In a best-of-five series, almost anything can happen. Add in two young dynamic teams like the Rangers and Rays, and this will assuredly be one of the most entertaining series in the playoffs. Any game could turn into a blowout, or just as easily end up a pitchers’ duel. The best way to win the playoffs is with power: power pitching and a powerful lineup. Here are the pitching matchups:
Just looking at the pitching matchups, it seems to me that the Rangers have an advantage in depth with Wilson and Lewis over Garza and Davis. Add James Shields and Tommy Hunter into the rotations, and the Rangers still seem to have an advantage. Shields had the worst season of his career while Hunter posted the best win percentage of any starter in the league.
The Rangers have the best batting average in the AL, but the Rays are 3rd in runs, to the Rangers’ 4th. Both teams can certainly hit, but the best offense can be shut down by a good pitcher. Game 1 seems to be a tossup to me, with either team likely to take it.
Winning Game 1 will only happen in a few ways: 1.) Lee or Price has a bad day and loses the game. 2.) Both pitch well and whoever scratches across a couple runs will win. 3.) Both pitch well and a bullpen loses it.
The more likely of the two to have a bad day seems to be David Price against the Rangers’ offense. Price is making his first postseason start, and although he has been one of the best pitchers in the AL, if there was a reason for him to not have a good game, his lack of experience is it. That said, I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think it’s more likely that Lee gives up a couple runs to the resourceful Rays and the Rays’ power bullpen holds the lead.
The problem for the Rays, though, doesn’t come in Game 1—it comes in Games 2 and 3. Both Garza and Wilson had rough Septembers but have righted their respective ships recently. Maybe it’s just because I’ve seen Garza more on national television, but he just doesn’t look like the same guy to me that he was during the Rays World Series run. His experience and determination keeps the Rays in the game, though, meaning the Rangers offense won’t pound him, but look for Texas to put up 4 or 5 on him in Game 2, which will be enough to win it for Texas. It could go the other way, though, with Garza keeping the Rangers to only 3 or 4 and Wilson giving up just one or two more. The Rangers bullpen could give up a run in a close game, which this will assuredly be, but I’m picking Wilson and the Rangers to win it.
In Tampa, it’s two pitchers making their first postseason starts in Wade Davis and Colby Lewis. Davis had a solid September, but Lewis had an even better one. Lewis’s ability to keep the Rangers in the game will likely prove to be the difference, forcing David Price to start again in Game 4 to stave off elimination.
In a short series, though, anything can happen. If the Rays are going to win this series, which they could definitely do, Evan Longoria and Carlos Peña are going to be the keys. The big hitters are going to have to carry this offense with the long ball (mostly because that’s all Peña can hit). Counting on the ability to get on base, steal a few, and score won’t win this series against a high-powered offense like the Rangers, who could change the game with one swing. Although both bullpens are solid and can be trusted, I like the Rays’ power arms and depth with Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, and the young, David-Price-like Jeremy Hellickson all setting up Rafael Soriano. So if the Rays can get to the Rangers’ young starters early and thin out the bullpen, they could really do some damage. If Josh Hamilton isn’t quite 100%, the Rays are that much more likely to keep themselves in the game.
The Rangers, on the other hand, have to have their young pitchers pitch well behind Cliff Lee. Wilson, Lewis, and Hunter have to do what they’ve done all season and keep their offense within striking distance, and could really stand to have a blowout or two to not overexpose their bullpen or force Neftali Feliz, their rookie closer, to do too much too fast.
In the end, Price won’t be able to keep down the Rangers again on three days’ rest.
The Pick: Rangers in 4.