Rangers edge Rays 4-3, take 2-1 lead in ALDS

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The Rangers ended David Price’s shutout bid with four runs in the top of the seventh and held on to beat the Rays 4-3 on Monday and take a 2-1 lead in the ALDS.

Colby Lewis was the winning pitcher for Texas after allowing just one hit — a Desmond Jennings homer on the first pitch of the fourth — over six innings. Including the 2010 postseason, Lewis is 4-0 with a 2.86 ERA lifetime against the Rays.

Price, who carried a 1-0 lead into the seventh, took the loss. Adrian Beltre started the Rangers’ rally with a single, and Mike Napoli followed with a homer.  Price bounced back to get two outs, but he was pulled after a Craig Gentry single. Unfortunately, the Rays’ pen really let them down from there.  Brandon Gomes walked both hitters he faced, throwing just one strike in the process, and J.P. Howell gave up a two-run single to Josh Hamilton to make it 4-1 Rangers.

The Rays tried to strike back in the bottom of the inning, putting together three straight singles off Darren Oliver with one out.  Alexi Ogando then took over with the bases loaded and limited the Rays to just one run after getting a pair of groundouts.  Still, not giving up, the Rays pulled within a run in the eighth on Jennings’ second homer off Mike Adams and threatened further before Mike Gonzalez and closer Neftali Feliz shut down the rally. Feliz stayed in and pitched a scoreless ninth to end it.

Game 4 of the ALDS will be played Tuesday in St. Pete. The Rays will start rookie Jeremy Hellickson with their backs against the wall, while the Rangers will counter with left-hander Matt Harrison.

Notes

The exceptional diving stab Casey Kotchman made to save a run in the first was a play that quite a few first basemen would have made, but only because most of them would have been positioned closer to the line to start with. I imagine Adrian Gonzalez is going to get the Gold Glove, but Kotchman is right there with him as the AL’s best at first.

– Price’s handling of Hamilton’s one-hopper in the sixth might have been an even better play. He didn’t have much time to think about it, but he figured out quickly that he was going to be the only fielder with a chance of turning that ball into an out. If he were a bit slower, it would have been bases loaded with one out for the Rangers. As it was, there were two outs and Price was able to get out of the jam.

ESPN pointed out that Lewis struck out both Matt Joyce and Johnny Damon after falling behind in the count 3-0 today. He had just two such strikeouts in 200 1/3 innings during the regular season.

– Prior to Napoli’s homer in the seventh, Price had thrown over to first base three times in the at-bat, even though Beltre had one steal on the season and wasn’t looking like any sort of threat to add to it. Price went on to throw a wild pitch that allowed Beltre to advance and then the lousy pitch that Napoli knocked over the wall in left-center. Why he allowed himself to get so distracted by Beltre is something he’ll have a long time to think about if the Rays fail to advance.

– It was quite a surprise that the Rays picked Howell over Cesar Ramos as the second lefty in their pen, considering that Howell had a 6.16 ERA in 30 2/3 innings and Ramos came in at 3.92 in 43 2/3 innings. Ramos was also the busier of the two down the stretch, giving up two runs in 8 2/3 innings in September (two runs in 4 2/3 innings for Howell). The two were similarly effective against lefties, but Ramos was a whole lot better against righties, something that probably didn’t matter much to the Rays given that neither was likely to face a righty in a close game this month. Anyway, Howell got his first chance tonight and didn’t do his job; he allowed the two-run single to Hamilton, the only batter he faced.

– Note to Oliver: you work for maybe 10 minutes a day two or three times per week. It’s the postseason. Your first move on any ball hit to the right side should be to break toward first, whether you think you’ll be needed or not.

That Oliver didn’t break gave Damon a free hit in the bottom of the seventh, starting a Rays’ rally that could have resulted in more than one run.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.