The Tampa Bay Rays finished the American League with the best record and that gives them home-field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs. But because the wild-card team is in their division (Yankees), the Rays do not get to face the wild-card team. They get the Texas Rangers and left-handed ace Cliff Lee in the opener. It hardly seems fair.
Actually, the Rays have not done badly. In three starts against the Rays, Lee (12-9, 3.18 ERA) has not fared well, losing all three starts. Granted, two of them was when he was with Seattle. He lost a 2-1 battle against Matt Garza on May 16. But he was tagged for six runs on nine hits with a matchup against left-hander David Price, who will be the Rays Game 1 starter. The Rays won that game, 6-4, on Aug. 16. On May 5, he lost 8-3 to Garza.
That Aug. 16 game was Price’s only game against the Rangers. Price (19-6, 2.72) has been solid for the Rays, owning a 2.72 ERA and 1.96 ERA at home. His last three starts, he has a 2.57 ERA with a 1.143 WHIP. In those three games, he has given up six runs and struck out 20 batters. Lee’s last three starts is equally impressive, going 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA and a 0.950 WHIP. He gave up five earned runs and six hits over 20 innings in those games. He finished the season with a 3.18 ERA.
After the opener, the pitching matchup favors the Rays. Game 2 will be left-handed starter C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.35) for Texas against Right-hander James Shields (13-15, 5.18). Game 3 will be Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72) for the Rangers and Garza (15-10, 3.91). Game 4 will be right-hander Tommy Hunter (13-4, 3.73) for the Rangers and right-hander Wade Davis (12-10, 4.07).
The Rangers need Josh Hamilton to return to his early season form. He missed 24 games due to broken ribs. He returned to the lineup last weekend, but it is not known how effective he will be. He has not done well at Tropicana Field, hitting only .147 (5 for 34) with one homer and six RBIs in nine career games at Tampa Bay.
Rangers average 4.9 runs a game, 4.4 runs on the road. Their run production goes down even more against left-handers as they average 4.5 runs a game.
Tampa Bay averages five runs a game, but that number goes down at home, where they average 4.3 runs a game. Their offense can disappear at times, Tampa Bay was no-hit twice and limited to 1 hit in two other games.
The Rays are led by Carl Crawford, who had probably had his best overall season. He batted .307 with 19 home runs, 90 RBI and 47 stolen bases. Three-time Evan Longoria had another good season, who batted .294 with 22 home runs and 104 RBI.
The projected lineup for the Rangers: SS Elvis Andrus (.265, 0 HRs), 3B Michael Young (.284), CF Josh Hamilton (major league-leading .359), DH Vladimir Guerrero (.300,115 RBI), RF Nelson Cruz (.318), 2B Ian Kinsler (.286), LF David Murphy (.291), 1B Jorge Cantu (.235) or Mitch Moreland (.255), C Bengie Molina (.240).
For the Rays: 2B Ben Zobrist (.238), CF B.J. Upton (.237), LF Carl Crawford (.307), 3B Evan Longoria (.294), DH Dan Johnson (.198), RF Matt Joyce (.241), 1B Carlos Pena (.196), C John Jaso (.263), SS Jason Bartlett (.254).
(All times EDT) Game 1, Wednesday, at St. Petersburg, Fla. (1:37 p.m.); Game 2, Thursday, at St. Petersburg, Fla. (2:37 p.m.); Game 3, Saturday, at Arlington, Texas (5:07 p.m.); x-Game 4, Sunday, at Arlington, Texas (TBA); x-Game 5, Tuesday, Oct. 12, at St. Petersburg, Fla. (TBA).x-if necessary.
The bookmakers have opened the Rays as a -120 favorite over the Rangers and they have seen more money come in on Tampa Bay driving the lines up and the current odds are now Tampa Bay -140 with +120 take back on the Rangers.
The Game 1 matchup is critical for the Rangers. They cannot win the series without getting wins from Lee. This is not a good matchup for Texas as Lee has done well against Tampa Bay. For the season, Tampa Bay is 4-2 (+1.6 Units) against Texas this season, and 5 of 6 games in this series have gone over the total. The Rays have too much pitching for the Rangers and should win this series, probably in four games.