Texas Rangers go to the Trop for Three
By Ben Dieter
Mar 16, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Texas Rangers starting pitcherYu Darvish
(11) talks with catcherJ.P. Arencibia
(7) after the third inning against the Chicago White Sox at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
I sent some questions to Robbie Knopf, editor of Rays Colored Glasses here on the Fansided sports network and I though I would share them with you all going into the series with the Rays.
NW: How are the Rays looking so far this season?
RK: The Rays were up-and-down in their four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays to begin the year, but the talent that promoted many to pick them for the World Series has not waned at all. From the pitching of David Price and Matt Moore to the bats of Evan Longoria and Wil Myers, this is a very good team.
NW: Who has been a big surprise for the Rays?
RK: Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings have started off red-hot, as has Heath Bell out of the bullpen. Joyce was in trade rumors this offseason and still has his flaws (he can’t hit lefties a lick), but yet another great start from him gives Rays fans the fleeting dream that this is the year he puts it together for an extended period of time. Jennings has seen his position with the team questioned in the last year as Kevin Kiermaier has emerged as an impressive centerfield prospect, but if Jennings’ power, speed, and defense play as expected, he is not going anywhere. Bell, though, may be the most interesting of three as the former San Diego Padres closer has been sharp to begin the year and could be the Rays’ next bullpen surprise.
NW: What are the Rays chances of winning the AL East this year?
RK: The Rays’ inconsistency to begin the year reminds Rays fans that they can’t take anything for granted with this team. That being said, the AL East is the Rays’ to lose. They have quite possibly their best rotation ever, a very strong bullpen, and an extremely talented lineup. The Boston Red Sox got worse with the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury while the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, and Toronto Blue Jays did not do enough to enter the picture. The Rays have the best chance of anyone to win the division.
NW: How will Rays lineup matchup against the Rangers pitching squad of Joe Saunders, rookie Nick Martinez and Yu Darvish?
RK: Against Joe Saunders, Rangers fans will get to see the Rays’ trio of lefty-mashing bench players: Sean Rodriguez, Logan Forsythe, and Brandon Guyer. Even though all three are stronger against lefties, though, they are certainly not the hitters that James Loney, Matt Joyce, and David DeJesus are, giving Texas a slight edge. The bad news: the Rays have a series of excellent right-handed hitters, the stars Evan Longoria, Wil Myers, and Ben Zobrist and the strong role players Desmond Jennings, Yunel Escobar, and Ryan Hanigan.
Nick Martinez will have the element of surprise as he makes his big league debut, but the Rays are not going to make it easy on him. Martinez’s money pitch is his fastball, but the way you beat the Rays is with impressive secondary pitches. Have Martinez’s curveball and changeup come far enough to long to fool the Rays’ hitters? Expect the Rays to wait out Martinez, and not chasing his curve and change as they wait for fastballs they can hit. I would not be surprised if Martinez, despite his good control, walks 3 or 4 batters in this game. To come away with a victory, Martinez will need precise command of his fastball and enough on his secondary pitches to keep the Rays off-balance.
Yu Darvish is a very good pitcher, but how good will he be in his debut? The Rays certainly hope not too well. Darvish has a 1.35 ERA against the Rays in his career, but it’s worth noting that the Rays have drawn a solid 10 walks against 22 strikeouts including 6 walks in his lone outing against them in 2013. The Rays will not be doing Darvish any favors, and if he gets too cute with his secondary pitches, they will take advantage. In contrast to Martinez, this game will be all about Darvish pounding the zone with his fastball to set up his slider and barrage of other pitches, and if he does, the Rays will be in trouble.
NW: What should Texas Rangers fans expect to see from Jake Odorizzi on Friday night?
RK: Everyone knew Odorizzi was the best candidate for the Rays’ fifth starter job, and it was exciting to see him actually receive it. Odorizzi will go after the Rangers with his fastball, split-change, slider, and curveball, and it is those first two pitches will be the keys. Odorizzi has improved his fastball command in the past year, but he will have to continue to execute to survive against a strong Texas lineup. For his swings-and-misses, meanwhile, can his split-change do the job? Odorizzi learned the pitch from Alex Cobb this spring and it has looked unhittable at times. Odorizzi’s curveball has its moments and his slider does a solid job forcing groundballs, but his split-change is his only potential plus secondary pitch. This will be the regular season debut of the pitch, and Odorizzi will have his hands full if it does not work out.
NW: If Texas scores a lot of runs this series, can the Rays keep up?
RK: If the Rays are allowing a lot of runs in this series, they are in trouble. Their offense has been underrated for years now–Tropicana Field is a pitchers’ park–but the keys to the team are always going to be pitching and defense, and strong starts from Jake Odorizzi, David Price, and Alex Cobb will be critical for them in this series. That being said, this Rays offense is nothing to scoff at with Evan Longoria and Wil Myers leading the way and has the ability to get themselves back into games in a hurry. Unless the Rangers put them away with a huge lead, do not count this team out.