The Rays are going to be traveling to Arlington for today's game. This is easily the most important game of the season. A loss here means season over for the Rays. A win means that season over will probably be delayed a tad.
The Rays throw Matt "Big Game" Garza to the mound. The Rangers will be countering with Colby Lewis, who as you all probably know returned from Japan to find immediate success in the AL. Colby Lewis has done so with a complete revamp of his pitching style. In his own words, he became a more aggressive pitcher and threw his slider more often. Indeed, looking at Colby Lewis's pitch selection, we see that he uses his slider 27.2% of the time, far more than any other stage in his career and 12th most often in the majors.
It certainly seems as though these changes have worked well for Colby. His slider has an excellent whiff rate of 19.7% and a wSL/C of 1.56 runs above average every 100 pitches. He also throws it for a strike aggressively, landing it in the zone roughly 53% of the time. Lewis also features a curveball and a changeup, but they're both below-average pitches. While Lewis uses them to keep hitters on their toes, the two pitches themselves are really not particularly effective.
The Rangers have the clear advantage in this game. They've got momentum, home field advantage, and a better starter (Colby Lewis trumps Garza in every measure possible). Of course, in one game, anything can happen, and the Rays have a decent shot at winning.
Some keys to doing so after the jump.
Long Ball: The long ball absolutely has to be working. The Rays need at least one home run, if not more, in the bandbox of Texas in order to sparkplug us. This is pretty much non-negotiable. Colby Lewis is a fly ball pitcher, and not taking advantage of his one real weakness .
- Slider Spotting: The hitters have to spot Colby Lewis's slider well. Lewis throws his slider frequently in any count (except 3-0 and 3-1 counts) and so hitters always have to be prepared for it. If our boys start chasing his slider, then it's going to be one long (short) night.
- Defense: Our defense needs to return to its former state of excellence, not the incompetence it has displayed the last week. Matt Garza has returned to pitching to contact more or less as his K/9 has dropped 1.78 per 9 from last year.
- Long Ball (Again): Speaking of Matt Garza, he needs to keep the ball in the park today. Matt's fly ball percentage has always been above average, but this year his ground ball percentage is among the bottom five in the majors. Matt can't let the Texas hitters find the fences at will.
- Luck: Colby Lewis has 7 starts with a WPA of less than -.100. Even in those starts, Colby has put together a K/BB of 36/12. If we can't get the long ball to work, then luck is the main way to beat him.
Even with a win in this game, the series outcome still looks bleak. Right now our chances of winning the series are at roughly 13%. With a win today, that improves to a slightly less sad 25-27%. That being said, a loss here ends our season. Here's to hoping that does not happen.