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.

Astros’ bullpen throws combined one-hitter for MLB-best 30th win

Bob Levey/Getty Images
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The Astros’ bullpen did yeoman’s work in place of the injured Dallas Keuchel on Monday against the Tigers. Keuchel is temporarily sidelined with a pinched nerve in his neck.

Brad Peacock made the spot start, limiting the Tigers to one hit and two walks with eight strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings. Chris Devenski took over with one out in the fifth, finishing out that inning as well as the sixth and seventh, facing the minimum. Will Harris pitched a perfect eighth and Ken Giles closed out the 1-0 victory in the ninth. Devenski, Harris, and Giles each had two strikeouts.

The Astros scored their only run in the bottom of the first inning as George Springer drew a leadoff walk, then scored on Jose Altuve‘s one-out double. Tigers starter Brad Fulmer pitched well enough to win on most days, giving up the lone run in seven frames.

After Monday’s win, the Astros became the first team to reach 30 wins, sitting on a 30-15 record. With a +55 run differential, even their expected record matches up with their actual record.

Brandon Phillips hit his 200th career home run

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
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Braves second baseman Brandon Phillips became the 337th player in baseball history to hit 200 career home runs, driving a solo home run to left-center field during Monday night’s home game against the Pirates. Phillips is the 14th second baseman (who played a min. of 75 percent of his career games at the position) to rack up at least 200 career home runs.

Phillips, 35, entered Monday’s action batting .290/.345/.405 with two home runs and 12 RBI in 142 plate appearances. If he’s anything, he’s consistent, as he finished with an adjusted OPS between 90-99 (100 is average) every year between 2012-16 and it was sitting at 97 coming into Monday.