AL Wild Card Series Preview: Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers are set to leadoff Wild Card week, as the two top Wild Card seeds battle it out to see who will advance.

Marcus Semien #2 of the Texas Rangers is met a home plate by Corey Seager #5 after hitting a solo home run in the first inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 24: Marcus Semien #2 of the Texas Rangers is met a home plate by Corey Seager #5 after hitting a solo home run in the first inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on May 24, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

The playoffs have finally arrived and potentially the most exciting Wild Card matchup is between two teams that were in charge of their divisions early but fell into the fourth and fifth seeds due to regression and injuries.

Over the past few weeks, it appeared that the Rays were unlikely to overtake the Orioles for the division and would subsequently be hosting the 4/5 matchup in the Wild Card round. Furthermore, it looked like the battle for the fifth seed would come down to one of the Astros, Blue Jays, or possibly even the Mariners.

The standings got flipped on the last day of the season as the Astros, in typical Astros fashion, got hot enough at the very end of the year to overtake the Rangers for the AL West and send Texas to the fifth seed, where they will now face the Rays.

This is disappointing for Texas but at the same time very few people expected them to even push the Astros for the division title and they ended up with the same record, losing out due to a tiebreaker.

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The Rays were baseball’s best team in the first month of the season but have dealt with more turbulence than almost any other team in the league. Between losing their franchise star for likely ever and seemingly half the pitchers on their roster having arm issues, the fact that they nearly won 100 games is incredibly impressive.

These two teams, despite both missing many key players, could both have a shot at the American League pennant if things click for them but it all starts with what is set to be the best-of-three Wild Card series.

The Season Series: Rangers Won 4-2

These teams matched up twice this season with one series coming in June and the other in July. The Rays got the best of Texas in the first series, but Texas responded with a sweep of Tampa Bay in their second matchup of the year back at Globe Life Field.

Both teams matched up well against one another with big home runs and moments from each side throughout the six games played.

June 9-11 (Rays won 2-1)

  • June 9th: TBR 8, TEX 3
  • June 10th: TEX 8, TBR 4
  • June 11th: TBR 7, TEX 3

July 17th-19th (Rangers won 3-0)

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  • July 17th: TEX 3, TBR 2
  • July 18th: TEX 5, TBR 3
  • July 19th: TEX 5, TBR 1

Projected Pitching Matchups

ALCWS Game One: Tyler Glasnow vs. Jordan Montgomery

Tuesday, October 3rd, 3:08 P.M. ET

Both teams will turn to their current aces to open the series with stars Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Shane McClanahan all on the shelf with injuries. Based on name recognition, most would give the edge to Glasnow but it’s a lot closer when diving into the numbers.

Glasnow finished the season with a 3.53 ERA and 1.08 WHIP across his 21 starts. While not quite at the level we have seen from him in the past, he’s the obvious choice to start the series for Tampa. In his past seven starts, however, he has a 4.12 ERA and took the loss in three of those starts.

Montgomery was easily the most consistent arm throughout the season with a 3.20 ERA across 32 starts. In a rotation missing two aces, Montgomery appears to be the leader of the staff right now heading into the postseason.

While Glasnow is definitely the more dominant pitcher with much higher strikeout rates, Montgomery is the definition of consistency and can relied upon by Texas for a quality start. This battle could go either way with the best version of Glasnow being the better pitcher but Montgomery being easier to count on any given game.

ALCWS Game Two: Zach Eflin vs. TBD

Wednesday, October 4th, 3:08 P.M. ET

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The Rangers have taken their time with deciding pitchers as they just announced Montgomery last night and have yet to name a starter for the second and third games of the series. The Rays are going with veteran Zach Eflin who is quietly having an excellent season after signing with Tampa this past offseason.

Eflin had a 3.50 ERA and 1.02 WHIP this season and has been a consistent force in an otherwise disrupted Rays’ rotation. It’s worth noting that Eflin didn’t face the Rangers in either of the regular season matchups between the teams which makes him even more of an obvious candidate to take the mound in this game.

While not announced yet, it seems highly likely that the Rangers will end up going with Nathan Eovaldi, who was the ace of the staff for much of the season prior to an injury and is likely their best option.

However, he struggled mightily down the stretch with 21 earned runs allowed across his final 26.1 innings pitched in the regular season including seven runs allowed in his last start against Seattle.

Eovaldi allowed four runs, three of which came on a three-run home run, in his start against the Rays in June but got the win thanks to the Rangers’ offense. It hasn’t been pretty for him lately, but he still seems like the best option considering Dane Dunning will be unavailable until Thursday at the earliest after pitching the last game on Sunday.

Eflin has been the better pitcher of late, but we have seen Eovaldi dominate at times this season. Assuming it’s Eovaldi, this matchup is another close call but feels like the edge goes to Eflin and the Rays bullpen by a slim margin.

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ALCWS Game Three: TBD vs. TBD

Thursday, October 5th, 3:08 P.M. ET

This game could be an absolute battle if the series reaches a game three and it would result in each team throwing whoever they have left in order to advance. The most likely starter for the Rays is Aaron Civale, but he has only thrown 4.2 innings in his past two starts combined with seven runs allowed. Meanwhile, Taj Bradley is still extremely young and took the loss in both of his starts against Texas this season.

On the other side, Texas would ideally like to use Dane Dunning, but he just threw on Sunday. He was excellent earlier this year against the Rays and has been steady all season. Jon Gray is unavailable until late in the ALDS at the earliest due to injury, but Andrew Heaney could used similarly to how he was in Saturday’s playoff-clinching win.

This will likely come down to a mix-and-match game from both sides with some combinations of the pitchers mentioned and all of the top bullpen arms ready to go. Let’s just say that this game is going to be chaotic if the series goes the distance.

Lineup Comparison

These lineups have dealt with their fair share of injury but are both amongst the best in baseball this season. With the injuries throughout both pitching staffs, expect to see plenty of fireworks in this series.

The Rangers come in with an offense that has gotten healthy and even added reinforcements, while the Rays are missing multiple important pieces of their everyday lineup. Brandon Lowe won’t be available until potentially late in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Jose Siri and Luke Raley are both trying to work their way back to help this series but it’s unclear if either or both will be able to do so.

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Without them in the fold, bigger roles will fall upon Josh Lowe, Manuel Margot, and Harold Ramirez.

Furthermore, the Rays have been trying to scrap together their infield without the aforementioned Lowe as well as Wander Franco. Top prospects Junior Caminero and Curtis Mead could be a big part of the offense’s success. The leaders of the offense Randy Arozarena, Yandy Diaz, and Isaac Paredes will need to continue their success from the regular season.

For the Rangers, their ability to make a run in October will be on the back of their offense. Corey Seager is going to finish second in AL MVP voting while Marcus Semien and Adolis Garcia have been elite driving forces all season. Top prospect Evan Carter has taken the league by storm and could be the X-factor for the team.

Here is how the team offense numbers stack up against each other:

Via FanGraphs

As you can tell by the numbers, these offenses are not only excellent but are well-matched in almost every way. This series could very easily come down to which offense shows up the most, and I feel like that could be Texas based on the injuries and recent performance.

Bullpen Comparison

This is possibly the biggest distinction between the two teams as the Rays are perenially excellent with deploying a wide range of arms out of the bullpen and will likely be using a reliever to start games at times as they have throughout the season.

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Meanwhile, the Rangers have the worst bullpen among all playoff teams and they will need a few key relievers to step up in October to stand a chance of making a deep run.

The Rays team ERA from their bullpen sits at 3.83 with a WHIP of 1.19 which is second in the league among bullpens. The Rangers bullpen ERA is 4.77 but their WHIP of 1.27 indicates they may have gotten unlucky at times this season. The Rays have the clear edge and the Rangers will be heavily relying upon their key veterans while the Rays have a wide variety of arms they can count on in different situations.

Here are the key relief arms for both teams heading into the Wild Card matchup:

Pete Fairbanks45.113.503.9748.9%2.582.612.712.83
Colin Poche60.19.053.5634.0%2.232.713.344.55
Robert Stephenson38.114.091.8833.8%2.35N/A2.452.26
Shawn Armstrong40.09.231.8033.6%1.80N/A2.764.09
Kevin Kelly67.07.522.0147.7%3.223.353.094.28
Via FanGraphs
Aroldis Chapman58.115.895.5547.7%3.09N/A2.522.59
Will Smith57.18.632.6729.6%4.403.233.364.30
José Leclerc57.010.584.4229.4%2.683.143.634.72
Chris Stratton82.28.822.7238.6%3.92N/A3.544.36
Brock Burke59.27.841.3638.6%4.374.134.904.12
Via FanGraphs

This is the area where the Rays have the clearest advantage over the Rangers and could be the difference in this series. Texas will need the peak version of Aroldis Chapman with the support. of Smith and Leclerc especially to withstand the late innings. The Rays on the other hand will use their bullpen more heavily but they have the luxury to do just that.

Series Prediction

There is a world where every possible combination of outcome of this three-game set could happen. The Rays could pummel the Rangers bullpen and sweep the series or the Rangers lineup could jump out in front with a handful of home runs and then run away with it.

Deciding a winner here was difficult but I feel the Rangers have a better situation to win in game three and the teams are too evenly matched to pick a sweep by Tampa despite them possibly having the pitching edge in each of the first two games. The offensive domination of Corey Seager and company will be just barely too much for the Tampa pitching staff to handle.

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Rangers in three.