Rangers preview: The wildcard playoff series starts now

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Rays host Rangers for a four game series.

It's a cliche to talk about important matchups feeling like playoff games; to say that "October is coming early," in September. Well, the upcoming home series against the Texas Rangers is just about as close to a September playoff game as one can get without mathematical elimination riding on the outcome.

Once seemingly secure atop the American League West, the Rangers have lost their past six games and have lost eleven of the thirteen games they've played in September. Now they sit six and a half games behind Oakland in their division, and are tied with the Rays for the two wild card slots. A sweep by either team would almost certainly end the hopes of the other, while a split series would give hope to the hounds snapping at our heels.

The Matchups (using 2013 stats)

RHP Matt Garza vs. RHP Alex Cobb, 7:10 PM

Garza Cobb
K% 21.9% 21.9%
BB% 6.5% 8.1%
GB% 38.9% 55.3%
ERA 3.79 3.08
FIP 3.84 3.73
xFIP 3.67 3.22
SIERA 3.68 3.45

RHP Nick Tepesch vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson, 7:10 PM

Tepesch Hellickson
K% 18.7% 18.3%
BB% 6.6% 6.8%
GB% 47.3% 39.3%
ERA 4.84 5.04
FIP 4.18 4.17
xFIP 3.83 4.17
SIERA 3.86 4.15

LHP Derek Holland vs. RHP Chris Archer, 7:10 PM

Holland Archer
K% 21.4% 17.9%
BB% 7.7% 7.3%
GB% 40.5% 47.2%
ERA 3.40 3.03
FIP 3.53 4.18
xFIP 3.72 4.07
SIERA 3.85 4.11

RHP Yu Darvish vs. LHP Matt Moore, 7:10 PM

Darvish Moore
K% 33.1% 22.6%
BB% 8.8% 11.5%
GB% 40.1% 39.5%
ERA 2.79 3.11
FIP 3.17 3.74
xFIP 2.77 4.24
SIERA 2.73 4.23

What is instantly obvious is that, losing streak aside, the Rangers are a dangerous team. One might argue that they hold the pitching advantage in all four matchups (I'd say Garza/Cobb is a draw). On the other hand, they aren't quite the hit show we've seen from Arlington in past years. The following matchup projections are made using regressed platoon splits and ZiPS rest of season projections.

All stats from FanGraphs.

While Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, and Lance Berkman are still excellent offensive players, it's clear that the Rays actually have the deeper lineup here (especially against righties, and the Rays face will face three), something that hasn't been said about this series in years. And that's not even counting the ballpark adjustmants (Arlington is a hitters' park, The Trop is a pitchers' park). Yes the Rangers can pitch, and yes they've had the Rays' number in crunch time these past few seasons, but the best way to not have to face a team in the playoffs is to deny them entry to the playoffs.

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