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Cliff Lee Leads Rangers Into Tampa Bay For ALDS

For the first time in 4,015 days, the Rangers will be playing in a playoff game. Their last game in the playoffs resulted with a loss against Roger Clemens and the New York Yankees. For the first time in franchise history, the Rangers will see an opponent other than the Yankees in the postseason. 

Now, the Rangers are set to open the playoffs with perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, Cliff Lee as he and the Rangers will take on the AL East Champion Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the ALDS.

Lee was acquired by the Rangers to anchor their postseason staff. Since he's been a Texas Ranger, Lee has pitched 108.2 innings, walking only 12 batters while striking out 96 and posting a 1.06 WHIP. Lee will be looking to replicate his postseason success that he had last year with the Philadelphia Phillies when he went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA as the Phillies won the National League pennant. 

The Rays will counter with young lefty phenom and Cy Young candidate David Price. Price was a 19 game winner this year for the Rays, posting a 2.72 ERA and 1.19 WHIP while striking out 188 in 208.2 innings pitched in the difficult AL East. While this is Price's first postseason start, it's not his first appearance in the postseason. Price appeared out of the Rays bullpen in 2008 when they advanced to the World Series. He pitched five times, going 5.2 innings and striking out eight, allowing only one run. 

With the Rangers facing a lefty in Price, manager Ron Washington plans to start both Jeff Francoeur and Jorge Cantu - both of whom enjoy more success against southpaws than they do right handed pitching. David Murphy, who is still recovering from a groin injury, proclaimed himself at "80 percent" Tuesday after testing his groin but was told he will sit in both Game 1 and Game 2 of the ALDS with a return to the lineup possible in Game 3.

Just as the Rangers added MVP candidate Josh Hamilton back to their lineup over the weekend, the Rays will add their own MVP candidate Evan Longoria to the lineup in Game 1. Longoria, an offensive and defensive stalwart, had been sidelined for the final 10 games of the regular season with a strained left quad. He said on Tuesday that he expects to be at "85-90 percent" for Game 1.

Tampa Bay won the season series against Texas this year, taking four of the six contests - including the last four. The Rays swept the Rangers in Tampa Bay August 16-18 - with help from defensive miscues when Cliff Lee lost to the Rays on August 16. The Rangers will be looking to snap two streaks: their four game losing streak against the Rays and their nine game postseason losing streak. 

The umpire crew which boasts Tim Welke, Jim Wolf, Jerry Meals, Bill Miller, Jeff Kellogg and Mike DiMuro will have new ground rules to adjust to in hazardous Tropicana Field. Tropicana Field is notorious for problems when balls in play strike the catwalks above the field, where the ball has been deemed in play and ruled upon as fair or foul by where the ball struck the catwalk and where it landed in the field of play. This judgment call has been removed. If a ball strikes the A or B ring in fair territory the play is immediately ruled dead and the pitch does not count. Balls that strike the C or D rings in fair territory will remain home runs.

First pitch is slated for 1:37 EDT in Tampa Bay, the first playoff game of the 2010 postseason. Televised coverage can be found on TBS.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.