Head-to-head comparisons of the A.L. East-champion Tampa Bay Rays and the A.L. West-champion Texas Rangers:
Starting pitching: Rays. David Price, not Cliff Lee or CC Sabathia, is positioned to be the most dominating starter in the A.L. playoffs. He’s backed by a deep rotation that should keep Joe Maddon from having to use his guys on three days’ rest, with Matt Garza another potential dominator. Lee will look to tap into his 2009 magic, but the rest of the Rangers’ rotation is untested.
Relief pitching: Even. There’s little difference between these teams, but the Rangers are having to improvise somewhat without Frank Francisco, their top setup man. The Rangers do have a bevy of power arms that could be fun to watch, including closer Neftali Feliz.
Hitting: Rays. The Rangers’ Josh Hamilton might be the A.L.’s MVP, but he’s less than full strength because of broken ribs. The Rays’ Evan Longoria is a bit of a question mark because of a strained quad. The Rays’ lineup gets the edge because of guys like Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton. Vladimir Guerrero needs to be a hero for the Rangers.
Fielding: Rays. Crawford and Upton are difference-makers in the outfield. Also give Tampa Bay’s infield a slight edge.
Bench: Rays. Tampa Bay has used a lot of players all season, but so have the Rangers (both have 12 players with 150-plus at-bats). Rays’ Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac are dangerous in super-utility roles.
Manager: Maddon. Between his work as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach and as Rays manager, he has an experience edge in October over everyone in the playoffs, except the Braves’ Bobby Cox.
Gut read: The Rangers are the only team in the majors that has never won a postseason series. They also enter as clearly the weakest of the A.L.’s four playoff teams.
PICK: Rays in four.
By Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune