The Tampa Bay Rays are charging into the playoffs after a one year absence from October baseball. After clinching the AL East division on the last game of the season- thanks to a Red Sox win over the Yankees- the Rays can enter with confidence as they square-off against the Texas Rangers in the first round.
The key to success for the Rays is to maintain their dynamic running game that has carried them this far, thus far. Leading the league with 172 stolen bags, it is clearly obvious the Rays’ running game is their strong suit. However, stolen bags are not the only benefit of Tampa’s strong running game. Base runners- moreover good base runners – have a tendency to get into pitchers’ head and influence how they pitch. Pitcher’s will tend to throw more fastballs, or when they are reluctant to do so, over anxious catchers will repeatedly call for it anticipating the runners to be on the move. The result: Less diversity in pitches which allow Ray hitters to assert themselves and be more confident in knowing what pitches are coming.
It is then clear the key for the Rangers is to keep the Rays off the base paths. The reality is this is going to be a daunting task. The Rangers therefore have to focus on the obvious culprits who are the key to the Rays running game; Carl Crawford (47 SB) and B.J. Upton (42 SB), if the Rangers can shut down these two it will allow Bengie Molina to call a better game.
As always, pitching is key for a successful playoff drive, and match ups will play a key role. Here is a breakdown of each game.
Cliff Lee (12-9) Vs. David Price (19-8): It is hard to ignore Lee’s 5-0 record last year however Price is heading into the playoffs on a tear. He has not lost a game in a month, while only rendering eight runs in his last eight appearances. Not to mention Price’s sparkling 1.96 ERA at home. Also, Lee has a swelled 4.60 ERA playing on turf. Expect game one to go in favor for the Ray’s with a score of 6-2.
C.J. Wilson ( 15-8) Vs. James Shields (13-15): This one is interesting because both pitchers are going in with absolute dismal records in September. Nevertheless, James Shield’s horrid ERA over 5 and his inability to win a game in the past month, earns him the honor as the biggest loser. Though C.J. to has struggled in September, yet he did manage to record a win in his last start against the Angels. Expect this one to be a high scoring affair in favor of the Rangers bats’. Expect both pitchers to be knocked out early.
Matt Garza (15-10) Vs. Colby Lewis (12-13): With the series tied 1-1, the series will move to Arlington. Both pitchers feature a similar record in September, (Lewis 3-1, Garza 2-3). With a low WHIP however (1.19) Lewis will definitely keep the Rays’ off the base paths, and if he gets into a grove there won’t be much the Rays legs’ can do about it. Expect a low scoring game in favor of the Rangers.
David Price vs. Cliff Lee: With the series on the line, the Ray’s will turn to Price, and Price will deliver. Lee is a formidable test however. This game will be tight, however expect the Ray’s to come on top riding the Price express.
C.J. Wilson vs. Jeff Niemen (12-8): Hopefully after realizing James Shields is not the answer, Joe Madden will turn to Jeff Niemen, who was absolutely electric in the beginning of the season, but fizzled out towards the end. Regardless, Niemen has pitched well down the stretch and will definitely oust the struggling Wilson.
There it is, Rays in five – though it will not be a walk in the park.
About the Author
Written by Charlie Crabb
Charlie Crabb is currently studying journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Crabb is also a pitcher for an elite baseball travel team known as the Ottawa Knights, who play -with success- in tournaments all over North America. His current goals are to graduate and play ball at a professional level.