by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
October 6, 2010
Records - Rangers 90-72, Rays 96-66
Runs Scored - Rangers 787 (4th), Rays 802 (3rd)
Runs Allowed - Rangers 687 (4th), Rays 649 (2nd)
The Rays have pitching, defense, and an offense that manufactures runs.
Their team makeup combines both youth and playoff experience - often in the same
players. They have homefield advantage until the World Series, but also
the best road record in all of baseball.
What's not to like?
The first red flag you might notice is that their #2 starter in the playoffs
has an ERA over 5.00. James Shields has had a Triple Crown season of sorts
by leading the AL in hits allowed, earned runs, and home runs allowed.
Worst of all, he went 0-4 with a 7.59 ERA over his final six starts of the
season. Shields is one of the best pitchers in franchise history already
and is under team control through 2014 if they want him (they can also buy him
out after 2011 in a very cleverly-orchestrated contract on the Rays' part), so
there are some loyalty/future psyche considerations in making him their #2 guy.
But really, there is no other overwhelming option. Jeff Niemann has
fallen apart even more than Shields has, posting a 7.69 second half ERA after
boasting a 2.77 ERA through 18 starts. Matt Garza and Wade Davis have both
been solid, but neither strikes you as a #2 guy yet. Andy Sonnanstine has
been alright, but his disastrous 2009 season doubtlessly scares manager Joe
Maddon away from using him. The best option may have been Jeremy
Hellickson, who was absolutely dominant in his four spot starts, but foolishly
not a part of the 25-man roster on August 31st.
Another problem is that for a team that prides itself on team speed, it
doesn't do a great job of putting the ball in play to better utilize that speed.
In fact, their 1,292 team strikeouts was most in the AL by more than 100 whiffs.
Moreover, there are only two hitters on the team that really scare you.
Evan Longoria hasn't played in a week and Carl Crawford can be neutralized by
left-handed pitching, which they will see quite a bit of this series with
southpaws Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson as the Rangers' two top starters.
That said, there are numerous problems with the Rangers' top two starters and
beyond. While Lee has no doubt been thrilled by his newfound run support
since moving from Seattle to Texas, I guess no one told him that the reason the
Rangers score runs is because of their home ballpark and that Lee would actually
have to pitch there, too. He has gone 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA with the trade,
marks that aren't as good as the other three starters the Rangers plan on using.
Wilson led the AL with 93 walks, plus has predictably tired to a 5.85 ERA over
his final six starts on the season. I say predictably because he nearly
tripled his previous high in innings pitched in his first year as a starting
Colby Lewis has actually had one of the most remarkable seasons in the majors
this year; the only reason he didn't win Comeback Player of the Year is because
he had never been good before. Anyway, he has pitched much better than his
12-13 record indicates; his 196 strikeouts rank 7th in the league.
Conversely, Tommy Hunter is nowhere near as good as his record - or even his ERA
- suggests. His strikeout rate was identical to that of teammate Scott
Feldman, who allowed 11.5 hits per nine innings en route to a 5.48 ERA.
Those numbers are more indicative of Hunter's current abilities than the ones he
put up himself.
The biggest problem with the offense is that it cannot score on the road.
This is mostly because of the team SLG of .391 away from Arlington, but the .324
road OBP doesn't help, either. More specific problems include the
following: Their catchers and first basemen have combined to hit .213 with 29
homers and an OBP under .300; Josh Hamilton spent most of September injured;
Vladamir Guerrero slugged .426 in the second half; Elvis Andrus slugged .274 in
the second half; Michael Young had a .704 second half OPS; Ian Kinsler hit .253
in 99 at-bats since returning from his annual injury.
Reasons for optimism include Nelson Cruz, who has been surprisingly terrific
when healthy this season, Cliff Lee's 2009 postseason, the second-best bullpen
in the AL, and a very good defense.
Unfortunately, Cliff Lee is 0-3 against the Rays this year (and he now has to
match up against a Cy Young candidate in David Price), that bullpen ERA ranks
second only to Tampa's, and that very good defense still isn't nearly as good as
Tampa's, which rates first in the AL in ultimate zone rating per 150 games.
I think there's a misconception that this is a battle between a good offense
(Rangers) and a good defense (Rays). The Rays have actually scored more
runs than the Rangers have, despite facing better pitching on a daily basis and
not having the benefit of Arlington Stadium. The Rangers do have better
pitching than people realize - all four of their postseason starters have earned
run averages under 4.00 and their bullpen is legitimately five-deep. But
while that impresses the likes of Seattle, against whom Texas is 12-7, it
doesn't really cut it against AL East teams, against whom Texas is 19-25.
Frankly, if the Rangers played in the AL East, they would probably have
finished behind the Blue Jays. They are the weakest team in the postseason
playing possibly the strongest team in the postseason, and although they do have
a shot at winning a game 2 slugfest against Shields, I would be shocked if they
won any other games.
Prediction: Rays in Three
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at email@example.com.