The Tampa Bay Rays (97-65) matured this year, utilizing their talent to win the AL East. The Rays have been around since 1998 and have never been to the playoffs. Although most experts thought it would take the Rays one more year to be competitive, they proved everyone wrong, beating out the two perennial top teams—the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Meanwhile, the Central Division Chicago White Sox (89-74) won 88 regular season games but so too did the Minnesota Twins. In a one-game playoff to determine who would go to the post-season, the White Sox beat the Twins 1-0 on a Jim Thome homerun.
Tampa Bay’s team ERA of 3.82 and .246 BAA are second in the league and the best among all AL playoff teams. They’ve struck out batters 1,143 times, ranking them third, just behind the Boston Red Sox. Tampa Bay allowed 671 total runs this season. That was second in the AL and first among all playoff teams. Chicago sports a 4.06 ERA, which is last amongst all AL playoff clubs. They are tied with Los Angeles for BAA– .261, which again is last of all AL playoff teams. Strikeouts are at 1,147.
Although not one Rays pitcher has more than 14 wins, five are in double digits. Starter James Shields (14-8, 160 SO, 3.57 ERA) leads the club in wins and ERA, while lefty Scott Kazmir (12-8, 166 SO, 3.49 ERA) is tops in Ks. Matt Garza has 11 wins and Andy Sonnanstine has notched 13 victories. Edwin Jackson is a 13-game winner. Closer Troy Percival (28 SV, 3.17 ERA) came off the disabled list early in September, but continues to battle back tightness and is not on the playoff roster. Instead, Dan Wheeler, who earned 13 saves with an ERA of 3.12 gets the nod. In 66.1 IP, Wheeler has blown five saves, giving up 10 homers and allowing 23 earned runs.
The White Sox feature starters Javier Vazquez (12-16, 200 SO, 4.67 ERA), Mark Buerhrle (15-12, 140 SO, 3.79 ERA and lefty John Danks (12-9, 159 SO, 3.32 ERA) as their three primary starters. Vazquez leads the club is Ks, while Danks is best in ERA. Righty Gavin Floyd (17-8, 145 SO, 3.84 ERA) is tops in wins. Closer Bobby Jenks has 30 saves and four blown saves. He’s allowed just 18 earned runs in 61.2 IP for a 2.63 ERA.
The Rays scored just 774 runs, which was ninth in the league, and possess a team batting average of .260, which was next-to-last among all AL teams. The team’s 177 homeruns places them fifth. Tampa Bay batters can hit their weight but not much more. Chicago scored 811 runs this season, which was 37 more than the Rays. The White Sox team batting average was an unimpressive .263, but their 235 homeruns, which was best in the league, was quite impressive. Their SLG% of .448 is best of all AL post-season clubs. Tampa Bays’ stands at .422,
For the Rays, second baseman Akinori Iwamura (.275 BA, 6 HR, 48 RBI) tops the team in batting average, while first baseman Carlos Pena’s 31 rounds trippers and 102 RBI were both best on the team. OBP leader B.J. Upton (.383), who plays center, also led the club in stolen bases with 44. Third baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder Eric Hinske are both long-ball threats, with 27 and 20 homers respectively. Longoria has also knocked in 85 runs. DH Cliff Floyd, with 11 homers, 39 RBI and a .268 average, has been a disappointment.
For the Sox, slugger Carlos Quentin (.288 BA, 36 HR, 100 RBI), the left fielder, has been a standout at the plate. But he’s off the playoff roster due to wrist problems. However, right fielder Jermaine Dye has 34 homers, 96 RBI and a .292 BA. Alexei Ramoriez, at second base, has 21 round trippers and a BA of .290. On a team that does not steal a whole lot of bases, shortstop Orlanda Cabrera (.281 BA, 8 HR, 57 RBI) has the most—19. DH Jim Thome has driven in 90 runs while knocking 34 out of the park.
This season, Tampa Bay dropped “Devil” from their name, making them the Rays and not the Devil Rays. Well, that exorcism of the devil in them may have been a blessing. Here they are under coach Joe Maddon, in the post-Lou Piniella era, about to play their first post-season series ever. There’s not as much hitting as one would like, the closing situation is not optimum and the team is definitely inexperienced, but they are in the thick of it. For the White Sox, the team pitching looks suspect and the rotation may not have enough gas to dominate the Rays. The one thing in Chicago’s favor is the Rays weak hitting. In a homerun derby, the Sox win; in a pitchers duel, the series goes to Tampa Bay.