Price vs. Lee rematch will decide fate of Rays-Rangers series
Cliff Lee of Texas outdueled Tampa Bay's David Price in Game 1 at the Trop
Right-handed hitters from each team will play a big role in the deciding game
If it comes down to a battle of the bullpens, the Rays will have a big edge
Cliff Corcoran will break down each day's games throughout the postseason.
Series: ALDS, Game 5, series tied 2-2
Time: 7:30 p.m. EST
Starters: Cliff Lee (1-0, 1.29 ERA) vs. David Price (0-1, 5.40 ERA)
The Giants gave us the pitching matchup everyone wants to see by beating the Braves in four games to set up a Tim Lincecum vs. Roy Halladay Game 1 of the NLCS, but Cliff Lee versus David Price in a double-elimination game ain't exactly chopped liver. True, the matchup didn't quite live up to its billing in Game 1 of this series due to Price's uneven performance, but Price has been given a shot at redemption tonight, and don't expect that he'll falter again.
Price gave up five runs (four earned) on nine hits, four of them for extra bases including home runs by Nelson Cruz and Bengie Molina, but that performance was out of character. Not only was Price among the top pitchers in the league during the regular season, but despite this being just his first full major league campaign, he is already a postseason veteran. In 2008, he posted a 1.59 ERA in 5 2/3 relief innings for the Rays, including a dominant four-out save in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox. More recently, Price twice matched up against CC Sabathia and the Yankees in September with the American League East still undecided and put up this combined line as the Rays won both games: 14 IP, 11 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 6 BB, 11 Ks. It's also worth noting that Price struck out eight Rangers and walked none in Game 1, which suggests he was actually pitching better than his results indicated.
Of course, Lee shouldn't be expected to fold either. He was dominant in Game 1, holding the Rays to one run on five hits over seven innings while striking out 10 against no walks. Lee has now made six postseason starts in his career, all coming this year and last. In those six starts, he has pitched a minimum of seven innings each time out, allowed more than one earned run just once, and struck out 10 men in a game three times. Altogether, he is 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 7.17 K/BB, and just one home run allowed while his opponents have hit just .186/.213/.256, and his teams have won every game he has started.
The one postseason home run Lee has allowed was hit by Ben Zobrist in Game 1 last week. Zobrist had two of the Rays' five hits in that game and their only two extra-base knocks, both off Lee. The switch-hitter is hitting .313/.389/.625 on the series and will be a key bat in Game 5 as the only Ray who has out-performed him in this series thus far has been lefty-swinging Carlos Peña, who was so overmatched by the lefty Lee in Game 1 that he was benched against fellow southpaw C.J. Wilson in Game 2. Still, the Rays should be encouraged by the performances of righties Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton over the last two games. Upton went 3-for-9 with a pair of doubles in Texas, and Longoria, who missed the final 10 games of the regular season due to a quadriceps strain and had only one hit in the first three games of this series, broke out in Game 4 with two doubles and a home run, though he is still clearly hobbled by the injury.
The Rangers likewise pin their hopes on their right-handed bats. Ian Kinsler is hitting .357/.438/.786 with a pair of home runs in this series. Nelson Cruz is hitting .313/.313/.938 with three homers, including that one off Price, and a double. Bengie Molina, who also homered off Price, is hitting .400/.400/.700, and Jeff Francoeur, who should replace the lefty David Murphy in tonight's lineup, doubled off Price in Game 1.
The one catch to a great pitching matchup like this is that the two pitchers can negate each other, as Price and Sabathia did at the Trop in mid-September, passing a tie game (in that case, a scoreless game after eight innings) to the respective bullpens. No one wants to see this game decided in the 15th inning with Chad Qualls and Dustin Nippert on the hill, but if the bullpens are going to decide it, the Rays would be well advised to act quickly. Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit have been the most dominant relievers on either team this season, but the Rangers' bullpen, even with Frank Francisco left off the roster due to a muscle strain, is deeper.
The one game in this series that was decided by the bullpens, Game 3, went to the Rays, but it also ended in nine innings with Benoit and Soriano facing all but one batter after Matt Garza came out of the game (that one batter was Murphy, who was retired by LOOGY -- lefty one-out guy -- Randy Choate). Meanwhile, the Rays got to two of the Rangers' big three relievers in that game with lefties Dan Johnson and Peña combining to plate a run against veteran left-hander Darren Oliver, and John Jaso, Carl Crawford and Peña adding an RBI single and a pair of solo homers, respectively, against rookie closer Neftali Feliz.
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