Before the series kicks off today, Steve and I exchanged a few questions with Adam J. Morris of the SBN Rangers' blog Lone Star Ball. Adam and company do a great job over there, so give them a read during the series and beyond. Our answers to Adam's questions will be posted on his site later this morning.
A big thanks goes to Adam for taking the time. Now, on to the questions:
DRB: Cliff Lee I've given up on - what are the keys to beating CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis?
Adam Morris: I'm a little concerned about C.J. Wilson matching up against the Rays offense - he led the A.L. in walks allowed and has a hard time holding runners, while the Rays are terrific basestealers who have shown they'll take a free pass. When Wilson has gotten into trouble this year, he's generally faced teams that have laid off his pitches just out of the zone -he sometimes seems like he gets into a battle of wills with the home plate umpire, continually throwing pitches in the same place that he thinks should be strikes, but that the ump keeps calling balls. Wilson throws five pitches, and his other problems this year seem to have stemmed from him getting away from his fastball early - Wilson is a smart guy, but it sometimes seems he can overthink things on the mound, rather than trusting his stuff and throwing.
As for Colby Lewis, he's been victimized by a ridiculous lack of support this season, and I'm inclined to say that the key to beating him is to keep the Rangers bats off the board, which has been an ugly trend this season. Really, though, the key with Lewis is to keep the ball in the park - the Rangers are 9-7 when not allowing a homer, which doesn't sound that great until you realize the Rangers are 5-11 when he does give up a homer. Lewis is one of the better Ranger starters at missing bats, and his walk rate is better than average, but he has flyball tendencies...really, I'm a little surprised that the Rangers didn't start Wilson, the lefty ground ball guy, in game 3 at TBIA, which is a great home run park for lefty hitters, while having Lewis start game 2 at Tropicana.
DRB: Tell us about one underrated player of the Rangers that could prove big in this series
Adam: Lewis is, I think, pretty underrated...but the one guy who pops to mind here is Mitch Moreland. Moreland was a 17th round draft pick in 2007, and there was some question about whether his future would be on the mound or as a hitter. But he's hit at every level, and although he entered the 2010 season fourthon the first base depth chart (behind Chris Davis, Ryan Garko, and Justin Smoak) and never having played above AA, he ended up taking over as the lefty-hitting side of a first base platoon. He's not someone who will ever be a star, but he's what the media likes to call a "professional hitter," a guy with some line drive power who has good ABs and doesn't seem overwhelmed by being in the majors. It wouldn't surprise me if he ended up coming through with a key hit or two in this series.
DRB: Has anyone ever shifted on Michael Young before? R.J. Anderson proposed it this weekend. Any thoughts on that?
Adam: I don't recall anyone using the sort of shift Anderson proposed on Michael Young before, but it makes sense. His hitting style is reminiscent of former Ranger Pudge Rodriguez - when he's going well, there's lots of line drives to right-center field, a hallmark of the disciples of former Ranger hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. The Rays have an outfield that can cover a lot of ground, and I think swinging Upton around to cover more of the right-center gap against Young would probably be smart.
DRB: How do you think the Rangers are going to attack the Rays? Is there one specific area where you feel they have a big advantage?
Adam: I think the Rangers are going to go into the series playing the same way they've played all season - looking for their starting pitchers to get them six or seven innings deep, with the two Darrens (O'Day and Oliver) and Alexi Ogando bridging the gap to get to Neftali Feliz in the 9th inning. The Rangers have preached pitch-to-contact on the run-prevention side, but the bullpen is loaded with guys who can get Ks in key situations, with Feliz and Ogando both capable of bringing heat in the high 90s.
On offense, the Rangers will platoon at first base and in one of the outfield spots, will be aggressive to the point of foolhardiness on the basepaths, and will look to Josh Hamilton, Vlad Guerrero, or Nelson Cruz to come through with the big hit. The Rangers lineup is top-heavy - they've gotten no offense from their catchers, the first basemen have been spotty, and Julio Borbon and Elvis Andrus have been disappointing, offensively - so if they are going to win, they need production from the guys in the middle of the order.
DRB: Which facet of the Rangers game are you most concerned about coming into this series?
Adam: No question, my biggest concern is with the Ranger offense. As mentioned above, the Rangers are heavily dependent on their big bats in the middle of the order, and have shown an unfortunate willingness to give outs away on the basepaths. The baserunning cuts both ways, of course - they've stolen some runs by taking chances that many teams wouldn't have taken - but as a Ranger fan, I'm scared to death we'll see the tying run thrown out trying to advance to third on a grounder to shortstop, or have a runner gunned down trying to stretch a single into a double. Meanwhile, Josh Hamilton is still sore from his early-September collision with the outfield wall, Vlad Guerrero has slumped in the second half, and Ian Kinsler tends to run hot-and-cold - I fret that Cliff Lee will go out there on Wednesday and give up 2 runs, only to see the bats go silent while Texas loses 2-1.