As I said in my FanGraphs preview today, while this is the same matchup from last season's ALDS, the roles of the two clubs have been reversed. The Rays entered the postseason as the favorites in this series, winning 96 games and taking the AL East, and their lineup and rotation was as stacked as its been the past few seasons. The Rangers, on the other hand, had only won 90 games and were in the postseason for the first time since the '90s.
This season, it's the Rays who enter the series as the underdogs. They snuck into the playoffs at the last minute, and they're quantitatively weaker than the Rangers in almost every area:
Personally, I think the Rays have a slight advantage in starting pitching, simply because the top of the Rays' rotation is so excellent and Matt Moore is a big unknown for the Rangers. But the Rangers have a definite advantage with their dominant bullpen (as Tommy highlighted this morning), and their offense is among the best in the majors. C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison are all above-average starters, so even though they don't have Cliff Lee, this is going to be a hard team to beat.
This is probably stating the obvious, but this series is really going to come down to if the Rays' offense can score runs early against the Rangers' starters, and if the Rays' starters can shut down the Rangers' offense effectively.
The Rays have relished their role as the underdog this season. Who's to say they can't keep the magic rolling along? They are still a strong team, and since anything can happen in a short series, there are plenty of plausible scenarios where the Rays come out ahead. If Matt Moore can come up big today against the Rangers, that'd be one huge step forward.
Pitching Matchup: C.J. Wilson vs. Matt Moore
Game Time: 5:07pm EST
Coverage: TBS, WDAE 620