by Charlie Miller
Today is a day that Major League Baseball had in mind when it expanded the playoffs for what was to be 1994, but due to the strike, actually began in 1995. Four playoff games, three of which could be elimination games. All in one day.
It will be tough to match last Wednesday night for a four-game set that ranked as the best ever, but with three teams’ seasons on the line, today is must-see baseball.
Beginning today at 2:00 ET, Tampa Bay will attempt to stave off elimination at home against Texas. Then at 5:00 St. Louis hosts Philadelphia in the only non-do-or-die affair. At 7:30 the Yankees will be in Detroit trying to extend their season another few days and force a Game 5 back in New York. Milwaukee and Arizona begin at 8:30, but I suspect most of the nation will catch only the last few innings after the Yankees-Tigers tussle. The Diamondbacks will try desperately to avoid the embarrassment of being swept at the hands of the Brewers.
Texas at Tampa Bay
Two veterans (using the term relatively) couldn’t get the job done on the mound for the Rays, so once again manager Joe Maddon will have a rookie on the hill in an effort to shut down the Rangers. In Game 1, Matt Moore, making his second-ever big-league start, held the Rangers scoreless through seven innings to jumpstart the series for Tampa Bay. James Shields, author of 11 complete games this season, was knocked out in the sixth and was charged with seven runs in the Texas beatdown. David Price made one mistake too many last night and gave up a timely home run to Mike Napoli in the Rangers’ 4-3 win. Now Jeremy Hellickson, with no previous postseason experience, will start the Rays’ elimination game at home.
If the Rangers are to close out this series and continue to advance, it will be their bullpen that will carry them. The acquisition of Koji Uehara, Mike Gonzalez and Mike Adams during the season has allowed manager Ron Washington the flexibility to not only shorten games in front of superb closer Neftali Feliz, but also play matchups as well. With Alexi Ogando, who was in the rotation all season, and veteran lefty Darren Oliver, the Texas starters have no pressure to pitch deep into games, allowing them to leave it all on the mound for just a couple of times through the order.
Ogando pitched a scoreless frame in Game 2 and got out of a bases loaded, one out jam in Game 3. Oliver bailed out Uehara in Game 2, then needed a little help from Ogando the next night. Adams pitched a clean inning in Game 2, left a mess in Game 3 before Gonzalez struck out Johnny Damon then gave way to Feliz to save. The point is that this deep bullpen gives Washington lots of options.
The Rays were second to the Tigers in the American League in one-run games, and the Rangers didn’t fare well over the course of the season. But once the bullpen stabilized, Texas became much better, going 11-7 in one- and two-run games since Aug. 4.
For the Rays to move on to the ALCS, they’ll need to win a couple of blowouts like they did in Game 1.
Texas at Tampa Bay
New York at Detroit
Philadelphia at St. Louis
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.