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.

Matt Carpenter suspended one game for bumping umpire

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Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter has been suspended one game for bumping home plate umpire John Tumpane when he didn’t like a called strike three in the seventh inning of Sunday’s game against the Brewers. Manager Mike Matheny was also ejected along with Carpenter.

Carpenter will serve his suspension Tuesday night, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Through his first 69 nice plate appearances this season, Carpenter is hitting .236/.362/.364 with a pair of home runs and five RBI.

Dave Stewart says Diamondbacks’ early success is proof he was good as GM

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After the completion of the 2016 regular season, the Diamondbacks fired then-GM Dave Stewart and then-manager Chip Hale. Stewart acted as GM for two seasons. His most controversial move occurred in December 2015 when he acquired pitcher Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Gabe Speier in exchange for outfielder Ender Inciarte and prospects Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair. After his firing, Stewart blamed his superiors for the trade and said his gut was telling him not to make the trade.

The D-Backs are now led by new GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo. The club had a relatively quiet offseason, as its biggest acquisitions were Taijuan Walker and Fernando Rodney. Defying expectations, though, the Diamondbacks enter Tuesday night’s action with a 13-8 record, just a game and a half behind the first-place Rockies. Stewart spoke to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports and said that the D’Backs’ success shows that he knew what he was doing all along.

This means a lot to me because this is the same team, or very close to the one that I put on the field. So basically all of those guys and baseball analysts who said I didn’t know what I was doing, it showed I knew exactly what I was doing.

Everybody was just beat up and not living up to expectations. So all of a sudden, it’s my fault. Well, it’s not my fault. I couldn’t prevent injuries or jump in their bodies to make them pitch better in the starting rotation. We put the right people on the field. So I don’t think anybody should be surprised how well those kids are playing. They’re healthy now. I knew this was going to happen.

Everyone should have seen it coming.

Not to rain on Stewart’s parade, but the Diamondbacks are five games over .500 in a relatively tiny 21-game sample size. Had his team valued analytics during his tenure, he might have known that. Additionally, few of the players performing well for the team right now are players Stewart himself was responsible for bringing to Arizona. Furthermore, the team’s success doesn’t retroactively justify what he gave up for Miller nor does it justify practically giving away Touki Toussaint and signing a 32-year-old Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract.

During and after his tumultuous tenure with the D-Backs, Stewart has appeared very insecure. When he was fired, he quipped, “Quite frankly, I’ve got better things to do.” He appeared on MLB Network Radio in February to deflect any blame directed at him for the team’s failure. And then there’s his most recent quotes in which he heaps praise on himself for the team’s success.

Stewart was an All-Star starter who finished in the top-three in AL Cy Young Award voting three times in his career. He’s understandably competitive and has probably built up a very strong distaste for failure. Sometimes, though, one has to make peace with the fact that things didn’t go one’s way. Stewart simply appears to be tilting at windmills to protect his ego.