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.

Madison Bumgarner began his rehab assignment yesterday

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Giants ace Madison Bumgarner tossed three no-hit innings yesterday in his first minor league rehab start with the Giants’ Arizona Rookie League team. He struck out two and walked a guy, while sitting in the 88-91 m.p.h. range on his fastball.

Bumgarner, who is coming back from a sprained left AC joint in his shoulder suffered in a dirt bike accident in April, will return to San Francisco to throw a bullpen session and then go back on the road for more rehab games. That’s a lot of traveling, but the Giants obviously want to monitor his progress. At the moment he’s expected to build up his strength for the next several weeks and, hopefully, return to the Giants’ rotation some time after the All-Star break.

Of course, there shouldn’t be too much of a rush. The Giants have lost five in a row and 12 of 13 and currently sit in last place, 24.5 games behind the Dodgers. At this point Bumgarner rushing to rejoin the Giants is like an Australian soldier getting a wound dressed to hurry back to the Gallipoli Campaign.

Is it really that weird that Cody Bellinger does not know who Jerry Seinfeld is?

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Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger has been tearing through the league so far this season, blazing a 50-home run pace despite not even making his debut until April 25. His Dodgers are winners of 10 games in a row, sit in first place and have the best record in the National League.

But not everything is rosy in Cody Bellinger land. He’s now at the center of controversy after he revealed on SportsCenter on Friday night that he doesn’t know who Jerry Seinfeld is. Or, at the very least, that he could not put a face with that familiar-sounding name and that in no event did he know why he was famous.

People have been going crazy with this, acting as if he’s from Mars or something for not knowing who starred in one of history’s most popular and influential sitcoms. His teammates, especially, have been getting on his case:

I dunno. On the one hand, sure, the show was amazingly popular and has been in heavy syndication for like 20 years so it would be hard to miss even for a young guy like Bellinger. And, of course, the catchphrases and bits of the show that has seeped into the popular culture have given it a longer shelf life than most TV shows ever manage.

On the other hand the thing ended when he was not yet three years old. For him, “Seinfeld” was like “The Beverly Hillbillies” for someone my age or “M*A*S*H” for someone born in the early 80s. Those shows were just as popular — actually, they got higher ratings and were seen by a larger percentage of the population than “Seinfeld” ever was — and they were just as heavily syndicated for the decade or two after they went off the air. We don’t get on the case of players born in the 70s or 80s for not knowing who Alan Alda or Buddy Ebsen are. And if it’s about the catchphrases, substitute in “Happy Days” and “Welcome Back Kotter,” each of which created a cultural footprint larger than the show itself. Would we freak out if we found out that Jayson Werth — born in 1979 — had never heard the phrase “Up your nose with a rubber hose” or “Sit on it?”

And that’s before you acknowledge how much more fragmented pop culture and entertainment is now. I was 12 in 1985 and back then I had little choice but to watch “M*A*S*H” reruns at 7pm while I was waiting for prime time. It was either that or “Wheel of Fortune” I guess. As a 12-year old in 2007, Bellinger could’ve easily avoided “Seinfeld” reruns. He could’ve avoided TV altogether and just been online. My son is 12 now and he hasn’t watched an actual TV show in years. It’s all You Tube and stuff. The idea that there is any one thing or even a handful of things that, culturally speaking, we can all agree upon or which can serve as a common touchstone is an increasingly obsolete idea.

Maybe “Seinfeld” is different. Maybe this is not the same as not knowing “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “M*A*S*H”. I floated this whole idea on Twitter yesterday and people were outraged, so perhaps something else is going on here that I’m missing. But personally speaking, I feel like we should all calm down a bit about Cody Bellinger and the “Seinfeld” thing. Maybe we should acknowledge that the stuff we like is not going to be culturally prevalent forever. And that young kids like Cody Bellinger are going to be the ones to inform us of this inescapable fact.