For a scouting report on the Yankees-Tigers series, click here.
At the beginning of the 2011 season, I picked the Tampa Bay Rays to make the playoffs. Really, I did. (I also picked the wrong team of the two Big Kahunas in the American League East to miss the postseason, but let's not get into that right now.)
The primary reason I picked the Rays despite some obvious lineup holes and a bullpen that had to be reconstructed this past offseason: The projected strength of their starting pitching, even after trading Matt Garza. And sure enough, the club matched those projections; backed by a fine defense behind them, Rays starting pitchers posted a 3.53 ERA, the best mark in the league.
Across the diamond is a loaded Rangers team that is poised to repeat its American League Championship Series victory of a year ago. They are now healthy, added some key pieces at the deadline and are peaking at the right time of the season. The Rangers just put the finishing touches on a regular season in which they set the franchise record for wins. But is anyone really counting out the Rays in this matchup after what we've seen these past few weeks?
• Speaking of getting healthy and peaking at the right time, the Rays' hero of Game No. 162, Evan Longoria, has been doing just that. Foot and oblique injuries, along with a nasty case of the flu, all contributed to an up-and-down first half of the season, in which he hit just .239. But all Longoria needed to become a beast again in the second half was a little less time in the trainer's room and a little more time on the field. He hit 20 homers and posted a .907 OPS in 261 second-half at-bats, capped off with his two-homer performance Wednesday night. While it might appear to have been a down year of sorts for Longoria, it needs to be looked at in context of his health, because that played a part.