Jul 31, 2011; Toronto, ON, Canada; Texas Rangers second baseman Omar Quintanilla (12) cannot get Toronto Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald (6) as he steals second base in the 2nd inning at the Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays beat the Rangers 7-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays @ Texas Rangers

Another series, another AL East threat and another former playoff opponent (that is now three straight previous playoff foes for the Rangers.) There are three good pitching matchups in this one, and once again, will be interesting if the Rays can have a good showing against the Rangers after the Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees went 2-8 against Texas.

Oct 3, 2011; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon (70) and Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington (38) hug before the game of game three of the 2011 ALDS at Tropicana Field. Texas Rangers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Probable Starters:

(Note: We’re getting pretty deep into these previews, so expect less about the Texas pitchers as there won’t be too many adjustments from start to start.)

Friday 7:05 CDT TEX: LHP Matt Harrison (3-0, 1.66 ERA/2.86 FIP) – TB: RHP James Shields (3-0, 2.76 ERA/3.00 FIP)

Harrison has become the top left-handed pitcher on this Rangers staff so far this season and has been nothing short of brilliant. There is still some regression to deal with as his BABIP and LOB% are way above league average but enjoy it for now, Rangers fans.

Shields has always been the workhorse of this Rays staff and this year is no exception averaging over 7 innings and 110 pitches per start. He is the Rays ace, there’s no doubt about that. His numbers are also very similar to last year but seems to be striking out less hitters and having them hit more balls on the ground. Over the season, that will allow him to throw less pitches but still be successful.

Saturday 7:05 CDT TEX: RHP Colby Lewis (2-0, 2.03 ERA/2.79 FIP) – TB: RHP Jeff Niemann (1-2, 4.11 ERA/3.88 FIP)

Lewis has continued to have impeccable control walking one hitter in 26.2 innings and has struck out 24. Lewis also has the best swinging strike percentage of his career at 9.9% (career average is 8.7, last year was 8.2 for comparison’s sake.) If he can continue to not walk hitters and still show the great stuff he’s been showing, he will be a dark-horse candidate for the Cy Young Award.

Niemann is the least-known (and least-successful) of the three pitchers Texas will see in this series. He hasn’t been pitching bad at all, he’s just not Shields or David Price. With Niemann, what you see is what you get. Has a basic arsenal of fastball-slider-changeup-split finger and usually uses a variation of fastballs (over 66% of his pitches over his career.) Batters have hit a paltry .175 against him this year, but most of that is due to a .205 BABIP.

Sunday 7:05 CDT TEX: LHP Derek Holland (2-1, 4.78 ERA/3.93 FIP) – TB: LHP David Price (3-1, 2.63 ERA/3.40 FIP)

Holland had his first bad start of the year, and it wasn’t truly that bad – just mistakes at the worst times. The homerun to Alex Rodriguez sealed the deal, and he will look to bounce back against the Rays. For the second time, it is a nice battle of left-handed pitchers as after facing CC Sabathia, it’s now Price.

Price is coming off of his best start – a complete game shutout of the Los Angeles Angels. Before that he failed to go 7 in any start, despite allowing a total of 7 runs in those three starts. It is interesting that Price is currently at the lowest fastball rate of his career (63.6%). This seems to be due to an increase in him throwing his slider. It has been an interesting progression with the pitch. He threw it 30% of the time as a rookie in 2008 and it then dropped to 5% in 2010 and then increasing the past two years to 11.1% right now.

Projected Tampa Bay Lineup

1 LF Desmond Jennings
2 2B Ben Zobrist (S)
3 1B Carlos Pena (L)
4 3B Evan Longoria
5 DH Luke Scott (L)
6 RF Matt Joyce (L)
7 CF B.J. Upton
8 C Jose Molina
9 SS Sean Rodriguez

(source MLBDepthCharts)

Hot/Cold (Last 7 Days)

Evan Longoria (Hot-TB) 8/19 (.421), 2 HR, 7 RBI, 6 BB (.560 OBP)
Desmond Jennings (Hot-TB) 8/25 (.320), 3 HR, 6 RBI
Ben Zobrist (Cold-TB) 2/20 (.100), 1 HR, 2 RBI, 4 BB (.240 OBP), 7 K
B.J. Upton (Cold-TB) 3/14 (.214/.222/.429), 1 HR, 6 RBI
Ian Kinsler (Hot-TEX) 10/31 (.323/.400/.548), 1 HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB, 3 K
Michael Young (Hot-TEX) 9/28 (.321/.387/.357), 3 RBI
Yorvit Torrealba (Cold-TEX) 4/16 (.250/.235/.313), 2 RBI

For more information on the Rays see Fansided’s Rays page, Rays Colored Glasses.

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Tags: Colby Lewis David Price Derek Holland James Shields Jeff Niemann Matt Harrison Tampa Bay Rays Texas Rangers

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