Rays bring moxie into rematch with Texas

Rays bring moxie into rematch with Texas

Rays bring moxie into rematch with Texas
The Rays' historic, unprecedented, out-of-nowhere resurgence devastated the city of Boston, enlightened the greater Tampa Bay area and made believers out of everybody across the country.

Now, it has set up an American League Division Series rematch.

The Rays dispatched the heavily favored Red Sox by becoming the first team in Major League history to make the playoffs despite being nine games back in the season's final month. Now, it's off to Texas to face a Rangers team that beat them in five games during last year's ALDS.

This Rays roster may pale in comparison to last year's -- but that doesn't account for how good this group is feeling right now.

"It's just a bunch of guys who have put together an incredible season," third baseman Evan Longoria said of his surprising Rays, "and now we don't have to be talking about how good it was or how good it could have been to make the playoffs."

Everyone knows the AL Wild Card-winning Rays have incredible momentum, having won five straight games to finish the season and posted a 32-17 record after Aug. 8. But few know the Rangers do, too. Texas won its last six, had the AL's second-best second-half winning percentage and set a franchise record with 96 wins.

That's not all the Rangers have.

They have home-field advantage.

They have the recent success over Tampa Bay, having won last year's playoff matchup and this year's regular-season series, 5-4.

They have the experience from last year's World Series run.

And, frankly, they have the better overall team on paper (whatever that's worth).

"Our chances are as good as anyone in it," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "If we go play our type of baseball, I'll go play it against anyone."

But right now, the Rays look like they can beat everyone. They cut an insane amount of payroll this offseason -- waving goodbye to Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza and Rafael Soriano, among others -- and they've had to make due with a patchwork lineup and bullpen all season. But somehow, they continue to find ways to get it done.

Forgive them if they expect that to continue in the postseason.

"This team never quits," left-hander David Price said. "We didn't quit when we were 0-6 at the start of the season, we didn't quit in September, we didn't quit when we were seven runs down in the last game of the season and Boston was winning. It looks like this team has what it takes."

For the Rays, it's simple: They need to keep the score low in order to win games. They rely on their AL-best fielding percentage and starting-pitcher ERA, and they hope for the best from a lineup that features Longoria and little else.

With Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, they boast one of baseball's deepest rotations. But they've spent the whole year scrounging for runs.

The Rangers don't really have that problem.

Their lineup is stacked with the likes of Josh Hamilton (.298 batting average, 25 home runs and 94 RBIs in 2011), Michael Young (.338), Mike Napoli (.320, 30 homers), Nelson Cruz (29 homers, 87 RBIs), Ian Kinsler (32 homers) and Adrian Beltre (.296, 32 homers, 105 RBIs).

The starting staff? A staff of overachievers.

You didn't expect them to rank third in the AL in starting-pitcher ERA this year. Not after losing Cliff Lee, trading Tommy Hunter and never getting anything from Brandon Webb. But C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland -- the foursome that will make up Washington's postseason rotation -- have provided unforeseen stability, and Alexi Ogando has been a spark.

So if you think starting pitching may be a huge advantage for the Rays in this series, think again.

"It all starts with pitching," Young said, "and we have a lot of confidence in our guys."

This series may be decided by the bullpens, a department in which neither club really stands out.

The Rays' relief corps statistically put up the better season, with a lower ERA (3.78 against 4.14) and the second-fewest blown saves in the AL. But barring dominance from the young Matt Moore, nobody in that 'pen really scares you -- not Kyle Farnsworth, not J.P. Howell and not Joel Peralta.

The Rangers ranked 12th in the AL in relievers' ERA and were tied for the fifth-most blown saves. But those numbers may be a bit deceiving. Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez have joined the mix, closer Neftali Feliz has been significantly better, and now the electric Ogando is an option.

Yes, it seems the Rangers have the goods.

But the Rays have something that can hardly be explained.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.