ALDS Preview: Rangers vs. Rays

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Here at HardballTalk we pride ourselves on writing dozens of posts a
day obsessing on every single little thing possible. We’re told,
however, that some of you have lives and thus not all of you are able to
read dozens of posts a day obsessing on every single little thing
possible.  That’s a shame, but for that reason, we’ve put together a few
previews covering the broad strokes of each of the four Division Series
matchups, which will pop up between now and first pitch on Wednesday
afternoon. Let’s begin, shall we?

The Matchup: Texas Rangers (90-72) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)

How’ve they been doing?
The Rangers were 16-14 over the last month or so. The Rays: 15-15. The Rangers did it without their best player in their lineup. The Rays: no such excuse, though they did play tougher competition.

Haven’t I seen you before?
The Rays won the season series 4-2. I wish I could reference some fun playoff history going back to the mid-70s with these two teams because that’s where my mind is these days, but alas, such is not the case.

Who’s pitching?
The Rangers will run out Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter. The Rays counter with David Price, James “Shomer Shabbos” Sheids, Matt Garza and Wade Davis.  The Rangers almost certainly won’t go with a three-man rotation if things go sideways, because Cliff Lee has never ever done that, not even in the World Series last year when the Phillies had their backs up against the wall.

The storyline which doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things
but which TBS will nonetheless beat to death

The Rangers’ road record against the AL playoff teams. I thought this was clever a couple of days ago and I tweeted it around, but the more I think about it, the less I think it matters. The Rangers played all of three games in Tropicana Field. That series happened right after the Rangers played five games against the Red Sox and Yankees, two of which were extra innings affairs. It’s a talking point, and one I bet for which the TBS guys have already created a graphic for Game One, but I don’t know that it matters.

Honorable mention: we’re going to hear a lot about how Josh Hamilton was originally a Tampa Bay prospect before he went nuts with drugs and drink and wicked women and all of that. One little lapse a year ago aside, he’s been on the straight and narrow for more than three years now. It’s still a relevant part of his life, but I don’t think it’s that relevant a part of our consideration of him as a baseball player.

The storyline which actually does matter but about which TBS won’t spend a lot of time
talking

I don’t want to feed what I sense to be fairly strong “no one respects us” sentiments from both the Rays and Rangers camps, but I really do think that these two teams have gotten less ink out of anyone in the postseason. This also means that the TV producers and announcers have read less about them, which means that we’re going to get a lot of cliche analysis. The Rays are the AL East team with so much pitching depth! The Ballpark at Arlington-Rangers will bash your brains out!  Never mind that the Rangers have demonstrably better pitching than the Rays and that, despite the low batting averages, the Rays are a better offensive team than the Rangers.

What’s gonna go down?
I know the Rays have the best record in the AL and the Rangers have the worst record of all of the playoff teams, but I see this series as even. Partially because, if they play at their best, the Rangers are better than a 90-win team, and they are healthier now than they’ve been for a while.  Partly because the Rays were a much better first half team than they were a second half team. Let’s be clear here: the AL East played a lot of “meh” baseball down the stretch, and the Rays were part of that.

Call it a hunch, but I think the Rangers are going to take this bad boy in five. Cliff Lee will eliminate the home field advantage in Game 1, and after that the Rangers’ deeper back of the rotation will take care of business.

Kris Bryant on Joey Votto: “He’s the best player ever … He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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The Cubs wrapped up a four-game series against the Reds at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 13-10 loss to split the set. They’ll match up again against the Reds next week for a three-game series in Cincinnati. That’s good news for Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, because that means he’ll get to see Reds first baseman Joey Votto some more.

As CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports, Bryant has grown quite fond of Votto. Bryant has already won a World Series ring, a Rookie of the Year Award, and an MVP Award, but he still looks up to Votto. According to Bryant, Votto is “the best player ever.” He added, ““He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain. He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Bryant said that Votto is “a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant also explained how his approach changed by watching Votto. He said that in his rookie season, he was “swinging at everything.” Votto, however, is “aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it.”

Indeed, in Bryant’s rookie season, he struck out in nearly 31 percent of his 650 plate appearances. This season, he has struck out in only 19 percent of his PA. His walk rate has also increased by more than 2.5 percent since his rookie campaign. Compared to last year, Bryant is down in HR and RBI, but his average is the same, his on-base percentage is markedly better, and his slugging percentage is only down by a minute amount.

Video: Daniel Descalso hits D-Backs’ third inside-the-park homer of the season

Bob Levey/Getty Images
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Diamondbacks second baseman Daniel Descalso hit his team’s third inside-the-park home run of the season during Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Astros. In the top of the fourth inning, with the score 1-0 and the bases empty, Descalso ripped a 1-0, 83 MPH change-up to right-center field. The ball caromed off the wall, heading towards left field, which sent center Jake Marisnick on the chase. Marisnick tried to pick up the ball with his glove, but dropped it, which sealed Descalso’s destiny for an inside-the-parker.

It had only been five days since the Diamondbacks’ last inside-the-park home run. David Peralta hit one against the Cubs on August 12. Ketel Marte legged out his club’s first ITPHR on July 26 against the Braves.

As ESPN Stats & Info notes, the Diamondbacks have three as a team, which is amazing because the other 29 teams have hit seven combined.