ALDS Preview

It took until the final day of the season to figure out who would be playing who and where in the American League. The Tampa Bay Rays finished off the season with a win, clinching both the AL East title and home-field advantage throughout. The Texas Rangers won the AL West and headed to Tampa. The NY Yankees clinched the wild card and headed to Minnesota to play the AL Central champion Twins. The AL Divisional Series’ begin on Wednesday with the best pitching matchup opening up the MLB playoffs. Cliff Lee of the Rangers faces off against David Price of the Rays. The Twins and Yankees face off later that night with Francisco Liriano matching up with CC Sabathia. All four teams have question marks coming into the playoffs as none of the four AL teams were playing well at the end of the season. Here is a little preview of the two series:

Texas Rangers vs. TB Rays

Starting pitching: Lee versus Price is the marquee matchup. Lee has struggled late in the season, but last year he knew when to turn it on with the Philadelphia Phillies, so it will not surprise me if he dominates again this postseason. The rest of the matchups are interesting. Rays manager Joe Maddon is going with James Shields in Game 2 versus CJ Wilson. Maddon is hoping “Big Game” James can turn his season around. Wilson has been the Rangers most consistent starter and his bulldog mentality should work well in the postseason. When the series moves to Texas, the Rangers will throw Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter in Games 3 and 4 while the Rays go with Matt Garza and rookie Wade Davis.

Bullpens: Both the Rangers and Rays have two of the best bullpens in the game. The series may come down to whose bullpen is better. The Rangers have the young fireballers while the Rays have the wily veterans. The edge would probably go to the Rays as they have the veteran presence that has been to the World Series (Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls, and Grant Balfour). Plus their bullpen turned around with the offseason acquisition of Rafael Soriano. Rangers rookie closer Neftali Feliz has been great, but the playoffs are uncharted waters for him.
Evan LongoriaStarting lineups: For the Rays, catcher John Jaso has led off for most of the season once he claimed the starting job. However he has struggled as of late and with the Rangers throwing left-handers in the first two games, it will be interesting if Maddon goes with Kelly Shoppach in those games (and his .196 average). Carlos Pena may be playing in his final games with the Rays and they could use his power, which has the ability to quickly change a game. His .196 batting average is scary for someone in the middle of the order and if he does not hit, Evan Longoria will not see many good pitches to hit. Longoria is the Rays big question mark in their lineup. He did not play the final week of the season and their offense sputtered without him. The Rays have many key players having down offensive seasons (BJ Upton, Pena, and Jason Bartlett) and with Shoppach and DH Dan Johnson in the lineup (though Johnson provides instant power like Pena), they could be in trouble if they do not hit. Speed is a key part of the Rays game and expect Carl Crawford, Upton, and Ben Zobrist to run when they reach base.
For the Rangers, Bengie Molina will catch Lee, while Matt Treanor will catch Wilson. The veteran duo is out there for their game-calling and defensive abilities but can just as easily spark the offense at the bottom of the order. The Rangers will most likely continue to platoon Mitch Moreland and midseason acquisition Jorge Cantu. The middle of the Rangers order is the key with Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Vladimir Guerrero. Hamilton is the key as he missed most of the last month of the season and their offense sputtered without him. Speed is also important for the Rangers with Elvis Andrus at the top of the order, but power in the middle is the key to their success.
Bench: The Rays bench is very versatile. Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez have been clutch for the Rays all season and can play multiple positions in the infield and the outfield (in Rodriguez’ case). Willy Aybar, a switch-hitter, provides a potent bat that could also DH. It will be interesting to see if Maddon carries Rocco Baldelli, a key right-handed bat that could DH the first two games of the series against the left-handed Rangers starting pitching.

The Rangers bench will include versatile infielder Andres Blanco and speedster Julio Borbon. David Murphy will most likely come off the bench in Game 1 with Jeff Francoeur getting the start in right field against David Price.

*This could be the most exciting series as both teams match up well against each other. The games could be pitcher’s duels or slugfests. Look for these games to possibly go to the final at-bats and for the series to last five games.