One year after being knocked out of the wild card round and only scoring one run, the Tampa Bay Rays' struggles in the first round continue. In front of the smallest crowd for a wild card game since 1919, the Rays would fail to scratch across even one run and now find themselves on the brink of elimination. We’ll preview today’s matchup before going over my play for the first five innings.
At two points in the season, the Texas Rangers were likely envisioning a former New York Met to anchor them on the mound in game one of this series, but instead, it was a former Yankee who led the team to victory. Jordan Montgomery was solid for the Rangers after they traded for him, but he was on another level yesterday, throwing seven shutout innings with five strikeouts and a run-saving diving catch.
With a chance to win their first playoff series since 2011, the Rangers will now turn to Nathan Eovaldi to make his 7th career postseason start. The right-hander was a focal point for the Red Sox in the postseason during his time with them, but he will enter this matchup after allowing 15 earned runs over his last three starts. Eovaldi started the year in a great spot, but after an injury, he would throw just 26.1 innings in the second half of the season and pitch to a 7.18 ERA in that span.
Eovaldi will be facing a Rays lineup today that only registered four hard-hit balls in yesterday’s loss, two of which came from Randy Arozarena, who lives for the postseason. Arozarena was also responsible for the Rays' only extra-base hit for the contest. Tampa Bay had a few chances to push some runs across, but they continually could not come up with a clutch hit, which resulted in them leaving 12 runners on base. It also didn't help the team had four errors in the field.
After yesterday’s performance, Tampa Bay is in a win-or-go-home situation, so they will hand the ball to Zach Eflin in the hopes of tying the series. The right-hander had a very strong first season in a Rays uniform, pitching to a 3.50 ERA with 186 strikeouts in 177.7 innings of work.
Tampa Bay’s F5 run-line of (-.5) is currently priced at (-110), and I’ll be backing them for my play. It’s hard to imagine the team that started the year looking like the team to beat in the AL would just roll over, especially with an advantage on the mound.
They looked lost at the plate yesterday, but the Rays offense is still ranked 13th in OPS, 7th in wRC+, and 2nd in pull percentage against right-handed pitching over the last 30 days. Nathan Eovaldi is coming off a month of September in which he pitched to a 7.88 FIP, and on the season, the right-hander has a 4.00 xFIP on the road and is in the 21st percentile in hard-hit percentage. With his average fastball velocity down to 94.1 MPH in September, I think Tampa Bay is getting him at the right time.
While Tampa Bay is getting Eovaldi is in the midst of a rough stretch, the Rangers offense needs to face a starter in Zach Eflin, who has been phenomenal as of late. The right-hander pitched to a 2.66 FIP in September, and in 103.2 home innings this season, he pitched to a 2.78 FIP and 2.86 xFIP. Not to mention, Eflin is also in the 91st percentile in xERA and 77th percentile in hard-hit percentage.
Tampa Bay Rays F5 (-.5)(-110)