And while reading the Rays report, this item jumped out at me:
All that said, they will be a terror for any opponent to face in October. They take every extra base they can nab, they make all the plays and when they do swing the bats they make it count. But make no mistake, if they go all the way it will be thanks to their outstanding starting staff and bullpen.
So, how do you beat a team that does things unconventionally and will not bludgeon you to death offensively? Play mistake-free baseball. The Rays will thrive on every mistake their opponent makes. If an outfielder doesn't aggressively charge a ball, they take an extra base. You give their hitters a base on balls, they will find a way to turn that into a run, then make it hold up with their pitching staff.
Given the nature of the Rays' lineup, it takes a long string of hits for them to put together a conventional rally. They are lacking in many true power threats, and are not a club that can create a lot of instant offense. But they will make every base you give them count.
This got me thinking about the similarities between the Rays and the Rangers. Not everything in the above quote is applicable to the Rangers, but Piliere's discussion of the Rays' thriving on opponent's mistakes and being aggressive on the basepaths certainly sounds like the Rangers.
If you look at BP's team baserunning leaderboard, the Rays are first in the majors, at 12.8 runs above average. The Rangers are tied for 3rd with Florida at 10.1 runs, just behind Oakland's 10.2 runs, and the dropoff is dramatic thereafter. The Mets are at 7.2 runs, the Rockies at 5.4, then no other team is better than 2.5 runs above average.
The top handful of teams on this list are head and shoulders above the rest of the league in terms of baserunning, and so it won't be surprising if we see the ALDS potentially turn on a key play on the basepaths, for better or for worse. We as Rangers fans may end up pulling out our hair because of a heads-up play by a Rays baserunner that steals a run, or we may see a Ranger player score a key run because of the type of aggressive baserunning that has had us alternately cheering and complaining throughout the season.
Beyond just the baserunning, though, the teams are similar. Both teams are quality defensive clubs...Tampa is 3rd in the majors in Defensive Efficiency Rating (the percentage of balls in play converted to outs), and Texas is 6th. Both teams are top heavy offensively, with Tampa getting a disproportionate share of their production from Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, while the Rangers get a disproportionate share from Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. Hamilton and Cruz have been better with the bats than Crawford and Longoria, but the Rays haven't had the sort of black holes in the lineup the Rangers have dealt with, so their end results are pretty similar. The Rays have a 104 OPS+, the Rangers a 101 OPS+.
Even the top three of the rotations seem to match up...Cliff Lee and David Price are lefties who are among the best in the game, and who are both part of the Cy Young mix this year. Matt Garza and C.J. Wilson are both guys with great stuff who sometimes have command issues that throw them off. And James Shields and Colby Lewis are both strike-throwing righties who can get swings and misses, but who also can get hurt by the long ball.
And of course, both the Rangers and Rays are teams with small-market payrolls who have young g.m.s that turned the franchises around through a commitment to building from within.
That's part of what makes this series so fascinating, and it is disappointing that more fans won't be able to watch this matchup, because of the scheduling. This series pits two young, exciting teams that are quite similar and pretty evenly matched, and I expect we'll end up seeing a bunch of close, tense, entertaining ballgames in the ALDS.