Here we go, less than 24 hours before CJ Wilson’s first pitch to, presumably, Desmond Jennings. Most of us are still flying high, still on cloud nine, and for good reason really: the Rays are still a solid team, even without the big names that put the Rays on the map going into their last two post-season appearances. And yeah, there’s that whole miracle we unceded the Red Sox thing that’s got the baseball world aflutter. God it feels good to say that!
There’s still a question that’s lingering somewhere in our collective brains though. How do the 2011 Rays compare to the 2010 Rays? Mind you, the 2010 Rays were the ones predestined to go to the world series way back at the beginning of the 2010 season, and the 2011 Rays were predestined for, uh…mediocrity I guess, way back at the beginning of this season. The jokes on those fools though! I digress. Let’s delve into things a bit, and look at a few basic stats on the offensive and defensive side to see how our current team stacks up against the Rays of 2010. FYI, I’ll also be throwing in 2010/11 Texas Rangers statistics where applicable.
Let’s turn the clocks back to 2010
First up, the big “O”. In 2010, the Rays had a team BA of .247. That certainly wasn’t an amazing BA by any stretch of the imagination. This is especially true when you compare that to the Rangers (the Rays only post season opponent last year) who had a BA some 29 points higher. However, the Rays had an OBP of .333. Compare that, again, to the Rangers who had an OBP of .338 and you come to the realization that though the Rays weren’t hitting the ball nearly as much as the Rangers. They were patient at the plate though, working counts and taking walks. In the end, the Rays were on base nearly as many times as the Rangers. Tampa Bay had SLG of .403 and scored 803 runs on 1343 hits. They also had a RPG average of almost five runs, at 4.95 runs per game. Though the Rangers had higher averages in the above mentioned areas, they actually had a lower RPG average at 4.85 runs per game. Interesting when you consider all of the sluggers on the Rangers. I suppose great pitching was able to take a team far.
Defensively speaking, the Rays had a very good year thanks to a great pitching staff and and solid fielding. As a team, the Rays had a 3.78 ERA. Tampa Bay gave up 649 runs (611 earned) on 1347 hits, with 1189 strike outs and 478 walks. They also gave up 175 home runs. What’s interesting about that though, is that “Big Game” James Shields gave up the most home runs on the team at 34, followed by Matt Garza who gave up 28. Price gave up a paltry 15 on the season. Keep those numbers in your head, I’ll get back to them in a moment.
Fast forward to the present if you will
Nobody knew what to expect out of the Rays in 2011. When you look at the offensive slash line though, you realize that the Rays did have a decline in production, overall. Consider though, that the Rays stepped it up in the last third of the season. Those numbers would be drastically different had they been consistent at the plate all season, not just in the last third. The teams BA was .244, three points less than the previous year. Tampa Bay’s OBP of .322, was 11 points off of last years total. There really wasn’t a difference in slugging though, at .402. In the end, the Rays scored 707 runs on 1324 hits and averaged 4.36 runs per game. Why almost 100 less runs on almost 20 less hits? Throughout a good part of the 2011 season, driving in runners in scoring position was a task akin to climbing Everest. Luckily things seem to be going in a different (read: positive) trajectory now going into the playoffs.
Defensively, Tampa Bay was actually better this year than last, thanks to the starting rotation and quality fielding. Led by “Complete Game” James Shields, the Rays had a team ERA of 3.58, 20 points less than last year. The Rays gave up 614 runs (577 earned) on 1263 hits, with 1143 strikeouts and 504 walks. The Rays gave up 161 home runs. No, the Rays did not strike out as many batters overall, and yes they gave up more walks, but they gave up less runs on less hits leading me to conclude that they were inducing more pop and fly outs by throwing quality pitches. Oh yeah, the thing I told you to remember. The Rays gave up 15 less home runs between this year and last. Shields gave up eight less dingers this season lowering that number to 26. However, David Price gave up seven more home runs. The 2011 Price has had a much less productive year, and hasn’t been as consistent with his location. In short, he really hasn’t stepped it up in the big game situations, nor has he been consistent with his quality starts. Wednesday’s start against the Yankees was a perfect example of that.
It’s evident that the Rays were not scoring as many runs earlier in the 2011 season as they had in the past. Two players that were expected to drive the Rays offense, BJ Upton and Evan Longoria, both struggled at the plate early on, yet were very hot in the last two months of the season. The team as a whole struggled to get hits, walks, and runs, especially at home. But the Rays really collected themselves and upped the production in the second half, especially in August and September.
The Rays are entering the 2011 post-season on an upswing in production. In the first 90 games of the season, the Rays scored on average, 4.22 runs a game. Compare that with the second half of the season where the Rays upped the number of runs that crossed the plate, to 4.54 runs per game. That isn’t a substantial increase, but it is an increase nonetheless. Comparatively speaking, last year the Rays dropped the average amount of runs that crossed the plate per game, from 5.04 RPG t0 4.84 RPG.
In kind, last year when the run production tailed off, so did the winning percentage. The 2010 Rays started the year with a .614 WP and ended the season with a .568 WP. However, the 2011 Rays started the year with a .544 WP and ended the season with a .583 WP. In short: when the Rays push more runs across the plate, they win more. Simple as that.
On the other hand, the Rangers have a higher ERA this year, and have given up more earned runs and home runs overall. They, unfortunately, have a higher batting average at .283 and too, have upped the production from the first half of the season (4.96 RPG) into the second half of the season (5.68 RPG).
What challenges might the Rays face going into this series?
The Rangers have a potent offense, however the Rays have a potent pitching staff and defense. The Rangers too, have a potent pitching staff, but they are lacking one major cog in their rotation: Cliff Lee. Lee made a big difference last year, driving down the Rangers ERA. Though Tampa Bay has had a tough time with CJ Wilson, I feel that they have a better opportunity to do some damage against the Rangers going into this years ALDS especially when you consider that they’re coming into things with better production, riding a huge wave of momentum that hasn’t seemed to crest yet.
What weaknesses do the Rangers have that the Rays could exploit ? Good question. The Rangers are seemingly the whole package. They’re by and far the AL favorite going into the post-season, however they do have a weakness. Offensively, they were second in the American league in home runs with 210, third in OBP at .340, and first in batting average with the above mentioned .283. They also had only 12 less stolen bases than the Rays. In short, they’re pretty impressive across the board.
Texas also has a very good pitching staff. The Rangers have the fifth best ERA in the AL at 3.79, however that ERA is a bit misleading. The Rangers play in a very hitter friendly park and when you make adjustments to compensate for that, the Rangers actually have one of the best, if not the best, ERA in the league. Forget not their underrated bullpen. So where do their weaknesses lie?
The Rangers hit fastballs and changeups particularly well. The Rays are tops in the league at throwing those pitches. That then begs the question: do the Rays throw those two pitches to a team that hits those pitches particularly well? I suppose in some cases, sure. For example, Josh Hamilton can hit a fastball that is located pretty much anywhere in the zone. If I were writing the scouting report on him, I’d certainly highlight that fact.
It bears mentioning that the Rangers are the fourth worst team in the AL at hitting curveballs. The Rays are the third best team in the league at throwing curveball. Tampa Bay has five pitchers that are exceptionally good at throwing breaking stuff: Matt Moore, James Shields, Cesar Ramos, Jeff Niemann, and JP Howell. When Price and Davis’ breaking pitches are on, they’re very good as well. Note too, that the Rangers LOVE to swing their bats. In fact, they have the sixth lowest walk average in the league at 7.6% and they have the best strikeout percentage in the league at 14.9%. In short, they don’t walk a lot and they put the ball into play often. If, in the Hamilton scenario above for example, the Rays were to utilize a high and outside fastball, or the changeup as frame up pitches, they then could rely on their breaking pitches to either induce weak hits or get a strikeout.
This isn’t to say that the Rays have a cakewalk in the ALDS. It will be tough for sure. However, they seem A) Better equipped than they were last year, and B) To have the tools available to pounce on the Rangers weaknesses.
So here we go, Rays fans! Let’s get excited, fore there’s lot’s to be excited about! I’ll post the starting lineups and pitching matchups as they become available. As always, GO RAYS!