It would surprise few if the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays met in the 2014 postseason as they sort of did last year in a 163rd game for the AL's final wild-card spot.
Rangers Resemble MASH Unit
At BetOnline, the Rangers are the +180 AL West favorites for sports bettors and teams are going to want to get them early in the season before Texas gets healthy. Few teams began the year with more injury problems. Ace Yu Darvish started on the disabled list with a neck problem that turned out to be minor and he in fact will debut Sunday against Tampa. Projected No. 2 Derek Holland tripped over his pooch on the stairs of his home and needed microfracture surgery on his left knee Jan. 10. He's likely out until the All-Star break. Likely No. 3 starter Matt Harrison messed up his back and neck sleeping on a soft mattress in spring training (that could only happen to a baseball player). He could be back in a couple of weeks.
The lineup also took its hits. Second baseman Jurickson Profar, the 2013 top-rated prospect in baseball, will miss at least the first two months with a torn muscle in his right shoulder. Catcher Geovany Soto is likely out three months after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. This could be a very good team once healthy
Texas took two of three at home against Philadelphia to open the season. That's despite the two big offseason additions, Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, doing little. Choo, the leadoff man, was 3-for-12 with two runs but did draw the bases-loaded, game-winning RBI walk in the series finale against the Phillies. Fielder, whom many like to win the big-league home-run crown this season, was 2-for-12 with no RBIs. The team's only home run entering Friday's opener was by Alex Rios, an August acquisition last year from the White Sox.
Josh Wilson will be the primary second baseman with Profar out. Wilson has been a journeyman in his big-league career and is a career .226 hitter with no power. If Profar has a setback or is possibly going to be out longer, look for Texas to trade for a second baseman. The Rangers have been scouting the Cubs' Darwin Barney. The primary catcher with Soto out is J.P. Arencibia. He's got power but strikes out a lot and is a career .211 hitter. He was 1-for-7 in the Phillies series. Robinson Chirinos will get ample time as the backup to Arencibia. Both hit right-handed so there's no obvious platoon situation.
Because of all those injuries to the rotation, the back end looks very weak right now for Texas. Joe Saunders, he of the 16 losses last year in Seattle, was picked up three weeks into spring training and started Friday's opener. Right-hander Nick Martinez will make his big-league debut in Saturday's game. He was 12-7 with a 2.50 ERA in Single- and Double-A last year. Even Martinez himself thought he'd begin this season at Double-A Frisco. Martinez had a 1.23 ERA in 7.1 spring innings. Needless to say no Rays player has faced him other than perhaps in the minors. That can certainly work to a pitcher's advantage the first one or two times through a lineup. Martinez is expected to be demoted to Double-A after the game to make room for Darvish.
Tampa Bay starts David Price, a player who was often mentioned to be a trade target this past offseason for the Rangers -- any deal started with the Rays asking for Profar as part of the package. Expect the Rangers to inquire again around the trade deadline (if the Rays are struggling) or this winter when Price almost surely will be dealt. Price opened the season by beating visiting Toronto. He threw 7.1 innings, allowing two runs and six hits while striking out six. Price made one start last year against Texas and it was a big one. In that Game 163, still considered the regular season, Price threw a complete game in Arlington as the Rays won 5-2. He allowed seven hits and struck out four. He even picked off two guys at first. Price had struggled against the Rangers before that, going 1-3 against them in the regular season and 0-3 in the playoffs.
Rios has had big-time success against Price in his career, going 11-for-27 with two home runs and eight RBIs. Adrian Beltre is 9-for-26 with a homer and four doubles off him. Maybe Arencibia gets this game off. He's 2-for-16 with eight strikeouts against Price.
MLB free picks: Rays -188 on MLB odds, under 7.5 runs and Tampa Bay at +100 on the sportsbooks' runline. Tampa is 11-4 in its past 15 against right-handed starters. The Rays are 5-1 in Price's past six home starts. The under is 6-2 in Price's past eight against Texas.