Tampa Bay Rays (36-18) at Texas Rangers (28-25)
4:10 PM EST FOX
Rangers: Tommy Hunter (0-0, N/A)
Rays: James Shields (5-3 3.62)
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Though not the most popular picks to be division winners, Texas and Tampa Bay rank among the top teams in the American League, and they’ll try to establish a potential postseason pecking order when they meet each other in Friday’s series opener at the Ballpark in Arlington.
The Rangers have been buoyed by the resurgent Vladimir Guerrero, who is batting .335 with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs, but veteran has recently been listed as day-to-day with a left eye injury sustained during batting practice on Wednesday. Guerrero didn’t start Thursday. Elvis Andrus, the second-youngest player in the AL, has gotten off to a surprising start on the offensive end. Andrus has long been touted as a special defensive player, but his hitting and speed further round out an imposing Texas lineup.
The Rays went 3-6 against the Rangers last season and were 1-5 in Arlington, winning their final game there last season. Tampa Bay starters allowed 29 earned runs in 28 innings at Rangers Ballpark, going 0-5 with a no-decision. Texas is 18-9 at home this season, tied with Minnesota and Oakland for the best record of any AL team.
After a quality eight-inning start against the Red Sox, Shields got back on the mound and had his worst outing of the season — an 11-hit, seven-run loss to the White Sox in 5 1/3 innings of work. Shields don’t walk a lot of batters, which makes him more susceptible to giving up home runs. He has allowed nine homeruns this season, which ties for the third most in the American League. Shields will make his 12th start of the season and his first of the season against Texas. The right-hander is 2-1 with a 4.82 ERA in four career starts against the Rangers
Tommy Hunter was 9-6 with a 4.10 ERA in 15 starts for the Rangers last year and was supposed to be in their rotation to start the season. But he came down with a strained muscle in his left ribcage in Spring Training and started the season on the disabled list. He is 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA in six starts at Triple A Oklahoma City. In 26 2/3 innings he has allowed 28 hits while walking 11 and striking out 14. He allowed five runs on 10 hits in five innings in a loss to New Orleans in his last start on Memorial Day. He is 1-0 with a 3.48 ERA in two career starts against the Rays. The Rangers hope he can find his form in his first big league start this season.
The odds makers have the Rangers as –1-½ – favorites with a run total of 9 ½.
With Vlad out of the line up and a rebound performance by Shields, I expect the Rays to turn around last year’s struggles with Texas and get a win in game two and the UNDER.
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