Rangers-Rays: Game 2 Preview
We waited 5,100 days in between Texas Rangers' playoff wins. Might we suddenly get two within 24 hours?
As dominant as Cliff Lee was in the Rangers' 5-1 Game 1 victory on Wednesday, I like the matchup of C.J. Wilson over Tampa's James Shields even more in Game 2 today at 1:37. You?
Granted, Wilson probably won't be quite as commanding as Lee, who struck out 10 and walked nary a Ray. But against a struggling pitcher like Shields, he won't have to be.
According to baseball history dating back to 1969, by capturing Game 1 the Rangers have a 73-percent chance (70-26) of winning their first series in franchise history. They've got the dreaded Sports Illustrated jinx on their side. They're facing a slumping, anemic Rays' offense that was shut out three times in the season's final eight games and in Game 1 scratched out only two extra-base hits.
But, most enticing, they're facing a Game 2 pitcher who lately has been -- let's admit it -- horrible.
The bad news for the Rangers: Shields has big-game experience. He was Tampa's opening day starter, and he has two playoff victories, including the only World Series win in Rays' history (over the Phillies in '08). He also beat the Rangers this season, limiting them to four hits and one earned run in seven innings on Aug. 18.
The good news for the Rangers: Damn, where to start?
Shields allowed an AL-high 34 homers and surrendered the most earned runs (117) by any pitcher in baseball this season. He suffered career-highs in losses (15) and ERA (5.18). He hasn't won a game since Aug. 29 and over his final six starts was 0-4 with a 7.59 ERA. In his last regular-season outing, last Friday, he allowed 12 hits to the lowly Kansas City Royals.
Honestly, the only reason Rays' manager Joe Maddon is starting Shields in Game 2 is to avoid having to start him in Game 3 in Rangers Ballpark. As bad as Shields has been at Tropicana Field (5-7, 4.53 ERA), he's been even worse on the road (8-8, 5.82).
Given those stats, you gotta believe the Rangers are going to put some crooked numbers up on the board this afternoon. How good will Wilson have to be?
A reliever-turned-reliable, Wilson (15-8 3.35) got off to a 7-0 start but has somewhat leveled down the stretch. His key is control. When he's pounding strike 1, he can be dominant. When he's wild, look out. Especially against the Rays, who
love to rely upon manufactured runs.
As opposed to Lee, who walks a batter about as often as this here blog goes without a silly/funny "first" comment, Wilson walked at least three in 20 of his 33 starts. He led the AL with 93 walks and allowed 21 stolen bases, most by an AL lefty.
That, of course, is a potential recipe for disaster against Tampa, who's offense hit only .247 but scored more runs than the Rangers by leading all of baseball in walks and steals. Throw strikes today, and Wilson posts a win. Yes, it's that simple.
In Game 1 the players with playoff experience excelled. Lee was dominant, Bengie Molina had three hits, Vladimir Guerrero two and Darren Oliver got a couple of big outs. (Playoff rookie Nelson Cruz seemed to fare OK as well.) Wilson has never pitched in a game with this much pressure or significance.
If he can bottle his emotions and control his fastball, the Rangers will return to Texas having already produced the greatest season in franchise history.
In other news, anyone gonna miss Rich Harden? He has been designated for assignment and will officially be an ex-Ranger in 10 days.
In other other news, anyone missing breathless coverage of the 1-2 Dallas Cowboys? They host the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Cowboys Stadium.