Well, Game 163 is tonight, as the Texas Rangers host the Tampa Bay Rays for the right to advance to the Wild Card Game against Cleveland on Wednesday.
It is, of course, folly to try and predict a single baseball game. There are so many actors and factors (a rhyme!) that are in play, and a single strange hop or blown call can change everything. Luck will have just as much to do with the result of this game as skill.
That said, the old axiom that good pitching beats good hitting suggests that the Rays have the advantage tonight. Why? Because they have David Price on the mound. While Price was only 9-8 this year while Texas’ Martin Perez was 10-5, win-loss records are misleading. Instead, look at how Price has a lower ERA than Perez, and how Price has a better WAR than Perez, and how Price has experience pitching in big games while this will be Perez’s first rodeo.
Of course, that experience could cut both ways. You see, Price’s relative veteran status means that the Rangers have had plenty of times to face him. They know him firsthand, and while that might not save them if he is having a good day, it certainly evens the odds a bit. Alex Rios, for example, is a career .435 hitter against Price in 23 at-bats, including two home runs. Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre also have good numbers against Price, and Nelson Cruz– back from his Biogenesis suspension- has had three home runs in his career against the Rays’ ace, including one in the 2010 postseason.
By comparison, only four members of the Rays have ever faced Perez, so they will be going mainly on scouting and video. Maybe this will mean nothing, as the Rays’ contain plenty of hitters who are just naturally gifted.
Which, of course, leads to how these two lineups stack up. In general, I’d say this is a slight advantage to Texas, especially with Cruz back. Texas, statistically, has hit better for average and power this year than Tampa, although not overwhelmingly so, while Tampa has a edge in getting on base. The two are ridiculously close when it comes to OPS, with Tampa at .737 and Texas at .736. However, Texas didn’t have Cruz these past few months due to his suspension, so I hypothesize that his addition will provide the ever-so-slight edge for the Rangers.
So, the starting matchup favors Tampa, but the lineups will likely favor Texas. What does that leave us with? Bullpens, fielding and managing.
Starting with the last of the three: Joe Maddon is unquestionably the better strategic mind than Ron Washington, using advanced metrics and unconventional tactics while Ron Washington… doesn’t.
Next, fielding. This is tough, as the advanced fielding statistics are really complicated, Gold Gloves are subjective and the traditional statistics are often misleading. And, I got to say, it all depends on what stat you look at… so I’m calling this one a push.
And so, finally, the bullpens. I give a slight advantage to the Rangers, at least assuming there aren’t any screwups. Their bullpen was better statistically than the Rays’ bullpen this season, although admittedly Fernando Rodney was erratic all year for Tampa, going from Cy Young to Cy Yuk and back again several times, so who knows?
So, there you go, it looks like a very evenly-matched contest, but I’m going to go with the Rays, 4-2. I just don’t feel like going against David Price.