For some reason, the Rays have emerged as a decided favorite in their ALDS showdown with the Rangers, despite the two teams being relatively equal in most facets of the game. In fact, based on ERA+ and wOBA, the Rangers actually come out ahead. Although the Rays rate better on defense, their advantage is not to the degree that would mitigate all other factors.
Tale of the Tape
Of course, season long performance loses a lot of its relevance in a short series. In this case, the most important factors for the Rangers (the acquisition of Cliff Lee and health of Josh Hamilton) would be disguised in the regular season statistics. Meanwhile, for the Rays, their most prominent regular season strength (the depth of their pitching staff) seems as if it started to crumble down the stretch. Because the teams are really so closely matched, this series seems as if it has the potential to turn on the performance of each teams’ best player.
Key Player for the Rays: David Price
While the rest of the Rays rotation was crumbling in September, David Price was a rock. However, Price is now entering unchartered territory as the lefty approaches a 50 inning increase over his previous season’s workload. As the innings continue to mount on Price’s young arm, it’s hard to say how he will respond. With Cliff Lee being his game one mound opponent, even a slight slip in his game could prove costly to the Rays. In the event Tampa should drop game 1, they’ll then have to turn to the veteran duo of Matt Garza and James Shields. The only problem with that strategy is both were awful coming down the stretch. In September, Garza and Shields posted ERAs of 5.88 and 7.59, respectively.
Key Player for the Rangers: Josh Hamilton
The Rangers offense does not feature the same dynamic lineup of year’s past. Instead, much of the power is centered around the trio of Nelson Cruz, Vladimir Guerrero and Hamilton. As the only lefty of the group, Hamilton has emerged as the focal point of the Rangers’ attack. Without him, the team struggled in September, so for the Rangers to win, they’ll need their MVP candidate to be fully healthy. Otherwise, Texas will find itself vulnerable to the Rays preponderance of right handed pitchers.
Prediction: Rangers in Three
If Cliff Lee pitches anything like he did in the 2009 post season, the Rangers could be in line for a sweep. The biggest problem for the Rays is even if Price can pitch as well as Lee, he isn’t as likely to pitch as long. Because both teams have relatively strong and diverse bullpens, the series will likely come down to which rotation holds up its end of the bargain. Considering Shields’ and Garza’s late season struggles, a loss in the first game could quickly snowball into a sweep. Game one will definitely be a close one, but if Lee can prevail, I like the chances of that happening.