After the Rangers took game one to kick off the MLB postseason on Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Rays, who won 99 games this year, suddenly are 0-1 and have their backs against the wall. In a must-win game two, both teams are throwing pitchers to fit the occasion, so this should be a good one; let’s check out the odds for this AL Wild Card clash, where my prediction is a Rays win.
Rangers Vs. Rays Prediction
Last season, the inaugural edition of the Wild Card Series in its current format, three of the four series were sweeps, and just one higher-seeded team won their matchup. Of course, this is a tiny sample size and doesn’t create anything close to a hard and fast rule, but it shows that the Rays are in real danger here. Wednesday’s game two could spell the end of what started as a historic season for the club, as they ripped off 13 straight wins to start the year, eventually winning 27 of their first 33 contests. They also started 18-2 at home, but are now in danger of losing two sparsely-attended postseason games at Tropicana Field, which would of course would mean that their season would be over.
The good news for Tampa is that their lineup is going to be receiving some reinforcements, of a sort, for game two. Facing Jordan Montgomery, a southpaw who demolishes fellow lefties, the Rays had to sit down left-handed bats Josh Lowe and Jonathan Aranda, both of whom will be back in the starting nine in game two. They’ll be facing Nathan Eovaldi, who has been solid as well this year but doesn’t provide such a unique problem for hitters on either side of the plate. Eovaldi’s statcast numbers suggest that he’s been slightly lucky this season, but at this point, he’s a crafty veteran who doesn’t necessarily need his very best stuff to get outs.
The Rays themselves will be throwing Zach Eflin, who had easily his best season yet with a WHIP barely above 1.000. Eflin managed to draw a huge amount of chases without really walking anyone, making him extremely hard to approach for hitters; he’s not going to give you anything, so you have to hit a “pitcher’s pitch” to get to him. His FIP is also a good bit lower than his ERA, so there’s a chance he’s been just a bit unlucky this year. Overall, he’s a great arm for a team to throw when there’s no margin for error, and should get the job done for Tampa in this must-win contest.
I’d consider the under, but with Texas’s bullpen and a reloaded and highly motivated Tampa lineup, this one could get out of hand quickly if the Rays build a lead. That being said, we’re still going to just stick with the moneyline instead of a spread. This is postseason baseball, and the margins are so often razor-thin; I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Rangers grab a lead through one of their numerous power bats, and then Tampa in turn claws back to do everything they can to steal a one-run win.
Rangers Vs. Rays Prediction: Rays ML (-145)
Rangers Vs. Rays Odds
The Rays are -145 favorites on the moneyline, with +140 odds to cover a spread of -1.5. On the other side of each wager, the Rangers are +120 and -165, respectively, while both sides of the run total of 8 are set at -110.
Rangers Vs. Rays Key Matchups
With tough starters going for both sides and absolutely no margin of error for Tampa, let’s take a look at the matchups that could make or break this ballgame.
Nathan Eovaldi Vs. Righty Bats
Despite the fact that he is a righty himself, Eovaldi had a very dramatic platoon split as he allowed an OPS of .762 to fellow right-handers, while holding lefties to a figure of .579 across a pretty similar sample size. Ironically enough, this could spell trouble for the lefties returning to the Tampa lineup after sitting out against Montgomery, but it’s more likely to be problematic for Eovaldi himself, as the Tampa lineup will still be predominantly right-handed.
Randy Arozarena is consistently a spark plug in the postseason, and got off to a good start with a single and a double in game one after slumping just a bit this regular season. Yandy Díaz had a breakout year as he won the AL batting title with a mark of .330 ,and also slugged .932. Isaac Paredes is in the mix too, as he led the Rays with 31 home runs. These righties and their ability to get after Eovaldi are a big part of the reason why I have the Rays winning in my Rangers vs. Rays prediction.
Zach Eflin Vs. Power Bats
As we touched on earlier, Eflin is absolutely elite in terms of control; he’s 99th percentile in walk rate, and 95th for chase rate. That being said, his barrel rate is 29th percentile, and this is not a team you want to face if you struggle with preventing big swings; the Rangers finished third in the majors in both homers with 233 as a team, and slugging with an average of .452. Eflin’s homer rate wasn’t bad, but this isn’t a normal lineup, so he’ll have to tread carefully.
Adolis Garcia led Texas this year with 39 home runs, and the MVP candidate Seager cracked 33 of his own, albeit in just 119 games. Seager also led the team and was second in the majors with an outrageous slugging percentage of .623; Garcia was second on the team with a mark of just .508. Powerful second baseman Marcus Semien and rookie Josh Jung were right behind the duo in both of these categories, rounding out a very powerful top of the lineup.
Rangers Vs. Rays Starting Lineups
Rangers Starting Lineup
2B Marcus Semien R
SS Corey Seager L
DH Mitch Garver L
RF Adolis Garcia R
1B Nathaniel Lowe L
3B Josh Jung R
C Jonah Heim S
CF Leody Taveras S
LF Evan Carter L
Rays Starting Lineup
1B Yandy Diaz R
3B Junior Caminero R
LF Randy Arozarena R
RF Josh Lowe L
2B Isaac Paredes R
DH Jonathan Aranda L
SS Taylor Walls S
CF Manuel Margot R
C Rene Pinto R