UPDATE II: Evidently I was wrong about the Rays' game 1 starter. It wasn't Matt Moore after all, it was Sandy Koufax, circa 1966, wearing a rubber Matt Moore mask. Very tricky, Koufax, very tricky indeed.
UPDATE: According to Brian Dalgon, the Texas Rangers' pre/post game show host (via Twitter), the Tampa Bay Rays will start rookie left-hander Matt Moore tomorrow night for game one. I swear I didn't know that, thus the third paragraph proves that I'm almost clairvoyant.
We're all still in a holding pattern in regards to who will toe the rubber for the Tampa Bay Rays tomorrow afternoon, for Game 1 of the 2011 American League Championship Series in Arlington, Texas.
Some say it will be James Shields, who would be pitching on three days' rest. Others point towards Wade Davis, who'd be on four days' rest. Jeff Niemann was rumored to be the Game 1 starter by Keith Law this afternoon via his podcast. Niemann and his 0-1 record, 9.00 ERA at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington this year would be just fine with me.
Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if Joe Maddon pulls a ninja-move and starts young left-hander Matt Moore. Moore was scheduled to pitch today had there been a one-game playoff with the Red Sox. I don't know, if he's good enough to pitch in an elimination game, why not give him a go against Texas on Friday?
For the Rangers, it's a no-brainer: C.J. Wilson. Manager Ron Washington has announced his Game 2 starter as well, and it's Derek Holland. With Alexi Ogando being shipped back to the bullpen, that means that the final two spots of the rotation will go to Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison, but it's not certain in which order they will pitch.
The Texas Rangers have the option of going with three consecutive left-handers (Wilson, Holland and Harrison) against the Rays, the third-worst team in the American League against southpaws, with a .249 batting average.
Regardless, no matter how pumped up they are after their last-second leap into the playoff picture, they're going to have to pitch exceptionally well and continue to put runs on the board in big bunches if they want to earn so much as a split in the first two games of the ALDS.
Although there is still some uncertainty in regards to the order of the final two rotation spots for the Rangers, Ron Washington has announced that he is going with a seven-man bullpen. It will be: Alexi Ogando (right-hander), Scott Feldman (RH), Mike Gonzalez (LH), Darren Oliver (LH), Koji Uehara (RH), Mike Adams (RH) and closer Neftali Feliz (RH).
This will make for a different look from the pen, in that 75 percent of the starting rotation will be throwing from the left side, and all but two of the relieving corps are right-handed. Even though the Rangers bullpen is easily the most improved in the big leagues for the second-half—and the starting rotation is solid—but for this team to be going on all cylinders, it's all about that offense.
And the 2011 Texas Rangers offense has been absolutely unbelievable, especially as they came roaring down the stretch in September (.320 BA in the month). Thanks to a nuclear-level hot streak enjoyed by seemingly everyone at the plate for the Rangers, especially Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre.
Napoli ended the regular season hitting two homers in each of the final two games, against his former team, nonetheless. And Beltre, since his return from the disabled list, has been hitting home runs at a ridiculous pace: including seven long balls in his last 10 games.
Although Washington doesn't tend to change his lineup as drastically as Joe Maddon, there is some wiggle-room for the Rangers, as "Wash" does like to keep some options open.
Here's a look at the lineup for the Texas Rangers (with possible lineup substitutions):
1. Ian Kinsler—2B
Kinsler is coming off of his second-career 30/30 season. He provides pop that no other team in the playoffs can match from the leadoff spot. He's also been hot of late, with three HR in his last 10 games.
2. Elvis Andrus—SS
The 23-year-old Venezuelan has posted career-highs in batting average (.279), stolen bases (37) and RBI (60). Plus he can be moved into the leadoff spot in a pinch, where he had success last postseason (.333 BA against the Rays in 2010 ALDS).
3. Josh Hamilton—CF
Hamilton in center field is the most dramatic deviation from the Rangers' regular season lineup. Wash preferred a Craig Gentry and Endy Chavez platoon in center field. Hamilton is just fine there, and some consider his defense as Gold Glove caliber. We all know what he can do at the dish.
4. Michael Young—DH
The "face of the franchise" has had absolutely no problems transitioning from an everyday third basemen to a "super-utility" player. He's been on fire at the plate this month, batting .410 in the final 10 games of the season.
5. Adrian Beltre—3B
Where to start with this guy? We all knew he could hit and play excellent defense. I'm not sure I was prepared for just how well he'd do both. Had it not been for his injury in late July, he'd probably have hit 40 home runs. His last 10 games: .381 BA, 7 HR, 14 RBI.
6. Mike Napoli—C/1B
The stigma surrounding Napoli was that he could hit, but was a liability behind the plate. Well, the Rangers are now 46-15 when he starts at catcher. He also set a career high with 30 home runs, and single-handedly grabbed the Rangers home-field advantage, but is going absolutely nuts on the Angels in Anaheim.
7. Nelson Cruz—RF
Nelson Cruz is an extremely imposing presence in the lineup when he's healthy. Unfortunately, he's often injured. He's back now and ready to play everyday again, and there's no question he'll heat up in the postseason. He's sneaky-fast in right field and has a cannon for an arm.
8. David Murphy—LF
In many ways, Murphy helped the Rangers stabilize and not fall off too much when both Cruz and Beltre went down late last summer. Over his last 10 games, he's been hitting at a .306 clip.
9. Mitch Moreland—1B or Yorvit Torrealba, as catcher, moving Napoli to 1B, or DH with Young moving to 1B.
Mitch Moreland is the only reason the Rangers weren't swept by the San Francisco Giants during last year's World Series. His clutch home run off of Jonathan Sanchez gave us all hope. Regardless, he's been struggling mightily lately, with a .161 BA and only three RBI over the team's final 10 games.
Torrealba has had a fine season, batting .273 with seven home runs in limited playing time.
The Tampa Bay Rays are an excellent pitching team. They lead the American League in WHIP (1.22) and are second in team ERA (3.58). It's worth noting that the Rangers are second in WHIP in the AL, just behind the Rays at 1.24 and their ERA is fifth-best at 3.79.
What makes this series favor the Texas Rangers, though, is their unbelievable offense, one that has been super-hot recently, at the best possible time.
The Rays flat-out don't hit very well. They're in a three-way tie in the Major Leagues in batting average at .244 and are 15th in RBI. They crack the top 10 in homers with 172.
The Texas Rangers are the best hitting team in all of baseball. First in BA (.283), second in homers with 210 and third in RBI with 807.
Conventional wisdom states that "good pitching will beat good hitting." For the Rays to win this series, they'd better have GREAT pitching and GREAT hitting. It's not like this Texas Rangers team can't pitch, too.
Prediction: Texas Rangers will beat the Rays once again, this time they'll do it in four games.