, he produces. Upton can't say the same, although he turned on the jets at the right time for Tampa and had a productive September.
Texas: Nelson Cruz
Tampa Bay: Matt Joyce
Here's an interesting matchup. Cruz missed time with injury but when he was right, enjoyed yet another productive season, missing 30 homers by just one blast. Cruz's calling card is power, while Joyce counters with a better overall game, flashing a strong glove. With both players' offensive games basically evening out, the balance tips to defense, and Joyce wins there.
Texas: Michael Young, Napoli
Tampa Bay: Johnny Damon
Yet another win for the Rangers on offense. We all know what Napoli can do, but Young figures to get most of the at-bats at DH. Despite Young having to adjust to the DH spot on a full-time basis for the first time in his career, Young coolly racked up 106 RBI and should get some MVP attention. Damon, by comparison, falls far short.
Texas: C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis
Tampa Bay: Jeff Niemann, James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson
The Rays win here, although Rangers fans will probably beg to differ. Yes, Wilson had a fantastic season -- you can't take that away from him. But Shields, Price and Hellickson all had excellent years as well. No one's shorting Holland and Harrison here, but at best, these two pitchers are no better than fifth best overall with three of the first four spots belonging to Tampa. The Rays are in the postseason for their pitching, not their offense.
Texas closer: Neftali Feliz
Tampa Bay closer: Kyle Farnsworth
Feliz's future as a closer was in doubt even as late as early August, but he clamped down the rest of the way and will pair with Mike Adams for a formidable 1-2 punch. There isn't a soft underbelly of middle relief either, and this bullpen has the potential to pick up the slack left over from the starting rotation to beat Tampa. But the Rays have taken a completely remade bullpen and turned it into an elite corps, too. Tampa's relief ERA of 3.73 is 10 spots higher than Texas' 4.11, but Texas' bullpen is different after importing Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez. Let's call it even.
Total advantage: Rangers (5), Rays (2), Tie (3)
PREDICTION (click here to see full postseason predictions)
|Evan Brunell: Rays in 4
Gregg Doyel: Rays in 4
Danny Knobler: Rangers in 5
Scott Miller: Rangers in 4
Trent Rosecrans: Rangers in 4
Matt Snyder: Rays in 5
Evan's take: The Rangers are a fearsome club, there's no doubt about that. The offense is awe-inspiring and the pitching has the ability to hang tough with Tampa Bay. The Rangers basically cruised to the division title in September, so it's easy to overlook the club because of lack of press, but those who overlook the club are making a mistake. I selected the Rays in four because in the postseason, I believe far more in pitching than offense. I also give credence to how teams played down the stretch. Tampa went 17-10 in September (of course, Texas went 19-8, so there's that) and was in playoff mode for two weeks, constantly playing must-win games then seeing it all pay off when Evan Longoria's second homer of the night went over the fence to give T.B. the wild card. The combination of pitching and the hot hand tilt me toward predicting the Rays to advance.
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