ALDS Game One Preview: Tampa Bay

The playoffs get underway in a few hours live from St. Petersburg. David Price will make his first career postseason start against the Rangers while Cliff Lee declares war on batmen as if he is The Joker (and he might be, check out the dastardly smile on this guy). Lee’s tendency to give offenses a collective Glasgow smile raises the importance of Price holding the Rangers off the board. It also makes one wonder how the Rays will possibly score.

One cannot spill ink over this game without mentioning the Rays’ 3-0 record versus Lee. But Lee held them to a line of .253/.265/.347 while striking out 25 batters in just 24 innings pitched and did not allow a home run while — and perhaps more startling for this particular lineup – walking only two batters. Nearly all of the Rays’ runs were created in an emasculating manner for one of the better offenses in the American League, yet credit their run prevention unit for keeping Lee’s squads (twice Seattle, once Texas) silent on the boards long enough to scratch paint off the Titanic’s deck.

Assuming Joe Maddon stays consistent in his approach to southpaws, then B.J. Upton and Jason Bartlett will bat first and second. This is relevant because when Upton delivers offensively, it usually comes at the expense of a lefty. In fact, his .268/.381/.538 line results in the 20th best ISO against lefties this season, ahead of names like Mark Teixeira, Nelson Cruz, Miguel Cabrera, and all of his teammates. Bartlett’s .355 on-base percentage against lefties this year is no fluke and while he provides no pop, he does a nice job of making contact, leading to some potential hit-and-run opportunities if they so present themselves.

Evan Longoria will finally return and one has to think Kelly Shoppach (owner of a .455 slugging percentage versus lefties this season) and Sean Rodriguez (.292/.375/.442 in his first full major league season against lefties) will find themselves taking swings at Lee tomorrow as well. Perhaps the biggest question mark is Carlos Pena, who hit .179/.316/.359 against same-handed pitchers and looked awful while doing so. The Rays’ roster guarantees to be flexible when it comes to dexterity and position, but even they cannot platoon every position.

Given what we know about Lee, that depth might be more vital in this game than the rest.

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