Three of the six teams that have never won a World Series are playing in the 2023 postseason. Two of them are playing each other in the first round.
The Rays will host the Rangers in one of the two American League Wild Card Series, with the best-of-three series starting today at Tropicana Field. Game 1 is scheduled for 3:08 p.m. ET on ABC.
The Rays (99-63) are a perennial playoff contender at this point, as they're playing in their fifth straight postseason, as the top AL Wild Card team. The Rangers (90-72), on the other hand, are making their first postseason appearance since 2016, also as a Wild Card after losing the AL West on tiebreakers to the Astros on the last day of the season. Both Texas and Tampa Bay are looking for their first championship, but only one can advance to face the Orioles in the Division Series.
Here's a position-by-position breakdown of the Rays vs. the Rangers, and who has the advantage at each spot in the Wild Card Series.
The Rays' catchers have some of the best throwing arms in the game: René Pinto and Christian Bethancourt both average a 1.87 second pop time to second base, tied for second-fastest in the Majors. But the Rangers aren't a big basestealing team, with Marcus Semien, Leody Taveras and Travis Jankowski their only players with double-digit steals (Texas' 79 stolen bases this season are the fewest of any playoff team). What the Rangers do have is a rock behind the plate in Jonah Heim, who's not only one of the top defensive catchers in the Majors thanks to his arm and pitch framing, but also has solid power (18 home runs, 95 RBIs).
Yandy Díaz seized the American League batting title from Corey Seager on the last day of the season, and he's seizing the first-base position battle from Nathaniel Lowe here. Lowe is having another solid season in Texas (17 homers, 82 RBIs), and he's a fine slugger to have in your No. 3 spot. But Díaz has been a real star for the Rays. He enters the playoffs with a .330 average, 22 homers and a .932 OPS that was third-best in the AL behind only Seager and Shohei Ohtani.
With Brandon Lowe out with a right patella fracture, the Rays' second-base duties seem likely to fall on the versatile Isaac Paredes. Paredes might be MLB's most unconventional 30-home run hitter, and with his 31 long balls and 98 RBIs, it would be hard to match his offense at the position. Fortunately for the Rangers, they have Marcus Semien. Semien played all 162 games, led the AL with 185 hits and 122 runs scored, and also chipped in 29 home runs (including an AL-high 10 leadoff homers), 14 stolen bases and 100 RBIs. As he goes, so goes the Rangers lineup.
Third base for the Rays is an interesting question. They could put Paredes there, where he's played the most games this season, but if they need him at second, the hot corner would fall to one of the team's top prospects: 22-year-old Curtis Mead or 20-year-old Junior Caminero. Caminero, MLB's No. 6 prospect overall, was just called up for the final week of the regular season. Mead, MLB's No. 34 prospect, has played 23 games since his debut in August. They're talented but unproven compared to the Rangers' own star rookie at third base, Josh Jung, who was an All-Star in his first full season and returned to the lineup from injury just in time for the postseason. The 25-year-old finished the year with 23 home runs and 70 RBIs in 122 games, making him one of the top rookies in the Majors.
Corey Seager might be the best shortstop in baseball right now. He's certainly one of the best all-around hitters in the Majors. Seager's career year ended with him boasting a .327 batting average (second in the AL), .623 slugging percentage (second), 1.013 OPS (second), 33 home runs (tied for fifth), 42 doubles (first), and 96 RBIs (tied for 10th). Oh, and when it comes to the playoffs: Seager was the NLCS and World Series MVP when the Dodgers won it all in 2020. Taylor Walls is a fine fill-in for the Rays, with Wander Franco on indefinite administrative leave, but Tampa Bay doesn't have a star to match Seager at short.
The Rangers have Evan Carter and Robbie Grossman to platoon in left field … The Rays have one of the most dynamic postseason stars in recent memory. Randy Arozarena always shines on the big stage, from his red-hot run for the Rays when they won the AL pennant in 2020 to his heroics for Mexico at the 2023 World Baseball Classic. In case you forgot, Arozarena hit .377 with 10 home runs in that 2020 postseason. He could make a game-changing play with his bat, his wheels or his glove at any given moment in this series.
Carter is Texas' version of Caminero -- a top prospect (No. 8 in MLB) called up for the stretch run. The 21-year-old lefty slugger has looked good (.306 average, five homers, 1.058 OPS in 23 games), and he should get the chance to play, with the Rays starting pitchers all right-handers. But Arozarena is the player to watch.
Manuel Margot and Jose Siri are both excellent defensive center fielders, but Siri's availability for the Wild Card Series is still in question as he works his way back from a fractured right hand suffered on a hit-by-pitch on Sept. 11. Tampa Bay's uncertainty in center gives the Rangers an edge there. Leody Taveras is an excellent outfielder, too (+6 Outs Above Average), and on offense he provides just enough power and speed (14 homers, 14 steals), as well as smart baserunning, to push Texas ahead of the Rays here.
Josh Lowe is having a breakout year for the Rays -- the 25-year-old hit .292 with 20 home runs, 32 stolen bases and an .835 OPS in his first full season in the Majors. But Adolis García is having an even better year for the Rangers. The second-time All-Star finished second in the AL with 39 home runs, behind only Ohtani, and he finished second to Houston's Kyle Tucker with 107 RBIs. Lowe and García are both big middle-of-the-order bats, but García is the bigger slugger today.
The Rays and Rangers have an interesting contrast at DH. The Rangers have a more typical slugger in Mitch Garver, while the Rays have the contact-oriented Harold Ramírez. Garver was great in the second half, crushing 15 of his 19 homers with an OPS over .900. Ramírez, on the other hand, is great at putting the ball in play, batting .313 on the season. This matchup is close, but Garver's hot hitting and ability to change the game with a big blow give him the tiniest advantage.
This series is missing way too many aces. Shane McClanahan is out for the Rays. Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer are out for the Rangers (unless Scherzer makes a dramatic comeback). We're missing out. Luckily, there's still enough great starting pitching to go around.
The Rays have the most dominant starter in this series in Tyler Glasnow (162 strikeouts in 120 innings, 12.2 K/9), and with Zach Eflin having a terrific first season in Tampa Bay and Trade Deadline acquisition Aaron Civale ready to go behind him, Tampa Bay has enough rotation depth to grab the advantage. The Rangers have a capable No. 1 in Nathan Eovaldi, but after his stellar first half, he hasn't been the same in an injury-plagued second half. They also have a solid trade acquisition in Jordan Montgomery (2.79 ERA in 11 starts for Texas), and Dane Dunning is a fine No. 3. But the Rays having a healthy Glasnow is a difference-maker.
The Rangers have some big arms anchoring their bullpen in the resurgent Aroldis Chapman (103 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings, 15.9 K/9) and José Leclerc (67 K's in 57 innings, 10.6 K/9), plus the established veteran Will Smith as a setup man. But the Rays' bullpen, led by overpowering closer Pete Fairbanks and bolstered by midseason additions like Robert Stephenson and Jake Diekman, has gone from early-season struggles to one of the best stretch runs by any bullpen ever. The battle of the two flamethrowers, Chapman vs. Fairbanks, is a close one, but Tampa Bay's bullpen stable has a little more juice heading into the postseason.
Both these teams outscored their opponents by wide margins this season -- they were the top two teams in the AL by run differential -- but what will that mean when they clash? The Rays are seasoned playoff veterans, but Rangers manager Bruce Bochy knows a thing or two about piloting a team through October. The Rangers let the division slip away, but they went 4-2 against Tampa Bay this season. Texas might have the most dangerous lineup of any AL playoff team, but the team scuffled on the road this season (40-41), and the Rays were the best home team in baseball (53-28).
So what's the call? The Rangers' bats wake up just in time to rally to win this series after a Glasnow gem in Game 1.
Rangers in three