ST. PETERSBURG -- If the Rangers were frustrated by the way their regular season ended, they didn’t show it Tuesday afternoon at Tropicana Field. Now, they have a chance to play their way into the American League Division Series.
Texas’ 4-0 win over a sloppy Tampa Bay team in Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series on Tuesday put the Rangers one win away from advancing to face the Orioles, and it pushed the Rays to the brink of elimination. And this series is very much in the Rangers’ hands as a result of their victory in the opener.
In the history of the best-of-three Wild Card Series (which includes 2020 and ’22), Game 1 winners have gone on to win the series 10 of 12 times (83 percent). However, both teams that have rallied from a Game 1 loss did so as the home team. Of the eight teams to win Game 1 on the road, six won the series, including five via sweep.
"It's extremely nice to be able to jump out to a lead," Rangers shortstop Corey Seager said. "Not take a deep breath, I guess, but it's good to get one under your belt. We're gonna come in tomorrow, and we're looking forward to trying to close it out."
The Rays, on the other hand, will have their backs against the wall. They are riding a franchise-record six-game losing streak in the postseason, tied for the longest such active skid after the Twins snapped their 18-game drought Tuesday.
They’ll have to play a cleaner brand of baseball than they did in Game 1, returning to the form that allowed them to finish the regular season with the AL’s second-best record (99-63). If anything, they thought their all-around poor performance made it easier to move on to Wednesday’s win-or-go-home game.
“You're going to have them. Ideally you don't have them in the postseason, certainly in Game 1 when we know how pivotal winning that game is,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “But [I have] a lot of confidence in this group, certainly in the guy on the mound in Zach Eflin, that we can bounce back and play just a better baseball game.”
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game 2 is airing now on ABC.
All series are available in the US on MLB.TV with authentication to a participating Pay TV provider. Games are available live internationally (except in Canada). Full game archives are available approximately 90 minutes after the game ends.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Rangers: Nathan Eovaldi will get the Game 2 nod for Texas on regular rest. The right-hander has been the ace of the Rangers’ staff since Jacob deGrom went down in May with right UCL surgery, posting a 3.63 ERA in 25 starts. He has struggled a bit since coming off the IL with a right forearm strain, logging a 9.30 ERA in six September starts. Eovaldi has been a workhorse in past postseasons, though, tossing 43 innings with the Red Sox in 2018 and ‘21.
Rays: The staff had a couple of things in mind when lining up Tyler Glasnow for Game 1 and Eflin for Game 2. One was Glasnow’s potential for dominance. Another was its comfort with the idea of putting its season in Eflin’s right hand. The veteran was with the Phillies during their run to the World Series last year, and he has been the rock of the Rays’ rotation this season, going 16-8 with a 3.50 ERA in 177 2/3 innings over 31 starts. He’ll be pitching on seven days’ rest, which is also worth noting. He posted a 3.12 ERA in 17 starts with at least five days of rest this season, compared to a 3.97 ERA in 14 starts with four days’ rest.
What are the starting lineups?
Rangers: Bruce Bochy shocked everybody when he switched up his usual lineup against right-handers in Game 1, going with Robbie Grossman (career .692 OPS against RHP) instead of Mitch Garver at the DH spot and in the three hole. Bochy noted pregame that he made that choice because of Glasnow’s splits, and the skipper kept that same Game 1 lineup for Wednesday.
- Marcus Semien, 2B
- Corey Seager, SS
- Robbie Grossman, DH
- Adolis García, RF
- Nathaniel Lowe, 1B
- Jonah Heim, C
- Leody Taveras, CF
- Josh Jung, 3B
- Evan Carter, LF
Rays: The Rays ran out an entirely right-handed lineup against lefty Jordan Montgomery in Game 1 and came up empty. They’re without a couple of their top left-handed bats in Wander Franco (administrative leave), Brandon Lowe and Luke Raley (injured), but they can at least plug in hot-hitting Josh Lowe near the top of the order to get something going. Manuel Margot shifted from right to center field for Game 2 after Jose Siri went 0-for-3 on Tuesday, as Cash said they didn't want to play Siri on back-to-back days after his return from a fractured right hand.
- Yandy Díaz, 1B
- Randy Arozarena, LF
- Harold Ramírez, DH
- Josh Lowe, RF
- Isaac Paredes, 3B
- Manuel Margot, CF
- Curtis Mead, 2B
- Taylor Walls, SS
- René Pinto, C
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Rangers: Bullpen guru Bochy has a tall task ahead of him with the Rangers’ bullpen, just like he has all season. Texas has gone through three closers -- José Leclerc, Will Smith and Aroldis Chapman -- all of whom have blown big games. The club finished the regular season 30-for-63 (47.6 percent) in save opportunities this year, which was the lowest such mark in MLB. That being said, Leclerc has been the Rangers’ best reliever of late after finishing September with a 1.98 ERA across 13 2/3 innings.
Chapman and Leclerc tossed a scoreless inning each in Game 1, and Texas' best opportunity for a sweep may lie in using both again. That being said, both have struggled on back-to-back days down the stretch. Bochy may be better served using a rested Josh Sborz or Brock Burke in high-leverage situations, though he has often shown the willingness to go back to the high-leverage guys when necessary.
Rays: They have all the confidence in the world in Eflin, but it’ll likely be an all-hands-on-deck approach with their season on the line. Fortunately for Cash, he should have his top high-leverage arms rested and ready for Game 2 after only using Chris Devenski, Jake Diekman and Andrew Kittredge after Glasnow on Tuesday. Pete Fairbanks holds down the closer’s role, although he has been stretched into the eighth inning twice down the stretch. His top setup men are righty Robert Stephenson and lefty Colin Poche, with Shawn Armstrong (who’s capable of pitching multiple innings) among their other high-leverage options. If the Rays need length out of their bullpen, they could turn to starters Zack Littell or Aaron Civale.
Any injuries of note?
Rangers: The Rangers’ new and improved rotation has been decimated by injuries all season, with deGrom (right elbow), Max Scherzer (right shoulder) and Jon Gray (right forearm) all on the IL heading into the postseason. Gray could return, but not before the end of a potential ALDS, and Scherzer is continuing to throw, though any return is still to be determined. Thankfully, Texas’ group of All-Stars -- Seager, Eovaldi, Adolis García, Josh Jung and Jonah Heim -- have all returned from the IL over the past week to hopefully balance out the powerful lineup with the lack of rotation arms.
Reliever Jonathan Hernández was left off the postseason roster due to a right lat strain, an injury that Bochy said was sustained during Game 162, when Hernández tossed one perfect inning with two strikeouts in Texas’ 1-0 loss to Seattle.
Rays: So many. The Rays lost three-fifths of their rotation to elbow injuries during the season: Shane McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen. Brandon Lowe (right patella fracture) is out until late October. Setup man Jason Adam (strained left oblique) is hopeful for a postseason return, but it won’t be soon. Raley didn’t crack the roster due to a cervical strain. Additionally, Yandy Díaz has been battling tightness in his right hamstring.
Who’s hot, who’s not?
Rangers: Marcus Semien has been the engine that keeps the Rangers’ offense going all season, and the second baseman slashed .279/.353/.566 over the last 30 games of the season. Leody Taveras struggled recently in Seattle, but he hit .289 in September in the eight and nine holes, which is more than serviceable when turning things over to the top of the lineup.
But as noted above, Lowe has struggled to a .165/.305/.248 line over his past 30 games, and MVP candidate Seager is -- shockingly -- slashing just .207/.270/.328 over his past 15.
Rays: Díaz has been hot all year, and September proved to be no exception as he posted a 1.051 OPS while hitting five homers. Harold Ramírez (.991 OPS), Josh Lowe (.848) and Manuel Margot (17-for-49) also finished strong at the plate. Tampa Bay’s bullpen also shined down the stretch, recording a 3.23 ERA and 5.27 strikeout-to-walk ratio over the last month.
Randy Arozarena tends to do his thing in the postseason, sporting a 1.126 OPS in the playoffs that ranks third in MLB history behind Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. It hasn’t been quite as smooth for infielders Taylor Walls (.491 OPS in September) or Jonathan Aranda (.606 OPS), although they had big hits in Toronto over the weekend.