It wasn’t a great final week to the regular season for me personally, whiffing on my final two picks of the season, but Major League Baseball couldn’t have asked for a much better finish to the year. Bud Selig added the second wildcard spot to each league last year in an effort to recapture the last-night magic of the 2011 season. This year, he will get the best of both worlds. Not only do we get the requisite “winner-takes-all” wildcard games on Tuesday and Wednesday, but we get a bonus Game 163 tonight with the Rays and Rangers squaring off in Arlington to see who lives to play ANOTHER one-game do-or-die contest on Wednesday.
So, without further ado, let’s break down today’s bonus play-in game.
Tampa Bay Rays -113 at Texas Rangers +103 (Total: 7.5)
David Price (9-8, 3.39 ERA) vs. Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55 ERA)
The Rays played themselves into a corner by dropping two of their final three games at home, but did win (albeit ugly) yesterday to force today’s playoff. Meanwhile, Texas resurrected their season with a furious seven game winning streak to close the regular season and play themselves back into the postseason picture. But all of that means little today, and as the saying goes so often in baseball, momentum is only as strong as the next day’s starting pitcher.
Let’s start with the pitching matchup. The Rays will give the ball to a guy who is no stranger to postseason play, David Price. He made his first postseason appearance before he was four months out of college, leaping right from Vanderbilt to the World Series back in 2008. You would think he is the guy you want to hand the ball too; afterall he IS the reigning AL Cy Young winner. But his history against the Rangers, including postseason games, is pretty ugly. He is just 1-4 lifetime in eight starts against the Rangers and has a terrifying 10.38 ERA in four starts in Arlington.
Making things even more complicated for Price is the possibility of Nelson Cruz returning this evening after his 50-game suspension (don’t think there aren’t people all over MLB league offices scrambling over the rule right now). Cruz has owned Price, going 9 for 21 with three home runs. Elvis Andrus and Beltre have also hit Price well, going 11 for 27 and 9 for 26 respectively.
Getting the ball for the Rangers will be rookie Martin Perez. He has been excellent all season, and finished strong with a 7-2 record and 3.26 ERA in his last ten starts. It is his turn in the rotation and Ron Washington is showing faith in the rookie by giving him the ball. Of course, if he gets in trouble, Matt Garza and Alexi Ogando are available if necessary. Perez hasn’t faced the Rays in his career, which could actually be an advantage as Rays hitters will be seeing him for the first time.
To say that anything can happen in a one-game scenario in baseball is an understatement, but I like the way this game sets up for the Rangers. They have an excellent history against Price and have the more potent lineup overall. Lastly, they are laying at home, and while home field isn’t the advantage in baseball that it is in football and basketball (at least statistically), given my druthers, I’d much rather be playing an elimination game in my own yard with last at-bats.
Give me the Rangers tonight in a good baseball game, and let’s start the postseason off with a nice winning pick.