Both the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers won their regular-season finales on Sunday, setting up a one-game tiebreaker for the right to face the Cleveland Indians in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
The Rays and Rangers are tied for the final wild-card spot in the American League at 91-71. Under MLB rules, they have to battle it out on Monday to advance to the playoffs.
Texas is 4-3 against Tampa Bay this season, including 2-1 at home. The Rangers own the sixth-best home record in the AL, while the Rays rank seventh in the league with a 40-41 road record.
Tampa Bay is 16-12 in September, while Texas is 12-15 for the month. You may remember that the Rangers lost a one-game playoff to the Baltimore Orioles last season.
Let's take a look at the pivotal clash on Monday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
When: Monday, Sept. 30 at 8:07 p.m. ET
Where: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, TX
Rays Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
Questionable: OF Desmond Jennings (Hamstring), RP Jesse Crain (Shoulder)
Rangers Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
Probable: OF Nelson Cruz (Suspension)
Top Storyline: Nelson Cruz Returns for Rangers
After serving his 50-game suspension for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz will be added to Texas' roster for Monday's game against the Rays, per Scott Miller of CBSSports.com.
Miller tweeted on Sunday:
Rangers GM Jon Daniels confirms OF Nelson Cruz will be activated for Mon game with Rays. Says it is up to Washington whether he's in lineup— Scott Miller (@ScottMCBS) September 29, 2013
Before his suspension, Cruz was hitting .269 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI in 108 games (409 at-bats). The 33-year-old hit a home run against the Oakland Athletics in his final game before the suspension on Aug. 4.
Interestingly enough, the Rangers don't appear to have missed a beat offensively in Cruz's absence. They ranked first in the AL in runs in August and rank fifth in the league in runs in September.
Still, adding an extra power bat (a motivated one, at that) can't hurt the squad.
FYI: Cruz is 6-for-12 with two home runs, four RBI and four runs lifetime versus Rays projected starter David Price.
Prediction: Rays 5, Rangers 4
Who will win on Monday?
I like Rays projected starter David Price better than Rangers projected starter Martin Perez. Perez has been solid this season (10-5, 3.55 ERA, 1.34 WHIP), but the 22-year-old doesn't have postseason experience. Going up against a three-time All-Star, I don't know if Perez will get enough run support to eke out a victory.
As for Cruz's lifetime success against Price, I still feel like the powerful right-hander will be a little rusty in his first game back on Monday. I could still see him getting a hit or two against the lefty, but I don't think he'll have a game-changing impact on the clash.
The Rays have posted a better record in September, despite hailing from the menacing AL East. I think they edge the Rangers, with Price being the ultimate factor.