Be careful what you ask for.
For the most part, seems like baseball fans in our parts feared the New York Yankees. Household names like Jeter and A-Rod and Pettite and Rivera and the 27 World Series have a way of intimidating opponents. Oh yeah, and the 1-9 playoff history against the Bronx Bombers didn't help.
Fine. Point taken. But, like I've said before, the Tampa Bay Rays are a different team than New York and, to me, a better team.
They'll pitch a Cy Young-ish lefty (David Price) in the opener, and they have a closer (Rafael Soriano) with 45 saves. Their home joint -- Tropicana Field -- is no Yankee Stadium, but Tampa is a 96-win team that did go 49-32 at home (they won a league-high 47 road games) despite half-full crowds more nights than not.
The problem the Rays present is their unique offense. They have just one regular (Carl Crawford at .307) hitting over .300; as a team they batted only .247 (27th in baseball); and they sport no one with 30 homers.
Like the Rangers' Josh Hamilton, Tampa's best player, third baseman Evan Longoria, has been hampered down the stretch with an injury (strained left thigh).
Tampa's strength: Speed.
The Rays scored 802 runs this season (third in baseball), not with boom but with baserunning. Tampa led the majors in stolen bases, sporting three players with at least 24 steals and two -- Crawford and B.J. Upton -- with 40-plus. (Elvis Andrus led Texas with 32).
Tampa stole 172 bases; its opponents 89.
As I've said before, this is a problem for the Rangers. While Bengie Molina calls a savvy game and Matt Treanor is a scrappy veteran, this is a horrible matchup for Texas. I expect the Rangers to out-hit the Rays, but because of extra bases on the paths, I expect Tamps to out-score Texas.
The Rangers also made 22 more errors during the season than the Rays. Texas hit 30 points higher in batting average, yet scored 15 fewer runs during the season. You get the point.
Tampa just seems a tighter, cleaner, more efficient team. And it showed during the regular season with a 4-2 series edge that included a three-game sweep (out-scoring Texas 24-11) in Tampa in mid-August. Oh yeah, and the Rays have the experience edge, having played in the World Series in '08.
I'll have a look back at the season meetings and a detailed tale-of-the-tape later in the week, but for now looks like most folks are picking the Rays.
The best-of-5 series schedule:
Wednesday, Oct. 6: Rangers (Cliff Lee) at Tampa Bay (David Price), 12:37 p.m.
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Thursday, Oct. 7: Rangers (C.J. Wilson) at Tampa Bay (Matt Garza), 1:37 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 9: Tampa Bay (Wade Davis) at Rangers (Colby Lewis), 4:07 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 10: If Necessary
Tuesday, Oct. 12: If Necessary