In advance of the ALDS, D-Rays Bay and I exchanged five questions about our respective teams.
Their questions for me, and my answers, are available here...
You can read my questions about the Rays, and Erik Hahmann and Steve Slowinski's answers, after the jump...
1) What's the deal with James Shields this year?
Erik: To put it simple: A lot of bad luck. It's been well publicized that Shields leads the league in home runs allowed. That is mainly because he also leads the league in HR/FB % at an absurd 13.8. The strange part is that among Rays' starters his FB% of 38.4 is the lowest. The Rays front office, and Joe Maddon, are smart enough to know Shields isn't as bad as his ERA might suggest. He's much better at home (xFIP of 3.33 vs 4.12) than on the road, especially in a hitter's park like Arlington. We've defended him all season, it's time for him to prove us right.
Steve: Oy vey, where to begin? Actually, ignore that question - I was just trying to make an unfunny joke - the answer to Shields' issues is quite simple: homeruns. Shields is normally a homer-happy pitcher, but this season has been extreme even for him. He's increased his strikeouts and looked like a great pitcher otherwise, but it seems like every game he's letting up a blast or two.
But anyway, I'm sure Erik touched upon that issue. Now you know why the Rays want Shields to start Game 2, though - why would they ever let a pitcher that's allowed 34 homeruns this season pitch in Arlington? That's just asking for disaster. At home, Shields has been much more productive this season, so watch out.
2) As a Rays fan, what concerns you the most about this series?
Steve: Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, and Colby Lewis. The more I look at it, I'm rather frightened by the Rangers' top three arms. Cliff Lee everyone knows about and he's about as impossible to beat as they come, but Wilson and Lewis have both been well above-average starters this season. Lewis strikes out a ton of batters and doesn't walk many - a nightmare for the strikeout prone Rays - while Wilson thrives by inducing a ton of groundballs (49% groundball rate this season). Joe Maddon will play his match-ups and I wouldn't be surprised if the Rays got to at least one of these pitchers, but they're an easy trio to fall behind to. And I do not want to go into Game 5 needing to beat Cliff Lee.
Erik: I'm pretty much in agreeance with Steve. The Rays are a very patient team, and Cliff Lee doesn't give up many walks, so that's a concern. Also, the Rays' most patient hitters are mostly left handed, and while C.J. Wilson did walk far too many batters this season he's still tough against lefties. Josh Hamilton is obviously scary against any pitcher, but that fear grows when a righty is on the mound. He OPS'd 1.163 against them this year. I expect to see many IBB's for him this series.
3) Is there a "secret weapon" that you think the Rays may have that many Rangers fans wouldn't know about?
Erik: Jake McGee. Some hardcore fans may know about the rookie lefty reliever, but he's pitched just a handful of big league innings this season. He has a power fastball and is capable of getting out both left and right handed batters. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him called upon to face Josh Hamilton late in a game.
Steve: Don Zimmer, plain and simple. Is there anyone that can resist his teddy bear looks? I've long advocated changing the name of the Trop to The Zim Zone.
4) How close to 100% do you think Evan Longoria is going to be?
Erik: I think he's closer than the team is letting on. I doubt the team cared much about the remaining games after they clinched a playoff berth, so it was a nice excuse to give Evan some extra rest.
5) Both teams are aggressive on the basepaths, although Rangers fans view our team as often being dumb-aggressive. Do you think the Rays are smart-aggressive on the basepaths, or do you find yourself frequently shaking your head at runners running into needless outs?
Erik: The Rays are one of the better base running teams in the game. They're always going to be aggressive and are amongst the league leaders in taking the extra base, be it going first to third on a double or tagging up on a fly ball. They constantly put pressure on the opposing defense, forcing them to make a perfect play to gain the out. It's the philosophy that has gotten the Rays to where they are now. If they weren't this aggressive there's very little chance they'd be playing in October. If a runner tries to take the extra base this series and gets thrown out in a key spot...well, so be it. It's something you have to accept when watching this team.
Steve: Without a doubt, very aggressive - sometimes dumb, but almost always smart. The Rays do not have a particularly strong offense - if you take Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford out of our line-up, what do you have? - but we somehow managed to the third most amount of runs in the American League. You can attribute that to many different things, including Joe Maddon's incredible ability to squeeze every drop of talent out of our players, but I think the Rays' aggressive baserunning is one of the main reasons they've scored so many runs. They always force a player to make a play, to show they can make a tough throw, to push the other team as far as they can go. Sometimes their attempts don't work out, but it's a rare thing.
If you need a good example of this, just watch John Jaso (yup, that's right - our catcher) this series. If he gets on first base and the ball gets away from your catcher for even a split second, he'll be on second base before you know it. He does it every time.