Doesn't it seem like we've seen this before? Oh that's right. Actually we have. In 2010 the Texas Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays in 5 games to advance to the American League Championship Series. It was an odd series in that the road team won every single game. Tampa was dominated by Cliff Lee, as he went 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA and struck out 21 in the two games he started. But this season is totally different. This time Texas holds home field advantage, and this time the Rays didn't just cruise into the playoffs. They had to pull off the greatest comeback in Major League history in order to get into the playoffs. These two teams met 9 times during the regular season, with Texas taking the season series 5-4.
So let’s compare the teams. Both teams have a solid pitching staff. Tampa is 2nd in the AL with a 3.59 ERA, and Texas is 5th with a 3.78 ERA. Each team has had a front line starter over the course of the season as well. Texas has C.J. Wilson, who went 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA and 206 strikeouts. The Rays have James Shields, and he went 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and 225 strikeouts. And even after their aces these teams rotations are about as even as they get. Both teams had all 5 starters with double digit wins, and both teams only had one starter with an ERA above 4.10. David Price has not pitched as well as he has in year's past, although he has still been very good. The Rangers counter to him would be Derek Holland. He went 16-5, and is 10-1 since the All Star break. It's tough to pick a team with an advantage here, so I'd have to give the starting rotation a push.
This is the most improved part of the Texas Rangers. At the All Star break they traded for Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, and those two have anchored the 7th and 8th innings. They also have Darren Oliver and Mark Lowe. Oliver has been solid all year, especially against lefties, and has posted a 2.29 ERA. The Rangers will also likely use Alexi Ogando in the bullpen, a role he assumed all of last season. Neftali Feliz closes things out for the Rangers, and he has been nothing but dominant, as usual.
Tampa isn't too shabby in the bullpen either. Juan Cruz, Brandon Gomes, Cesar Ramos, and Joel Peralta have been key middle relievers for the Rays all season. Kyle Farnsworth finishes things off for them, and he has been a savior for them at the closer position. This was a tough decision, but Tampa's 3.73 bullpen ERA is almost a half run better than the Rangers, so they get the advantage here.
Tampa has had a very lackluster offense all season long. They only have one hitter, Casey Kotchman, hitting over .300, and after him the next highest average is .277. As a team they had a .244 batting average, which also happens to be the batting average of their 3rd baseman Evan Longoria. They only have two players with more than 20 home runs (Longoria 31, Upton 23) and no one has over 100 RBI. One thing they do have though is speed, as 5 players have at least 19 stolen bases, and they have 155 stolen bases as a team. But all in all, this lineup has not been productive in the regular season.
The Rangers lineup is just the complete opposite of the one in Tampa. They have 5 players with at least a .296 average, including Michael Young, who hit .338, which was second in the American League. They also led all of baseball with a .283 team batting average, a full 39 points higher than the Rays. They also have 5 players with at least 25 homers, and 4 with at least 87 RBI. As a team they hammered out 210 home runs, which is 38 more than the Rays hit. They Rays aren't the only team with speed either. The Rangers managed to swipe 143 bases this season. In the end offense is all about runs scored. Texas scored 855 runs. That is 148 more runs than Tampa had at 707. These two lineups really aren't even close at all.
The Rangers bench is one of the best in baseball. First they have Endy Chavez, who hit .301 in 83 games. They also have Yorvit Torrealba, who played in 113 games and hit .273, and also Andres Blanco, who can play 2nd or shortstop on any given night. Then they have Craig Gentry, who has absolutely made this team just that much better. He's only hit .271, but he's stolen 18 bases and has yet to be thrown out. He is the type of guy you want on your bench in October, just in case you need a pinch runner.
Tampa have a decent bench at best. They can go with either Jaso or Shoppach on any night at catcher, although neither one really has much of a bat. They also can start either Sam Fuld, or Justin Ruggianno on any given night. They have a decent bench, but that is just about all you can say.
I have so much respect for Ron Washington. He has stuck with his players through the thick and thin, and it seems like he always finds a way to win ballgames. Wash knows how to use his bullpen, and he kept his players fresh all year long. It's tough to find a manager who's done a better job than Wash.
But if there is one manager who has been better its Joe Maddon. He lost his 8 highest paid players from last season's team and still won the AL wild card. He overcame the losses of Rafael Soriano, Carl Crawford, and Matt Garza. Maddon won with a 41 million dollar payroll, the second lowest in the majors. Not many managers could do that. So this one has to go to Tampa.
In the end these teams look pretty evenly matched. They both have great pitching staffs, and they are both led by superb managers. But the Rangers offense overpowers the Rays big time, and I believe that will cost them this series. Sorry Rays fans, but I see your team having the same fate they had last season, which is losing their final game of the season at home.
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