Sunday’s shutout loss to the Seattle Mariners added a rain cloud on what nearly became a euphoric season for the Texas Rangers. They clinched their first playoff spot in seven years and made a 22-win turnaround from one year ago. Those are heavy accomplishments. However, the rain cloud stems from a team that needed one more victory for a division title and couldn’t get it done.
It’s easy to blame outside forces. “Partying all night” (which, according to people around the team, the celebration lasted roughly 30 minutes. Then the team went to watch the Astros/Diamondbacks final outs Saturday) is the first that comes to mind. Or the Diamondbacks are not playing starters on the last game of the season (Arizona knew they had to travel to either Philadelphia or Milwaukee for Tuesday’s Wild Card series and wanted to rest, guys). Finally, the Mariners are NOT resting starters (it’s their final game of the season). The reality is this: the Rangers blew 33 saves (47.6 save percentage) in 2023. Whether you’re a 90-win team or a 60-win team like the Colorado Rockies, it’s horrendous. The Rangers lost 8 of their last 10 games against the Houston Astros, which nodded the tiebreaker to Houston rather than Texas.
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) October 1, 2023
All of that negativity aside, the Rangers begin a best-of-three series against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team Texas went 4-2 against during the 2023 season. A promising sign for Rangers fans is this: whenever the Rangers and Rays meet in the postseason, Texas goes to the World Series. The only two meetings between these two teams in the playoffs were 2010 and 2011, and Texas went 5-0 at Tropicana Field during those two Postseason runs.
The advantage indeed points in the Rays’ direction this week. First, Tampa Bay has home-field advantage, where they went 53-28 this season. Meanwhile, Texas finished a game under .500 (40-41) away from Globe Life Field and are heading cross-country for their third city in what could be a four-city trip, should they advance to the ALDS. Second, Tampa Bay had the luxury of resting players and giving their high-leverage bullpen pieces an extra day off, something specifically Rays manager Kevin Cash wanted to do when he sent them out on Saturday in a bullpen game against the Blue Jays. Conversely, the Rangers bullpen has been shaky all season, along with guys like Martín Pérez and Andrew Heaney unavailable for Tuesday’s game. Therefore, a lot rests on the start of Jordan Montgomery Tuesday.
The Rangers saw Tyler Glasnow on June 9th in Tampa Bay, where Glasnow allowed one run in six innings while walking three and striking out six. The lone run came on a Leody Taveras home run in the third inning in the Rays 8-3 win (it was Glasnow’s third start since coming off the injured list with an oblique injury).
Meanwhile, Zach Eflin saw the Rangers once in 2017 (with Philadelphia), and the Rangers struck for seven runs in four innings. Aaron Civale (Game 3 starter) has dominated Texas in his time with Cleveland, allowing five runs among 22 career innings against Texas. The Rangers saw Civale on July 14th with the Guardians, and he threw five innings of two-run baseball at Globe Life Field.
Although not fully announced, Nathan Eovaldi will likely get the start for Game 2, and then the Rangers will decide if Dane Dunning gets a shortened rest or if Andrew Heaney gets a shot. Nevertheless, Jordan Montgomery will start Game 1 and is the Rangers’ best starter in the mix (two runs in his last 27 innings). If the Rangers can take a similar approach to Glasnow as they did Luis Castillo on Saturday, then Texas’ offense can get cooking. However, I wouldn’t suspect Kevin Cash would allow any pitcher to stay in as long as Scott Servais did for Castillo. It will be a chess match week for Bruce Bochy and Kevin Cash, but at least the Rangers can say they’re in the playoffs (unlike 18 other teams). So let’s stop thinking about what COULD have been and focus on the present, Tuesday at Tropicana Field.
"Everyone in that locker-room know how hard baseball is, just gotta be patient and come back tomorrow."
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) September 29, 2023
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