Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays @ Texas Rangers - Haters

Tropicana.

The Rangers opened the season with a 5-2 homestand against the White Sox and Mariners and followed that up by sweeping the Twins in Minnesota. That was all well and expected but next up on the schedule was 12 games against the Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees and Rays. Excusing Anaheim for a moment, those four teams represent the four preseason favorites to challenge the Rangers in the American League. This part of the schedule was supposed to be a test and one that prompted the media to ask Ron Washington if he was concerned. Washington signified that he was not scared by pointing out the lack of vibrations in his boots.

The Rangers have gone 7-2 through the first three series of this stretch with these three games with the Rays remaining. With a series win, the Rangers will have aced this test. Even with a series loss, they can proudly display their results on the refrigerator door. Even if the Rangers get swept, they'll know teams now come to Arlington taking their biggest cuts and finding a little extra oomph to beat them. The Rangers are now what make others quaver.

This is potentially more true with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are an excellent team. The Rays have been so for like five years now. But a funny thing has happened over the last couple of seasons. The Rangers have made it their business of crushing the hopes and dreams of the entire Tampa Bay franchise. It's not that the Rangers have done it on purpose. It's not the Rangers' fault that the Rays decided to perform a miracle and fall in love with Destiny last season. It's not the Rangers' fault that the year before saw the Rays' players act petulant in Arlington while forgetting that the Rangers had taken out the Cliff Lee insurance policy.

It's not the Rangers' fault that Mike Napoli became super powered by NAP-O-LI! It's not the Rangers' fault that Colby Lewis becomes October Colby Lewis. It's not the Rangers' fault that Carl Crawford's career with the Rays ended with a whimper. It's not the Rangers' fault that The Extra 2% doesn't matter over five games. It's not the Rangers' fault that...okay, actually, some of this is the Rangers' fault. Whoops. And so, for the first time ever, a team and its franchise and fans really don't like the Texas Rangers.

We've got regular division rivalry dislike, sure. But it's not like the Mariners, A's, or Angels respect us all that much. Those teams have spent years tossing some fish heads our way in the basement just to keep us alive to pad the schedule with wins. When the Rangers did become good, those teams still spent offseasons taking turns championing themselves as the true class of the division. In the winter of 2009, with the Angels coming off an appearance in the ALCS, the Mariners "won" the offseason and were considered the favorites in the West. In the winter of 2010, with the Rangers making a surprise run to the World Series, the A's "won" the offseason and would surely overtake the Rangers in the West. This winter, with the Rangers making another visit to the Fall Classic, the Angels "won" the offseason and are now (then?) the favorites to win it all.

But that's all the tango we dance in the A.L. West. No one else in baseball has ever cared one way or the other about the Texas Rangers. Certainly no team's fans have ever had a reason to dislike the Rangers the way we Ranger fans felt the need to dislike the Yankees in the late '90s. Until now. Because the Rangers have ended the Rays' season in consecutive years, the Rangers have earned sports-hatred. It feels weird knowing the Rangers are disliked for on-field results. It feels good. I get the feeling it won't be long before they start to feel the same way about us that we feel about them in New York. Perhaps it won't be terribly long before Detroit joins Tampa Bay. But Tampa Bay will always be our first haters who are going to hate.

Friday, April 27 7:05: RHP James Shields vs. LHP Matt Harrison

Saturday, April 28 7:05: RHP Jeff Niemann vs. RHP Colby Lewis

Sunday, April 29 7:05: LHP David Price vs. LHP Derek Holland

Here's a breakdown of the pitching match-ups against the hateful Tampa Bay Rays:

  • Matt Harrison: 3-0, 5.40 K/9, 1.66 BB/9, .242 BABIP, 86.7% LOB, 2.86 FIP, 3.14 xFIP, 0.6 WAR
  • James Shields: 3-0, 6.14 K/9, 2.45 BB/9, .264 BABIP, 76.7% LOB, 3.00 FIP, 3.44 xFIP, 0.7 WAR

Advantage: James Shields sort of dominating the Rangers in every month other than October over Matt Harrison not getting around to reading The Extra 2% just yet.

  • Colby Lewis: 2-0, 8.10 K/9, 0.34 BB/9, .312 BABIP, 92.7% LOB, 2.79 FIP, 3.42 xFIP, 0.8 WAR
  • Jeff Niemann: 1-2 9.39 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, .205 BABIP, 49.3% LOB, 3.88 FIP, 3.16 xFIP, 0.2 WAR

Advantage: Somehow Colby Lewis performing better than any other starter in this series so far this season over Jeff Niemann trying to ruin Adrian Beltre Bobblehead night.

  • Derek Holland: 2-1 7.18 K/9, 3.42 BB/9, .240 BABIP, 63.4% LOB, 3.93 FIP, 4.15 xFIP, 0.4 WAR
  • David Price: 3-1 6.38 K/9, 3.75 BB/9, .292 BABIP, 82.3% LOB, 3.40 FIP, 4.00 xFIP, 0.4 WAR

Advantage: Two young lefty starters with top six average velocity for fastballs for starters last season with similar numbers so far this season. Price has the better pedigree, Dutch has the better mustache. We'll call it a push for now.

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Tampa Bay Rays (11-7, t-1st Place AL East)

Rangers 2011 Record vs. Tampa Bay: 5-4 (3-1 in the ALDS LOLOLOLOL)

Tampa Bay's Recent Results: 3-0 series sweep against the Anaheim Angels (Thanks, guys!)

Tampa Bay's Road Record: 4-6 (44-37 in 2011)

Ballpark In Arlington Park Factors (last season) (LHB/RHB): HR: 119/114 - wOBA: 103/107

SB Nation Rays Blog: DRaysBay

Match-up: (as of 04/26) Rangers Rays Advantage
Batting (RAR) 26.5 (1st) 13.5 (5th) Rangers
Base Running (RAR) -0.4 (18th) 0.9 (10th) Rays
Starters (RAR) 17.1 12.2 Rangers (?)
Bullpen (RAR) 14.3 (1st) 1.4 (18th) Rangers
Defense (UZR) 4.4 (7th) -2.5 (18th) Rangers
Overall (UZR + RAR) 61.9 25.5 Rangers

Questions to Answer:

  • Is it weird to you that some of the Rangers' best postseason memories have come with Tropicana Field as the backdrop? When I see Tropicana Field now, I think, "Man, that's where Cliff Lee rapture'd me to baseball heaven." or "Oh hey, Adrian Beltre deflowered Lady Destiny over there." Whereas before, I thought, "Gross. I saw Doug Davis start a game in a Super Wal-Mart that one time."
  • Who is your pick to lead the Rangers in hits off of James Shields? (I'm hoping it's Mike Napoli just so Shields has NAP-O-LI! flashbacks.)
  • Over/Under: 5.5 runs allowed by the Rays' bullpen over the course of this three game series?
  • On a scale from 1-10, what is your level of sports-hate for the Tampa Bay Rays? (For me? It's pretty low. The Rangers won. The Rays didn't. But they still Sonnanstine'd. I'll give them a pity 3.)
  • What do you think Andy Sonnanstine is doing at this very moment?
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