If you want to see a postseason series in August, pay close attention to this week's three-game set between the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays, beginning with tonight's marquee pitching matchup at Tropicana Field.
This could be a preview of a potential playoff series. The Rays (71-46) lead the American League Wild Card race and are a game behind the Yankees in the AL East. Meanwhile, the Rangers (67-49) hold an 8 1/2-game lead in the AL West. If the postseason began today, Texas and Tampa Bay would be matched in an AL Division Series.
This series will test the old saying: "Good pitching beats good hitting." Both of these teams have solid starting pitching, as evidenced by tonight's starters, Cliff Lee for the Rangers, and the Rays' David Price. Lee is 10-5 with a 2.57 ERA and seven complete games. Price is 15-5 with a 2.84 ERA.
Price has the ability to dominate a lineup, while Lee will simply hit his spots and make his pitches. I'm going with the veteran, Cliff Lee, in tonight's game.
Game 2 of the series matches two pitchers who, at times, can dominate. Matt Garza is 11-7 and has thrown a no-hitter this year. He has an above-average fastball and a very good curveball, but is inconsistent with his control.
The Rangers will counter with Tommy Hunter, who won his first eight decisions and is 9-1 with a 3.38 ERA. Hunter surrendered four home runs in his last start against the Red Sox and left after three-plus innings, due to illness.
In Wednesday's series finale, James Shields, who is 10-11 with a 4.98 ERA, will be opposed by Derek Holland, 2-1 with a 4.19 ERA, who has spent the majority of the season in the Minors. Holland is replacing Rich Harden in the Rangers' rotation. Shields has not been very consistent in 2010, but I think in this matchup, the Rays will prove to be too much for Texas' young left-hander. Therefore, I see the Rays avoiding being swept in the series.
The reason I see the Rangers taking this series boils down to this: Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Vlad Guerrerro, Elvis Andrus ... I could go on and on.
That is where the problem lies for the Rays. The Rangers never give a pitcher a chance to take a breath. They hit for average, they hit for power -- they just plain hit. And to go along with all that hitting, they are sending Cliff Lee and Tommy Hunter to the mound.
Cliff Lee knows how to pitch big games, and Tommy Hunter is right-handed. He will not let Evan Longoria beat him. There are places in the Rays' lineup around which pitchers can navigate. Pitching coach Mike Maddox will instruct his pitchers on whom not to let beat them.
I believe the Rays have the advantage in pitching in the series with Price, Garza and Shields. But I also believe the Rangers' lineup is that good. The old saying "Good pitching beats good hitting" will not hold true. The Rangers simply have too much offense. But watch this series closely, if you want to see a playoff series in August.