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ALDS Preview: Rays vs. Rangers

Sep 29, 2011, 1:30 PM EDT

Josh Hamilton AP

The Teams

Tampa Bay Rays (91-71) vs. Texas Rangers (96-66)

The Rangers won the season series 5-4, outscoring the Rays by 15 runs (41-26).

The Matchups

Game 1 Friday in Texas: Matt Moore vs. C.J. Wilson
Game 2 Saturday in Texas: James Shields vs. Derek Holland
Game 3 Monday in St. Pete: Colby Lewis vs. David Price
Game 4 (if necessary) Tuesday in St. Pete: Matt Harrison vs. Jeremy Hellickson
Game 5 (if necessary) Thursday in Texas: TBD vs. C.J. Wilson

That changes everything. After sending out early indications that Jeff Niemann would start Game 1, the Rays pulled a bit of a stunner Thursday evening by saying Moore, who has just one major league start under his belt, would get the ball.  It’s a gutsy move, but it’s absolutely the right one. He has the better chance of matching up with Wilson than Niemann would. Niemann was 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA against the Rangers this season.

It remains to be seen how much good the Rays’ vaunted pitching depth will do them. Price was struggling a bit even before getting tagged for six runs in four innings by the Yankees on Wednesday. Shields hasn’t been at his best either, though one can imagine him coming back on short rest in Game 5 if he’s effective in Game 2. Hellickson, at least, looks good for Game 4.

Unlike the Rays, the Rangers had plenty of time to set their rotation for the series.  Wilson has a good chance of putting the Rays in an early hole: he had a 1.21 ERA in September and he was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three regular-season starts versus Tampa Bay.

Three questions

Will the Rangers use their best lineup?

Manager Ron Washington seems to know now that he needs Mike Napoli in there everyday, and there’s a good chance the Rangers will carry a third catcher to make it easier to use Napoli as a DH when Yorvit Torrealba is catching. Napoli, who would have finished second in the AL in OPS if he had the plate appearances to qualify, hit .407 with three homers in seven games against Tampa Bay this year.

But what about David Murphy? Murphy came through with a .351/.366/.557 month of September, and he hit .393 with a homer and eight RBI in seven games versus the Rays this year. The Rangers should want him in there against right-handers, though that means putting Josh Hamilton in center field and weakening the outfield defense some.

How will the Rangers handle playing the day games?

Of course, the games in The Trop shouldn’t matter (it’s a dome), but the Rangers hit just .265/.324/.409 in day games this year, compared to .290/.346/.481 under the lights. Josh Hamilton’s much publicized problems with the sun resulted in a .220/.302/.317 line. He hit just one homer in 123 at-bats during day games.

Will the Rays get quality bullpen work from their unused starters?

Kyle Farnsworth was effective in all four of his appearances after missing half of September with a sore elbow, so that’s one bullet dodged. He and Joel Peralta will be lined up to get the six most crucial outs when the Rays are leading late. What will be interesting to see is whether Joe Maddon gives the other key innings to holdovers Brandon Gomes and Cesar Ramos or if he tries to work in Davis and Niemann in big situations.

Prediction

The Rangers outscored the Rays by 148 runs this year (855-707), they have the hottest starting pitcher in the series lined up to start twice and I think they possess the edge when it comes to bullpens. Of course, part of that run disparity is the ballparks the teams play in — the Texas offense isn’t really that much better than Tampa Bay’s — and the Rays do have the advantage when it comes to defense, but the Rays’ biggest plus — the fact that they have six quality starters to bring into battle — might not do them a whole lot of good in a short series like this. I think this is the Rangers’ series to lose, and if Price doesn’t bounce back in a big way, it may well be a sweep.

RANGERS WIN THE SERIES 3-0.

  1. pisano - Sep 29, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    Don’t expect another miracle, the Rays got in because the Yankees didn’t have to beat them. The Yankees pounded their ace and it wasn’t a fluke, they have lit him up before. The Rangers are at full strength now with Beltre and Cruz back. The Rays don’t have enough offense to get passed the Rangers, sure, anything can happen as was seen last night with the O’s, but my pick is the Rangers.

    • cur68 - Sep 29, 2011 at 2:14 PM

      Yep, me too, but it’s not a walk over. The Rays have got winning in long odds nailed down. Rangers 3 games to 2. I will NOT be surprised if I see the Rays get past the Rangers. After this month, could any other team be more fated than they?

      • miketreedy - Sep 29, 2011 at 2:26 PM

        They had a lot of help to get in. You have to take your hat off to them though especially considering all the players they lost as through free agency. The Rangers though are playing as well as anyone in baseball. They won 9 out of last 10 and are crushing the ball.

      • cur68 - Sep 29, 2011 at 2:36 PM

        Agree. Nelson Cruz is a beast, just a one man wrecking crew. Beltre can get a hit anytime he wants, it seems. Hamilton? Forgeddaboutit. I do believe they will beat the Rays. But, the trouble is, the Yankees had those guys beat, and could. not. do. it. You can argue that it was AAA pitching (I mean Scott Poctor? Really?) but the Rays found a way to beat a guy who actually pitched rather well. They found a way to surge all the way back into contention, chase down a faltering Red Sox crew and would have arguably beaten their asses too this evening, if it had come to that. Call it what ever you want, but I call it Mojo, baby. And the Rays have it, in spades. Mojo a funky mistress. Right now, I believe the Rays could surprise us all, which, given what they did in September, shouldn’t surprise us at all.

  2. miketreedy - Sep 29, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    The Rangers are a better team this year than last year even without Cliff Lee. The all around pitching is better and the offense is the best in baseball. The Rays are a tough team but the Rangers should win the series.

  3. paperlions - Sep 29, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    I predict the Phillies win this series in 4….and it will only take that many games because they aren’t actually playing it.

    • cur68 - Sep 29, 2011 at 2:48 PM

      PL; You gotta join us in lobbying for that sarcasm/hyperbole font, man. You gettin’ rocked by the thumbs again. Alas, little overstatement/irony, we barely comprehended thee.

      • paperlions - Sep 29, 2011 at 4:59 PM

        That comment sucked…it missed the mark…I gave myself a thumbs down :-(

  4. cubsrice - Sep 29, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    I don’t think Matt Moore was eligible for the postseason roster anyway, unless he was added to the active roster before September 1 and nobody said anything.

    I think the Rays can avoid a sweep.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Sep 29, 2011 at 2:41 PM

      One doesn’t have to be on the roster before Sept. 1, only in the organization.

      • cubsrice - Sep 29, 2011 at 2:49 PM

        As far as I know Matt Moore was a September call-up. Do you know when he was added to the active roster? Because if it wasn’t before September 1st, my understanding is that he is not eligible for the postseason barring an injury to a pitcher, and even then he wouldn’t be able to begin play until the ALCS. I think he was called up mid-September as all his appearances according to B-Ref indicate.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 29, 2011 at 3:01 PM

        Matt’s right. It’s the same thing that happened with Krod in ’02. He replaced someone on the 25 man who went on the DL after the season.

      • cubsrice - Sep 29, 2011 at 3:08 PM

        Okay, so he went on the postseason roster as an injury replacement for the ALDS? That’s cool, thanks.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 29, 2011 at 3:28 PM

        Yeah it involves some shenanigans, but if teams have to they can swap people from one DL to the 60 day to move people around. So essentially all you need is someone to be with the team on September 1st.

      • cubsrice - Sep 29, 2011 at 3:57 PM

        I can actually imagine the Rays breaking someone’s kneecaps in mid-September just to get Matt Moore on the postseason roster :D

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 29, 2011 at 7:01 PM

        Must be on the 40-man roster to be eligible not on the active 25-man roster.

  5. artisan3m - Sep 29, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    I really don’t find a weakness in the Rangers ~ anywhere. They have arguably the best defense in baseball, five pitchers with double digit wins, one of the best bullpens ever assembled, and hot bats. You can’t pitch around anyone in their lineup. If Wilson and Holland bring their “A” game, the Rangers should walk into the World Series. But the first 162 games mean nothing now ~ its what happens after the Friday start.

    • thefrenchyconnection - Sep 29, 2011 at 3:11 PM

      “But the first 162 games mean nothing now ~ its what happens after the Friday start.”

      I wouldn’t say that too loudly around any ATL or BOS players today.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 29, 2011 at 3:30 PM

      You can’t pitch around anyone in their lineup. If Wilson and Holland bring their “A” game, the Rangers should walk into the World Series

      Team – wOBA – wRC
      Yankees – .346 – 113
      Rangers – .348 – 113

      Team – FIP – xFIP
      Yankees – 3.87 – 3.84
      Rangers – 3.98 – 3.83

      Curious as to why you think they should “walk right into the WS”?

      • Richard In Big D - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:39 AM

        It’snotthe Yankees they’re gonna have to beat in the ALCS…

      • Richard In Big D - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:40 AM

        EDIT FUNCTION!!!! It’s not the

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 30, 2011 at 3:27 PM

        You think the Tigers will beat the Yanks?

    • old97 - Sep 29, 2011 at 3:31 PM

      As a long-suffering Ranger fan, I want your prediction to come true so badly that I’d consider sacrificing a limb to ensure it. The Rangers broke my heart so many times prior to last year. Because of that, it’s taking a LONG time for it to sink in – they are actually pretty good!

      Still, I can’t relax at all right now. I will be agonizing over every game, every inning, every pitch. I can take nothing for granted. Tampa has some salty pitchers, they play tough, and I think Joe Maddon is one of the smartest guys in the game.

      Rangers in a sweep? Good gosh, I hope so, and so does my cardiologist. But I have to tap the brakes – I gotta see it before I can really believe it!

  6. El Bravo - Sep 29, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    Pouloit is high clearly. Rays will win on vastly superior starting pitching. G’bye Texas. Rays all the way is my prediction!

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 29, 2011 at 5:58 PM

      Wait what?

      FIP:
      Rangers – 3.98
      Rays – 4.03

      xFIP:
      Rangers – 3.83
      Rays – 4.01

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 29, 2011 at 7:15 PM

        Damnit your new tag is confusing me!

  7. florida727 - Sep 30, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    I’ll root for the Rays but I think in a series, any series, they’ll get exposed because they’re not a great come-from-behind team. Yeah. They did it when it mattered most down 7-zip in game #162, but that’s not who they are. As a rule, they can’t outslug teams. Even Maddon is constantly telling everyone they win with pitching and defense. Unfortunately after 162, pitching gets ‘tired’, and if you’re unable to consistently put up 7-8 runs to offset that, you’re playing golf by the second full week in October.

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