With the playoffs approaching, every club heading for October baseball is neck deep in scouting reports on potential opponents. Here are Scout.com, we want you to be just as prepared for postseason baseball. We’ll be breaking down each playoff bound team as part of our postseason preview, as well as well as scouting reports on key players. Here’s a look at the Tampa Bay Rays.
For anyone who believes in momentum, it’s hard to imagine any team perhaps in baseball history ever entering the playoffs on a high like the Tampa Bay Rays are riding. And, as baseball experts have claimed over the course of the last month the Rays are an extremely dangerous short series opponent. It’s difficult to argue that from one to five that the Rays have the deepest pitching staff in American League.
As clear a strength as the Rays’ starting rotation is, their offense is just as glaring a weakness. They have a red hot Evan Longoria working in their favor right now, but they are going to need to lean on him very heavily to push any runs across. And, as good as their pitching is, the Ranger offense is going to put some runs on the board. So, expect Joe Maddon to pull out all the stops and play small ball early and often in these games.
Matchup To Watch
James Shields against the Texas lineup is really going to be one to watch. And, it’s probably going to be Shields’ changeup that allows him to potentially dominate a dynamic lineup. The Rays’ right-hander was absolutely lights out against Texas in 2011, allowing just 11 base runners in 17 innings over the course of 2 starts. The Rangers also only hit .140 against him in those 2 games.
The style just poses a big problem for a fastball hitting lineup like Texas. Although Shields throws his fastball enough, he seems able to keep both their lefties and righties guessing on just when that plus-plus changeup will be coming. In other words, David Price might be the Rays’ ace, but Shields might be their biggest weapon in this first round.
As noted above, perhaps no one on the Rays’ is more important in the opening series than James Shields. David Price is their long term ace, but after this year and his performance against the Rangers, it’s Shields who is their ace currently. Few front of the rotation pitchers in baseball like Shields pitch with his style, however. He throws his fastball less than forty percent of the time, feeding hitters a steady diet of changeups as well as curveballs. Although he has a quality fastball, it’s his secondary pitches that make him as good as he is.
Evan Longoria is going to be the man every opposing pitcher in the playoffs will be aware of. For that reason, a lot of pressure falls on Matt Joyce, who figures to be hitting behind Longoria. Longoria may very well be pitched around quite often and Joyce may get some big opportunities with men on.
We’ve seen B.J. Upton simply take over the game in the playoffs before. He’s heated up down the stretch, and if the Rays have designs on advancing deep into the playoffs, they may need that type of performance from Upton once again. He’s worked to simplify his complex swing and he might be finding his stride at just the right time.
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