The two best teams in MLB* play a three game series that begins today. The 40-21 Texas Rangers, with the second-best record in baseball, are in Tampa to face the 46-19 Rays, who have the best record in baseball.
* If you want to be pedantic you can say that they are the two teams with the best records in MLB, but not necessarily the two best teams. Fangraphs, for example, projects the Rangers to have the 16th best record from now to the end of the year. However, that makes for a longer, more awkward and less punchy headline.
Tampa and Texas also have the biggest division leads in baseball — Tampa is currently up by 6.5 games on the Baltimore Orioles, while Texas is up 5 games on the Houston Astros. Texas and Tampa also have the best run differentials in baseball, by a wide margin — Texas is at +154, Tampa is at +135, and no one else is even at +60 except the Braves, who are at +70.
Texas and Tampa are even having success in broadly similar ways. Texas is leading the league in runs scored, with 386, and are second in wRC+ at 123. Tampa is second in the league in runs scored, with 372, and are first in wRC+ at 131. Both teams are striking out 22.3% of the time. Tampa is walking 8.9% of the time, Texas 8.6% of the time.
In run prevention, the Rangers are second in MLB, with 232 runs allowed, while the Rays are fourth, with 237 runs allowed. Tampa has a 3.53 ERA on the year, Texas has a 3.58 ERA.
The rotation has been carrying the load for both teams, as far as pitching goes. Tampa is first in the majors in rotation ERA, at 2.94, while Texas is second, at 3.13. Both have bullpens that have been, shall we say, problematic — Tampa’s pen* has an ERA of 4.19, while the Rangers’ pen has a 4.44 ERA.
* Tampa’s pen is quite the collection of no-names. Jason Adam is their closer. Jalen Beeks, who I think stole the crop reports for the Duke Brothers in Trading Places, is in their pen. So is Kevin Kelly, who is apparently not the former U. of Miami QB turned baseball player, and Colin Poche, who is not Christian Pache. Oh, and they also have Jake Diekman, who they signed in May after the White Sox released him.
(One noteable difference is that the Rangers’ starters have pitched a lot more than Tampa’s — Tampa’s pen has almost 50% more innings than Texas’s pen, at 272.2 to 186.2, while Rangers’ starters are fourth in the league in innings with 353.2 (and first in innings per start), while Tampa is 27th, at 303.1 IP.)
Texas has former Rays Nathaniel Lowe and Jonah Heim* and Nathan Eovaldi and Brock Burke playing key roles this year, plus Brad Miller on the injured list. I thought Robbie Grossman was a former Ray, but in checking, he isn’t — I guess he just seems like one of those guys who ends up in Tampa at some point. The Rays have former Ranger Jake Diekman, plus Jeffrey Springs and and Pete Fairbanks on the injured list.
* Yes, Heim was a Ray. Originally drafted by the Orioles, he was acquired by the Rays from Baltimore in 2016 for Steve Pearce.
This is going to be a fun series. Yeah, the most likely scenario is the Rangers lose 2 of 3, because that’s pretty much always the most likely scenario in a three game road series, but it should be entertaining however it turns out.
And who would have thought this is where things would be three months ago?