Rays vs. Rangers: Strong Starting Pitching Crucial to Comeback

Tom FirmeAnalyst IIOctober 4, 2011

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 01:  James Shields #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws against the Texas Rangers during Game Two of the American League Division Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 30, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays rode their starting pitching to the 2011 MLB Playoffs. They will need their starters to come through in order to come back and win the series against the Texas Rangers.

Matt Moore put the Rays on the right track in Game 1 with a stellar performance, keeping the Rangers silent in seven remarkable innings pitched.

James Shields and David Price were less than impressive in Games 2 and 3. The Rangers chased Shields for seven runs in five-plus innings. After Shields had been blown out of the water with five runs allowed in the fourth inning, the Rays hardly had a chance.

Besides, the Rays are typically finished after a team scores five or more runs against them. They are 17-45 (.274) when they give up five or more runs.

Price didn't do nearly as bad as Shields. The lefty did earn a quality start, allowing three runs in 6.2 innings pitched. However, that was not enough. In the seventh inning, Price had spun out of control, allowing all three of those runs.

If Joe Maddon could have seen Price giving up a momentum-shifting home run to Mike Napoli, might he have taken Price out of the game before the seventh inning?

One can hardly tell.

Maddon was justified in keeping Price in the game. First, Price hadn't given up a run to the Rangers in the first six innings.  Second, Price—who placed ninth in the American League in innings pitched (224.1)—allowed three or more runs in only six of his 20 starts in which he pitched more than six innings.

Anyway, the Rays need solid starting pitching in order to rally past the Rangers for a series victory.

Jeremy Hellickson needs to have a big game. The Rays need him to stop the Rangers' hot bats.

Hellickson, who is one of two Rays starters to finish the regular season with ERAs under 3.00, can be counted upon. He has a 2.54 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP at home. Also, Hellickson had a 2.59 ERA in August and September, making him primed for a strong performance on Tuesday.

If the Rays push the series to Game 5, Shields is expected to get the call. The Rays need him to do much better than he did on Saturday. 

Anything worse than three runs allowed won't do. The Rays are much more successful when they allow three or fewer runs. When the team allow four or more runs, they are 25-55 (.313).  Conversely, they are 66-16 (.805) when allowing three runs or fewer.

Shields needs to keep the ball down and stay in control if he gets a chance to redeem himself. His two wild pitches and two hit batsmen in Game 2 were unacceptable. While he avoided giving up extra base hits in that outing, he'll have to keep the Rangers from rolling. 

Once the Rangers start hitting, they're hard to stop. That is especially true for the Rays.

After Game 3, Maddon said, "Believe me, this thing is not over."

In order to make Maddon's words come true, the Rays will be carried by Hellickson and Shields.