The old saying goes that familiarity breeds contempt. If that is indeed the case, the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays must loathe each other by now. While a Texas-Tampa series doesn’t capture the national attention like Yankees-Red Sox or Dodgers-Giants, these two teams have quietly inserted themselves into the league’s upper echelon, often at each other’s expense.
Over the last four years, the Rangers twice ended the Rays’ season in the American League Divisional Series, both times in Tampa’s Tropicana Field. Last year, the Rays returned the favor, ending the Rangers’ season at the Ballpark in Game 163 to advance to the AL Wildcard Game. It’s those kind of high stakes games that turn teams into rivals.
There’s even been some bad blood between the teams. Take, for instance, Rays’ manager Joe Maddon going out of his way to keep Ian Kinsler off the AL All Star team in 2009, picking Carlos Pena and Chone Figgins for the team over Kinsler. As Bleacher Report’s Andrew Nuschler wrote that year, “Maddon spent his tenure as the AL All Star manager finding new and inventive ways to give Ian Kinsler the middle finger.”
Kinsler had his revenge in the ALDS the next year, hitting .444 with three homers and six RBI in that classic five game series. Then, Kinsler got to extend his own middle finger at Maddon, figuratively of course, by hitting a lead off homer in Game Four of the ALDS the next year in what also became the final game of that series.
Last year, the Rays got their own revenge against the Rangers. David Price dominated the Rangers in the one game playoff. As a Ranger fan, you never really had the feeling that the Rangers were going to win that game, and indeed the Rays were the more intense and focused team that night.
So the recent history is there. The bad blood, the big moments, the back and forth. All the pieces are in place for Rays-Rangers to really become a big rivalry. With both teams also showing an eye for the future, building monster farm systems full of talent, these two could spend the next decade or so slugging it our for AL supremacy.
The Rangers don’t get to play the Rays enough in the regular season to really build up the hate the way they do against division rivals like Oakland and Los Angeles, but it’s not so much the quantity of games as it is the quality. In that respect, the Rays and Rangers are becoming quite familiar with each other. And we all know where familiarity leads.