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September 30, 2011

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Preview: Rays vs. Rangers

by R.J. Anderson

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Why the Rangers Will Win
Not only did Texas finish the season tied with Boston for the best TAv in the majors, but they also held the second-best Defensive Efficiency, behind—you guessed it—the Rays. Jon Daniels building a bullpen so strong and deep that even Ron Washington cannot manage himself into a corner is just icing on the cake. Texas is a serious threat to return to the World Series.

Why the Rays Will Win
By some measures, the Rangers have the worst rotation in the postseason, while the Rays have one of the best backed by the finest defensive group in the league. The key for Tampa Bay is whether their offense can score enough runs to keep up, and that may depend on how well Joe Maddon massages his bench during the later innings.

The Most Glaring Contrast Between These Teams
No team struck out less often than the Rangers, just as no team had a higher batting average. Conversely, the Rays finished in the bottom third in strikeout rate and 25th in batting average, despite first baseman Casey Kotchman hanging around the batting title race for most of the season. 

Guess the Annoying Cliché the Announcers Will Harp On
Either suggesting that one of these teams play a National League style of ball—because they run the bases well, field well, and steal plenty of bases—or praising Johnny Damon’s and/or Michael Young’s leadership to the point of nausea.

This Probably Won’t Happen But It Could
Tampa Bay could go the entire series without starting Matt Joyce, who had the third-best TAv on the team. The Rays usually benched Joyce versus left-handed pitching, and the Rangers have the capability of using a lefty starter in each game of a five-game series. More likely, though, is that Maddon decides Joyce is a better bet to produce than Sam Fuld and Justin Ruggiano.

A National Audience Will Learn This About Baseball
That defense can be fun too. These teams were the two more efficient at turning balls in play into outs, and they have the star appeal—like Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Desmond Jennings—to leave fans buzzing about splendid glove work even if the games are low-scoring.

Game One Matchup
C.J. Wilson was on tap to start for the Rangers the whole way, and for good reason, as he led Texas in earned run average, Fair Run Average, and FIP. Meanwhile, the Rays have decided to roll the dice with Matt Moore, who has just one major-league start under his belt (a five-inning outing against the Yankees that saw him strike out 11 batters, walk one, and allow four hits and no runs).

Game Two Matchup
Texas intends to open this series with three straight southpaws, and the second man up is Derek Holland. After a so-so start, Holland finished the season strong, striking out 88 batters and allowing 89 hits over his final 98 innings pitched. Tampa Bay will counter with the league’s leader in complete games and the man with the nickname of “Big Game James,” James Shields.

Game Three Matchup
Expect to see Matt Harrison make the start for Texas in Game Three, completing the Rangers’ lefty trifecta. Harrison finished the season with the second-best Wins Above Replacement Player score on Texas’ staff. Harrison’s opposition could be Jeremy Hellickson or David Price, depending on where the Rays stand at that point in the series.

 Series Prediction
Last year, the Rangers knocked off the higher-seeded Rays in five games. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the same result in the same length, as the Rangers appear to be the better overall team, although anything can happen in October.   

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Matt Harrison

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<< Previous Article
Regular-Season Awards (09/30)
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