The Tampa Bay Rays head to Arlington this weekend to take on the Texas Rangers, in what could be yet another playoff preview. Texas and Tampa Bay have met in the ALDS in each of the past two seasons, with Texas, of course, having the upper hand both times.
Jason Collette, writer at DRays Bay and Baseball Prospectus, took the time to help us preview this series from a Rays perspective.
Are the Rays and Rays fans starting to really dislike the Rangers, after Texas has bounced Tampa Bay in the ALDS in each of the past two years?
The ALDS the last two years and the fact our former top overall draft pick is killing it for you guys and never had a plate appearance for the Rays...let's just say the Rangers have a firm grasp on the #3 spot of the most hated teams in the fanbase. It is a distant third behind New York and Boston, but Rays fans care more about games in Texas than any part of that stupid Sunshine State Series during interleague play. Plus, the Rays haven't exactly had great experiences playing in Dallas outside of Matt Moore's domination last season.
Who is Tampa Bay's best pitcher now, and who do you think it will be come the end of the season?
James Shields has it all going right now having worked at least 8 innings in three starts. That said, David Price pitched arguably the best game of the season against the Angels the other night and it is going to be a neck and neck race between the two. If Price can bottle up what he did on Tuesday night, he has Cy Young potential this season.
The Rays have been somewhat streaky this year. What's been the difference when Tampa Bay is playing well and not playing well?
Driving in runners. When they were struggling, they were getting on base but they were somewhere around 9 for 56 with runners in scoring position during that road trip. Since they've been home, that's back to a more normal level around .275 right now. Early struggles also had to be put on the pitching that was walking far too many batters and that was both the starters and the relievers. That has leveled off a bit but that is also what happens when you face the Yankees and Red Sox that work deep counts up and down the lineup.
With Michael Pineda down for the season, and the Red Sox struggling, how good are Tampa Bay's chances of winning the AL East title this year?
His injury, Ellsbury's injury, and now Crawford being out another three months can only help. The Rays have 17 home games in the next four weeks once they get back from this minimalist roadtrip in the metroplex. They are the second most-winningest team at home since the 2008 season coming a few percentage points behind the Yankees. They can use that kind of schedule, which includes a much softer strength of schedule than April, to really build up some momentum into the summer.
Should Rangers fans expect to see any major defensive shifts this weekend, and if so, who do you think Joe Maddon will use them on?
He reverse shifted Michael Young a bit in the ALDS, particularly in the outfield when Upton was shaded toward right-center. If the data is there, Maddon will do it. "Whose your data?" is something he has thrown around the clubhouse while a few writers have started up the "shift happens" phrase when the guys start moving around. I strongly suggest fans go read the piece MLB.com's Adam Berry did today on the shifting behaviors of the Rays.