Rays vs. Rangers: 10 Reasons the Tampa Bay Rays Will Force a Game 5 in the ALDS
The Rays comeback fell a little short, and although it was a tough loss, there were many, many positive signs from the Rays.
Although saddled with the loss, David Price didn't pitch all that badly. He was far from dominant but was able to navigate out of trouble until surrendering a two-run homer to Mike Napoli in the seventh.
Desmond Jennings was the hitting hero for the Rays, blasting two solo home runs. The rest of the Rays would not get a hit off postseason pitching savant Colby Lewis, but their bats began to wake up late in the game, and that should give them a little confidence going into tomorrow afternoon's must-win game.
The Rays also showed their characteristic resilience, clawing their way back into the game and giving themselves a chance to win it in the ninth. Despite facing a 2-1 series deficit, the Rays have what it takes to force a Game 5.
If there is one thing we have learned about the Rays, it is never bet against them.
Here are 10 reasons the Rays will win Game 4 and take the ALDS back to Arlington.
John Jaso Will Not Be behind the Plate
John Maddon tinkered with the bottom of his lineup in Game 3, stacking up six lefties against Colby Lewis due to his splits versus left-handers. It was the right move to make from an offensive stand point, even though it didn't pan out for the Rays.
Unfortunately, this meant that John Jaso was behind the plate against a Rangers team who likes to force the action on the base paths. Jaso only threw out 17 percent of the runners attempting to steal against him in the regular season, and his lack of a throwing arm has become a running joke with Rays fans.
Sure enough, the Rangers stole four bases off Jaso and David Price, including one by world beater Mike Napoli.
Presumably Kelly Shoppach will start tomorrow with left-handed Matt Harrison starting, and he will be able to neutralize the Rangers running game. Shoppach led the AL with a 41 percent CS%.
Desmond Jennings Is Getting Hot
After a rough September, Desmond Jennings has found his game at the plate.
He reached base four times in Game 2, and his two home runs in Game 3 kept the Rays in the ball game. Just as impressive as the two-round trippers though, was the 10-pitch at-bat he worked to open the game.
Jennings can also make a difference on the basepaths. Like BJ Upton, he is developing into a dual threat. A guy who can take you deep or steal a bag if he gets on.
The Rays need offense from anywhere they can get it, and a hot Jennings at the top of the order sets a nice tone for the rest of the lineup.
Evan Longoria Will Look To Atone
Evan Longoria has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball the past few weeks, and his recent heroics have been well documented.
Game 3 was a real struggle for him, however, as for some reason he just looked lost against Colby Lewis. Longoria struck out three times and was a non-factor offensively in the game.
Facing Matt Harrison, who he is 3-for-3 against with a home run, Longoria will be looking to get back into his hitting shoes.
The matchup favors him, and so does the situation, and we all know what he can do when the Rays need him to come through.
They Will Not Let Mike Napoli Beat Them Again
Mike Napoli has had two huge hits against the Rays the past two games and has been the difference maker in the series for the Rangers.
One of the best two strike hitters in the league, twice now he has come up clutch for the Rangers in a two strike situation with men on. The Rays will no doubt try and come up with a game plan to get him out.
This is easier said than done of course, with the likes of Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz to contend with as well.
Still, Joe Maddon and his staff are excellent at making adjustments and don't want to see Napoli beat them three games in a row.
Johnny Damon Will Show His Postseason Experience
Situations like these are exactly why Andrew Friedman signed Johnny Damon this past offseason.
His vast postseason experience and tremendous clubhouse leadership might be one of the greatest assets the Rays have right now. Damon was part of the biggest comeback in postseason history against the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and has won two World Series. No doubt he is right now rallying the troops and gearing up for a huge effort.
Damon can still swing the bat too. He has had plenty of big hits for the Rays, including a home run in Game 1 that got the offense rolling.
Tomorrow's pitching matchup favors Damon as well. He has good career numbers against Matt Harrison ( 5-for-10, .615 OBP, 3 XBH), and like Longoria, he has no problem at all hitting when the pressure is on.
The Rangers Bullpen Now Looks Vulnerable
In Game 2, the Rangers bullpen looked to be pretty unbeatable. That changed in Game 3, when they nearly coughed up the lead.
Mike Adams walked three straight Rays and had to be bailed out by Mike Gonzalez.
Ditto for Darren Oliver who gave up three straight hits against lefties and had to succumb to Alexi Ogando.
The Rays have now also seen all their big bullpen guns in two straight games and have likely learned a thing or two about how to approach them in an at-bat.
Neftali Feliz also had a four-out save, and you have to wonder if Ron Washington will let him pitch multiple innings on back-to-back days.
If the Rangers bullpen struggles again tomorrow, the Rays will not let an opportunity to win slip away again.
Kyle Farnsworth Is Back
Kyle Farnsworth has apparently recovered from his elbow issue. He was warming up in the ninth of Game 3 and is good to go for Game 4.
He may show a little rust, and that is a concern, but the Rays will still be confident throwing him out there late in the game.
Having him back sets up the bullpen the way Joe Maddon has used it all season long and gives him more flexibility to play match-ups.
He has been a tremendous find for the Rays as a closer, and although he is not as dominant as Neftali Feliz, he has more than proved he can get the job done.
Jeremy Hellickson Will Not Crack under Pressure
No statistic can calculate what Jeremy Hellickson will bring to the mound tomorrow.
Sure his 13 wins, 2.95 ERA and .210 opponents AVG are all impressive, and he is the clear favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year.
But it is his poise and confidence that will be his biggest asset on the hill for the Rays. Anyone who has watched him pitch as been impressed with the way he carries himself. Never too high and never too low. Hellickson is a very cool customer.
The pressure and importance of pitching in an elimination game will not bother him, and he will go out and take care of business.
The Rangers are obviously a very good lineup, and Hellickson has a huge challenge in front him. But if he approaches this game with the same demeanor he has had all year, he will be fine, and he is more than capable of throwing up a lot of zeros.
The Rays Will Force the Issue
Surprisingly, the Rays have out-homered the Rangers 7-2 in the series so far.
Don't expect them to rely on the long ball to win in Game 4 though. Joe Maddon will pull out all the tricks in his offensive playbook to push across some runs.
This is nothing new to the Rays. It has been and will continue to be, their style of play. Bunting, stealing, going first to third—these are all skills that the Rays excel at. They have the ability to manufacture needed runs as much as any team in baseball.
They may hit one or two out tomorrow, but they will also be pressing the issue as much as possible.
Joe Maddon Will Rally the Troops
He has done it time and time again. Joe Maddon knows how to get a good performance from his players.
He might offer them a little whiskey or play a game of cards with them, but he will do something to have his team loose and ready play Tuesday afternoon.
Maddon instills confidence in his players unlike any other manager in the game, and the Rays genuinely want to perform well for their manager.
He is confident as well. He indicated in the Game 3 press conference that the series was far from over, and then tweeted later," We said at the beginning of the year we were going to have to find another way. We're set up to do that."
Somehow, he will find a way to put his team into a position to win.