Magic Number: 10
Not a whole lot to say about game two that hasn't already been said. The pressure is on the Rays being down in the series, but that doesn't mean it isn't extremely important for the Rangers to win. The series likely favors Texas going forward win or lose, but winning would mean they just need to take one at home to end it.
The Rays lineup will likely be the same as we saw in game one. Rocco Baldelli, who made the team controversially, will likely get another start at DH with the left handed C.J. Wilson on the mound, but after his poor performance the Rays may stick with Dan Johnson. Johnson actually had a better weighted On Base Average (.375) against lefties than righties (.330) this season. While reverse splits don't tend to hold up over a larger sample size, he might still be a better bet than Baldelli.
The pitching match up is a very interesting one, as the pitchers are somewhat opposite. Thanks to a .271 batting average on balls in play, Wilson's 3.35 ERA was a bit under his 3.56 Fielding Independent Pitching. On the reverse, Shields's.354 BABIP has ballooned his ERA to 5.18 as opposed to his 4.24 FIP.
So by FIP, it looks like Shields has been performing better than his ERA suggests and Wilson has been worse, but still the markedly better pitcher. However, FIP gives all the "blame" for home runs to the starting pitcher, while evidence suggests pitchers don't have all the control in the world over the rate of fly balls that leave the park. Their expected FIPs, which regress their home run rates to average, come in at 4.20 for Wilson and 3.72 for Shields. Now Shields looks like he's expected to be the better pitcher.
The truth on HR/FB rates is likely somewhere in the middle, however. How much is honestly hard to gauge, but right in the middle of those spreads between FIP and xFIP is about a 3.90 ERA (with a neutral defense) for both pitchers. I would reckon that the pitching is actually pretty close, but who has the edge is dependent on how much of their home run rates are for real.
That said, the offenses they face present some interesting match ups. Wilson faces a lineup that lead baseball in walk rate, while he lead the league in walks issued. If he doesn't throw strikes, it could be short day for him. Further, Wilson has shown trouble holding runners at times, and the Rays, if you haven't heard, like to run.
For Shields, his match-up problem is the Hamilton-Guerrero-Cruz stretch. That seems to be stating the obvious for most pitchers, but Vladimir Guerrero's struggles this year has been primarily on fastballs, which suggests a loss in bat speed. His problem has not been secondary pitches, as he as crushed curve balls to the tune of 5.62 weighted Runs Created per 100 times seen, and has been almost as unforgiving of change ups. Further, if his problem is a loss of bat speed, slower fast balls are likely pretty hittable for him right now. Shields just happens to be a guy who doesn't live on his fastball as much as most pitchers, as it doesn't get a whole lot of velocity, and goes to curves and changes a lot. In other words, Vlad is a potential match up nightmare for him. Vlad, of course, backs up a hitter who crushes righties (.490 wOBA) in Hamilton and hits in front of another hitter who likes to assault breaking balls in Cruz. Shields is a better pitcher than his ERA suggests, but that doesn't mean he might not be especially prone to the heart of the Rangers' order.
Against a righty, the Rangers will probably be going to Julio Borbon in centerfield and Mitch Moreland at first. Though the loss of Jeff Francouer, who had a very good game one, hurts the offense a tad, moving Hamilton to left and starting Borbon helps the defense in return. Moreland, meanwhile, is likely to be a sizable offensive upgrade over what we saw in game one.
Given the match up issues and going on the road, I expect this is the most difficult game for the Rangers to win in this series, and, in fact, may be the only game where I'd say the Rays might be the favorable squad. It's also a game with a lot of questions, though, due to the weird resumes of the starting pitchers. If either Wilson or Shields have been mostly for real this season from a FIP standpoint, and if Hamilton is close to 100%, this game may be almost as one-sided as Wednesday's game.
I'd suggest, however, that losing this game isn't worth panicking. Sweeping the Rays is unlikely, and this is probably the hardest of the five games to win even if the Rangers are the favorable team. Losing would merely be what's expected and the Rangers would still be looking at winning a three game series with two of the games at home and Colby Lewis and Cliff Lee set to start. It would be fun to watch the Rangers lose, but it's a situation where it's just not cause for alarm.
On the reverse of that same coin, a victory in game two would probably be cause for the most confidence we have ever felt in our lives as Rangers fans. In that regard, game two might be pretty huge.