MLB Playoffs Rangers Vs. Rays: James Shields Leads Tampa Into Game 2

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IOctober 7, 2010

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 21:  James Shields #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the New York Yankees on September 21, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

James Shields takes the mound for the Tampa Bay Rays today with his team already down 1-0 in their American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers.

Shields has been one of the American League's unluckiest pitchers this season: Despite an xFIP ("experimental fielder-independent pitching," a metric designed to strip out luck-related factors of defensive support and home-run luck that affect a pitcher's ERA) of 3.72, Shields had an ERA of 5.18. The former figure puts him in the company of Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Verlander; the latter sorts him out to be more like Paul Maholm.

Shields' best pitch is a change-up, which should serve him well as he faces the fastball-killing Rangers. Unfortunately, Shields's greatest vulnerability this season has been his tendency to give up home runs—1.50 per nine innings, second-most among qualifying pitchers. That could spell trouble against a Rangers offense that hit the fifth-most homers in the AL this season.

In the first inning, Shields looked good, striking out two. The right-handed starter threw five straight change-ups to strike out left-handed slugger Josh Hamilton to end the frame.

Interestingly, Ben Zobrist is getting the start at first base today, with Carlos Pena riding the bench as Desmond Jennings plays right field. Jennings adds speed and makes Tampa's team defense even better, while Zobrist (who homered yesterday for the team's lone run) may represent an offensive upgrade over Pena, who struck out three times and walked in four plate appearances yesterday.

The Rays have Willy Aybar at DH today after Rocco Baldelli was deactivated for medical reasons following Game 1. Despite a leadoff single by Jason Bartlett on a fastball away from Rangers starting left-hander C.J. Wilson, the Rays could not push across a run in the first. Carl Crawford just missed a hanging Wilson slider, swatting a lazy fly to Hamilton in center field. After one inning in St. Petersburg, there is no score.