Your Tampa Bay Rays square off against the Texas Rangers in the American League Divisional Series starting today at 5:07 pm EST. The big news has been that manager Joe Maddon has stones and is starting rookie Matt Moore in game one with only one career start under his belt.
I, personally, love this move by Maddon because Moore is one of the Rays four best starters and the Rangers have never seen Moore pitch. Oh, and Moore can help exploit the rare weakness that the Rangers have. More on that in a moment.
The Texas Rangers are built to win a championship. They were 2nd in the American League in almost every offensive category: homeruns, wRC+, wOBA, slugging percentage, fWAR, and they were first in batting average. Their 143 stolen bases were only 12 behind the leading Rays.
The Rangers base running (calculated by Bsr which does not include stolen bases) was so far and above the rest of the league. The Rays, for instance, are regarded as a good base running team. They ended the regular season with a Bsr of +4.8. Solid. The Rangers were one of only two teams to have a positive double-digit Bsr at a ridiculous +23.0. By contrast, the 2nd best team in all of baseball had a +10.5.
The Rangers also field very well proven by a +27.9 UZR and their .845 RZR is tied with the Rays for 3rd in the AL. They are also a much underrated pitching club. They play in an extreme hitter's park yet have the 2nd best xFIP and SIERA in the AL and the best ERA- (adjusted for park) in the AL at 88. Included in those numbers is Ron Washington's incredible bullpen.
The Rangers have it all. They hit, hit for power, and when they do not hit homeruns they are stealing bases and taking the extra base at will. They pitch, they field. They are a near perfect team. But they do have a weakness.
The Rangers are the best hitting team against fastballs with a wFB of +113.6 and the 2nd best against the change-up with a wCH of +20.3.
The Rays staff has been built on getting huge value from their fastball and change-up. They blow the league away with a +55.1 wCH, a full +21 ahead of 2nd place, and are 3rd with a +47.2 wFB, a full +20 ahead of the 4th place team. Oddly, both pitches are what the Rangers eat for breakfast.
Our pitching strength meets their hitting strength. Do you go toe-to-toe with them since you are the best fastball/change-up pitching staff and they are the best fastball/change-up hitting lineup? You have to, but we have a secret weapon. We have thier kryptonite.
The Rangers are the 4th worst team in the AL against the curveball with a -8.7 wCB. With a +7.5 wCB the Rays rank 3rd in the AL and that only includes 9.1 innings of Matt Moore who may have the best curveball in professional baseball. James Shields has a crazy good +12.2 wCB. Jeff Niemann has a +2.1 wCB. Cesar Ramos has a +2.8. J.P. Howell (I know) has a +4.3. Superman, meet your kryptonite.
The other thing the Rays can exploit is the Rangers knack for the hack. They love to swing the lumber. They have the 6th lowest BB% at 7.6% but easily have the best K% at a league low 14.9%. This is a team that wants to make you make a play on them. They put the proverbial (and literal) ball in your court. They rely on the ball in play. That is fine with the Rays who have the best UZR in the league, by a good margin. Again, kryptonite.
The Rangers are an incredibly balanced team but they do have a weakness, possibly two, and the Rays are the rare team that has the tools to exploit them both.