The Rays are better than the Rangers, you know this. Expecting Texas to escape with a win in this series is dreaming pretty big, but where exactly should our expectations be, then?
The line-ups you'll be seeing from the Rangers tonight have hit and run in 2010 like a team that could be expected to score just over four runs a game against an average pitcher with an average defense (4.03 to be exact). Unfortunately, they're not facing average pitchers.
Wade Davis: 5.09
James Shields: 3.26
Matt Garza: 4.43
Garza's xFIP is a little below average, but a starter who gets the innings he does is better than the rate itself would suggest. The Rays defense is also not average. UZR has them as being 4.3 runs above average this year defensively, while DRS has them an incredible 37 runs better than average. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but if we're merely looking at what we should consider a success this series, we'll assume the worst and go with the high number.
If we take that defense, the starters average expected offensive allowance over their average innings pitched and then fill in the rest with the bullpen, the average offense could be expected to put up something like this over the series. . .
Game 1: 3.9 runs
Game 2: 2.8 runs
Game 3: 3.6 runs
In otherwords, if a team scores 11 runs in this series, they should probably be okay with themselves. Over a three game series, the rangers are probably more like half a run better than an average team with their current line-up, but that's really not enough to change your expectations much.
Now, using the same analysis for the other side, here are the quick hits. . .
Rays Offense: 4.8 R/G (0.2 Above Average)
Rangers Defense: 0.23 R/G
C.J. Wilson: 4.26
Tommy Hunter: 4.79 (2009)
Rich Harden: 4.83
Average offense in this series vs. the Rangers: 12.5 runs
Holding the Rays to under 15 runs this series would be considered pretty good for most teams, but the Rangers are probably good enough at keeping teams off the basepaths that we could expect closer to 13 runs in three games.
So if we're looking at expecting Texas to score around 11 and allow around 13 runs, and we give the home team a little advantage, we can get a pythagenpat estimate of a .480 record for the Rangers in these games; maybe even better when you consider they get to play three right handed starters. That's, of course, assuming performances this season so far continue, and anything can happen in just three games, but it highlights that, even if the Rays are clearly the better team, you can probably (relatively) comfortably expect them to get a win somewhere (tonight/s game being the best chance), and there's even a fighting chance at taking two.
The Rays are awesome, the Rangers aren't much better than mediocre, and this series is scary, but this team is never doomed before they even play.