MLB Play-in Notes and Predictions

Even when they added an extra team to the postseason, the teams found a way to tie.  Today it will be the Tampa Bay Rays at the Texas Rangers in Arlington, with David Price going up against Martin Perez.

Pitching match-up:  Coming off of a Cy Young last year, injuries and location troubles led Price to a slow start.  But from July to now Price has been looking more like his dominant self, going 8-4 with a 2.57 ERA, and 98 Ks to only 12 walks.  I documented his struggles earlier in the year, as well as talked about the Rays in general here for those that are interested.

Meanwhile Perez is supporting a 10-5 record with a 3.55 ERA and a 79:35 K:BB ratio after getting called up in late May.  He’s been consistent all year long, and while young, will have the home crowd supporting him.

So who has the edge in this pitching matchup?  At first glance it has to be the Rays.  Price has pitched in big games before, and was last year’s Cy Young winner.  Thing is though, his struggles against the Rangers are well documented.  1-4 with a 5.98 ERA in the regular season, and 0-3 with a 4.66 ERA in the postseason ain’t too pretty.  Still though, one usually prefers someone to have experience (even failure) over none at all…so I’ll give the edge to the Rays.

Line-up:  The big story here is that the Rangers are reactivating Nelson Cruz after he just finished his 50 game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs, something the Giants chose not to do last year with Melky Cabrera in their World Series run.  Personally, I like the move…one should  have the best players made available to them, and Cruz has provided a lift in the past in the postseason.  While it’s possible to see him on the bench, I suspect Rod Washington will have him out there in left field as usual.

The story for the Rangers is their ability to hit left-handed pitching.  They are first in the majors in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage against lefties.  Cruz, Beltre, and Ian Kinsler were probably the best at doing so, performing drastically better against lefty starters.  Elvis Andrus is another guy that will does well against lefties, and will be trouble on the base-paths.

The Rays batting doesn’t nearly provide the same initial scare, but in addition to mainstays Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria, James Loney hit better than anyone in baseball on the road this year and suddenly Delmon Young has even hit the ball, doing his best to remain relevant.

Line-up edge here clearly goes to the Rangers but don’t be surprised to see some no-names smacking the ball around for Tampa.

Bullpens: This one isn’t really that close, as the Rangers have the best Bullpen in baseball by wins above replacement (at 7.6) vs. the Rays at 10th and 4.6.  Fun little fact here.  Joe Nathan has a higher career save percentage, at 90.0% than Mariano Rivera at 89.1%.  But while this is an advantage for the Rangers, in one game playoffs these things may not be so key.  One thing that could be key though:

Managers: Ron Washington is known as a good players manager, one of the good guys that has had one of the better records in baseball the past few years.  He also isn’t too keen on some of the better in game strategies, and doesn’t do near the amount of defensive shifting that we’ll find from the great Joe Maddon.  Seriously there isn’t a better manager in baseball and I love his quirky ways. Edge, Rays.

So what does that all add up too?  My prediction here is a close game with the Rays getting up early and surviving, winning 4-3 on a great outing by David Price.

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