Rays, Rangers set to face off in AL Wild Card Series

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers both looked like they might be the best teams in baseball for significant stretches of a long season in which they now find themselves facing each other in an AL Wild Card Series.

The Rays got off to a historic 13-0 start and led the American League East by as many as 6½ games before a horrendous July left them playing catch-up the rest of the season to eventual division champion Baltimore.

Texas, meanwhile, is back in the playoffs two years after losing 102 games.

A dominant offense carried the Rangers much of the season, enabling them to weather injuries and remain in prime position to win the AL West until their potent bats faltered in the closing days, when they fell one win shy of a division title.

“It’s a resilient team. ... We’ve had our share of ups and downs,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said Monday.

“We certainly sustained a number of injuries that have impacted us, yet here we are in the playoffs, which is a big step forward for our franchise,” Young added. “We’ve won 90 games coming off a 68-win season. That’s a huge accomplishment.”

The Rays also overcame injuries that wrecked their starting pitching rotation, while also finding a way to hold their season together without All-Star shortstop Wander Franco, who’s been on administrative leave since mid-August amid investigations into an alleged relationship between Franco and a minor.

Despite not being able to catch the Orioles, the Rays went 28-15 finished with 99 wins — second-most in franchise history. They’re in the postseason for the fifth straight season with a goal of not only reaching the World Series but finally winning it all.

Since losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2020 World Series, played the Rangers’ stadium in Arlington, Texas, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Rays have lost their opening playoff series in each of the past two years.

Game 1 starter Tyler Glasnow (10-7, 3.53 ERA) stressed the Rays aren’t looking beyond the Rangers, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

“I think when you start thinking like that, it just adds unnecessary pressure. .. I know it’s cliche, boring, but you just have to deal with what you have in front of you at the time,” the right-hander said. “You play each game and live in the moment.”

Lefty Jordan Montgomery, 4-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 appearances with the Rangers after being acquired from St. Louis, will start for the Rangers, who were shut out twice while losing three of four at Seattle. That allowed Houston to win the AL West title.

“All year offensively we’ve had an identity. We’ve been able to score runs,” Young said.

“Sometimes we’ll go through a stretch where ... they are a little streaky. When our group is on, they’re able to score and produce runs,” the Texas GM added. “Starting pitching has been solid at times. We certainly sustained injuries there, but we’ve weathered the storm.”

One of the interesting subplots is a highly anticipated showdown featuring Josh Lowe of the Rays and Nathaniel Lowe of Rangers.

Younger brother Josh said Monday that lots of extended family will be in the stands for the series, however their mother, Wendy, will not make the trip to Tropicana Field because she has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy.

“She's actually battling cancer, so she's going through chemo right now, the 25-year-old outfielder said. ”She won't be able to make it, but I asked her if it was OK if I said something. She said yes because the more people know the more prayers that could be had for her."

HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE

By earning the AL’s top wild card spot, the entire series will be played at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay tied the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best home record in baseball at 53-28. 

The Rangers lost two of three in St. Petersburg in June but swept three games in Texas to claim the season series 4-2.

FEELING BETTER

Injured Rays outfielders Jose Siri (fractured right hand) and Luke Raley (cervical strain) hit in a simulated game Monday. Manager Kevin Cash said he’s encouraged but would not speculate whether either will be included when rosters are set for the series on Tuesday.

AL BATTING TITLE

Rangers SS Corey Seager lost the AL batting title on the final day of the regular season, when he went 0-4, also snapping an 11-game on-base streak. He went into the final day leading Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz .3298 to .3295. 

Diaz didn’t play in the Rays’ regular-season finale at Toronto, finishing at .330. Seager, limited to 119 games due to injuries finished at .327 and matched his career high with 33 homers. Diaz is the first Tampa Bay player to win a league batting title

PLAYOFF HISTORY

This is the third consecutive playoff appearance for the Rangers against Tampa Bay. They lost to the Rays in the AL divisional round in 2015 and 2016, the last postseason appearance for Texas.

Tampa Bay swept the best-of-5 ALDS in 2016. The previous year, the Rangers won the first two games on the road before losing three consecutive games.

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