After a couple of wild weeks, the top spot in the American League wild-card race went to the Cleveland Indians, who finished at 92-70. The Indians overtook the Rangers and Rays to earn home field advantage in the wild-card game. While this was great news for long suffering Clevelanders, Texas and Tampa fans (the latter of which barely exist, but no matter) hoped for their team to win and the other to lose today in order to reserve a spot in the wild card game and not have to play a one-game playoff on Monday night.
Luckily for baseball fans, both teams won to improve their records to 91-71. Tomorrow night, the Rays will march into Rangers Ballpark in Arlington aiming to keep the Rangers from making the postseason for a fourth straight year. Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.
The Rangers and Rays are both going to be sending out starters whose performances are hard to predict. The Rays will start 2012 AL CY winner David Price, who followed up his award season with a pretty solid albeit slightly disappointing year, finishing 9-8 with a 3.39 ERA and a 1.109 WHIP. While Price is still a very good pitcher, the uneasiness in sending him out Monday night is his history versus the Rangers. According to ESPN’s David Schoenfield, “Price is 1-4 with a 5.98 ERA in eight regular-season starts against Texas and is 0-3 with a 4.66 ERA in three postseason starts.” Those are not numbers that make one very confident in Tampa’s chances on Monday.
On the other side, however, young Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55 ERA) will make his postseason debut. The 22 year old rookie is fairly good, but who is to say what his performance will be like Monday night? The postseason is an unfriendly place to make a mistake, and there is a rookie on the opposing team who is pretty good at capitalizing on those (hint: his name rhymes with Swil Smeyers). Will Price be able to get over his Lone Star struggles or will Martin crumple under the bright lights of Rangers Ballpark (and TBS)?
Both teams have pretty good lineups, with a few players from each side that really jump out. From the Rays, Evan Longoria and Wil Myers stand out. Longoria, well known for his Game 162 heroics in 2011, had a nice year this summer, hitting 31 HR with a .831 OPS. In my book, he’s the 4th best 3B in the game (behind Miggy of course, Adrian Beltre, and David Wright), and he has a knack for the clutch. Don’t be surprised if the game comes down to him. Wil Myers, who was the key component in the James Shields trade this off-season, played like he was advertised, batting .293 with an .827 OPS on the way to a likely ROY award. Myers often launches mistake pitches a long, long way. Perez must be careful not to pitch carelessly to him in particular.
The Rangers, too, have lots of firepower in their lineup, as has been the case for the past few years. Adrian Beltre is pretty darn good at third both offensively and defensively. Beltre has 29 HR, 91 RBI, and a .875 OPS and anchors the Texas lineup. Texas has relied on consistent hitters such as Ian Kinsler and A.J. Pierzynski to get on base and provide run-scoring opportunities.
The key factor in the game, in my opinion, is the return of Nelson Cruz from his 50 game Biogenesis suspension. If Cruz is ready to play, he’ll make the Rays pay. PED issues aside, Cruz hit the second most HR on the team (27) while missing the last part of the season. Cruz certainly has the ability to break a game wide open, it’s just a matter of whether or not he is prepared to do so Monday under tense circumstances. As he is a holder of the record for most HR in a postseason (8 in 2011), I imagine Cruz is up to the task. He will be the difference maker in this game, as the Rangers take back a spot they nearly shockingly lost in a wild affair.
FINAL PREDICTION: Rangers 6, Rays 4