Sometimes even 162 games aren't enough.
With the Tampa Bay Rays' 7-6 win over the Toronto Blue Jays Sunday evening, it will all come down to a tie-breaking Game 163 to decide whether they or the Texas Rangers, who similarly took care of business with a 6-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels, get the second American League wild-card spot. The game is set for Monday night just after 8 p.m. ET, with the winner heading to Cleveland on Wednesday to take on the Indians, who finished one game ahead (92-70) to earn the first wild card.
If recent history is any indication, Tampa-Texas is going to be must-watch theater on Monday.
MLB, of course, is no stranger to this scenario. In fact, there was a Game 163 every season from 2007 to 2009, and each of those were decided, fittingly, by one run—and two of the three went to extra innings.
The Rays and Rangers have a lot to live up to.
It's somewhat apropos that these two clubs wound up tied to this point, as both struggled over the final weeks. After going just 11-15 in August, Tampa had to rally to win nine of its last 12 to finish 16-12 in September, while the Rangers needed to win their final seven games just to get to 12-15 for the month.
The pitching matchup already has been decided, and it's a good one. Reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price is getting the nod for Tampa, per Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune. And Texas is turning to fellow left-hander Martin Perez, according to the Rangers' official Twitter feed.
While Price (9-8, 3.39 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) is one of the more accomplished aces in the sport and Perez (10-5, 3.55 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) is merely a rookie with 25 career starts on his résumé, it goes without saying that the men on the mound deserve an in-depth breakdown in this win-or-go-home showdown.
What to Expect from Price
Price's 2013 season was interrupted by a bout of triceps soreness, but since returning from a six-week stint on the disabled list, the 28-year-old has been more or less his usual self, posting a 2.57 ERA and 0.96 WHIP over 122.2 innings.
It's worth pointing out, though, that his strikeout rate in that time is an uncharacteristically low 7.2 per nine innings, perhaps due in part to the fact that Price's velocity has dropped compared to years past. While that's somewhat troubling, the southpaw has countered by improving his control and owns a career-best 1.3 walks per nine rate—tops in the AL.
While Price did not face the Rangers at all in 2013, he does have a history against them. And well, it's not pretty:
That 5.98 ERA? Only Price's worst against any team he's faced more than once.
And since this game is in Texas, here's Price's line at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Fair warning to Rays fans: You may want to avert your eyes.
That 10.26 ERA? Price's worst at any park. Period.
If that wasn't bad enough, the Rangers have been the best in all of baseball in games started by opposing left-handers:
To say the least, David Price is going to have his hands full with Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Alex Rios and Elvis Andrus. And that's not to mention Nelson Cruz, who will be activated from his 50-game suspension for Monday's game, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
What to Expect from Perez
Only 22 years old, Martin Perez has enjoyed a rather productive, yet under-the-radar rookie campaign. Despite suffering a left forearm fracture on a comebacker in spring training, the Venezuelan lefty has been a key part of the Rangers' bruised and battered five-man since late June.
Perez has long been one of baseball's top pitching prospects, and although it took him several years to live up to the hype, he's started to do so in 2013. Perez sits in the low 90s, so he doesn't throw as hard as Price, but he's proving he can be effective thanks to a repertoire that includes a solid heater, decent slider and a changeup that is his best pitch.
Similar to Price's situation, Perez has not faced the Rays this season. In a game last September, though, Perez fared well enough against Tampa as a long man out of the bullpen in relief of Roy Oswalt, surrendering two runs—both on solo shots by B.J. Upton—over five frames.
Without much history to go on here, let's consider how Perez has handled teams who are heavy on right-handed hitters, as the Rays are with Evan Longoria, Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings and switch-hitting Ben Zobrist.
Those stats aren't blow-you-away great or anything, but Perez actually has pitched better against righty hitters than lefties, who have managed a .287/.354/.417 line against him in 128 plate appearances. His changeup has a lot to do with that, no doubt.
Among Tampa's likely starters Monday, only James Loney and Matt Joyce hit exclusively from the left side of the plate. With that in mind, then, here's a look at how the Rays have done in games started by southpaws this season:
Tampa Bay's lineup has been pretty strong in games started by opposing lefties, but it's decidedly inferior to Texas' performance against southpaws.
Monday's matchup between Price and Perez may wind up being a bit of a battle of attrition, especially considering how many high-intensity games the Rays and Rangers have played over the past week.
If Perez can manage to keep his hitters off balance with his changeup for five or six innings, Texas will have a very good chance to do damage against Price, given his shaky history in the Lone Star state. Plus, the Rangers have a better bullpen than the Rays—Texas' 2.91 reliever ERA is fourth-best in baseball, while Tampa's 3.59 ERA ranks 18th—so Perez won't have the same pressure or expectation on him as his counterpart
Sunday's victory over the Angels aside, the Rangers don't exactly have many good memories in do-or-die games over the past few seasons. On Monday night, though, they have a good chance to change that.