Friday, October 8, 2010

Five Things to Watch in Game 3

I've been doing this journalist thing since my junior year in high school. Since that time I've meet numerous colleagues, friends, co-workers, teachers, lovers (made you look!), professionals at countless schools, newsrooms, conventions and conferences. And there's one thing I always hear, no matter where I am or who I talk to:

Everyone likes lists!

I mean how can you not? Lists are great for me because I can mindlessly throw out a column without having to follow the typical story telling format. And you guys love them because you can mindlessly digest the information without having to try and figure out what I'm talking about or what my point is. It's a win-win (win).

Without further ado, here are five things you should watch for the Rangers on Saturday.

1.) Which Colby Lewis are we seeing?

Without a doubt, Lewis has been royally screwed by his own team over the course of the year. He finished the season 12-13 despite a 3.72 ERA and 196 strikeouts. Lewis had more strikeouts in 2010 than David Price, Cliff Lee, Zach Greinke, Matt Latos, Josh Johnson, Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt. But while Lewis' low win total has a lot to do with the Rangers offensive ineptitude in his starts, let's not suger coat it - Lewis contributed at times in those losses down the stretch in August and September. Lewis finished with an ERA north of four in those months. What makes me giddy though? Even with the "struggles," Lewis' post-All-Star batting average against was only .249, with the highest month average being .278. Also during August and September, he was still striking out a batter per inning. The key for Lewis is fastball command. We all know how deadly his breaking pitches (such as his slider) can be. But his fastball hovers around 90 mph and with bad control, he can give up the long ball as he's given up 21 home runs on the year. I looked it up and noticed Roy Halladay gave up 24 this year and figured Colby was alright in that number, but then realized Halladay had pitched 50 more innings.

2.) Rangers at max capacity 

For the first time in the playoffs, the Rangers will finally roll out with their most efficient and productive offensive lineup as David Murphy will step in and play left field. It's been a long time since the Rangers have had their number one lineup and they've obviously been fine so far mixing and matching with Julio Borbon and Jeff Francoeur. With 11 runs scored in two games, it's not much to expect the Rangers to try and keep that production up with their best offensive lineup.

3.) Then again, this Matt Garza guy is pretty good

My older brother played baseball since he was five, all the way through college at Texas A&M. I remember once talking to him while watching a Minnesota game and he told me how one of his buddies on his college team had played with Garza in the minor leagues.

"So, how is he?" I asked.

"He's good, but he's a big time prick," my brother said not-so-subtly.

There's a reason Minnesota shipped him away to Tampa, besides the fact that they felt they had enough arms in their system to replace him: Garza hasn't always rubbed himself the right way to his teammates. That said, that probably has absolutely nothing to do with what Garza is going to do against the Rangers tomorrow. Whatever. What I do know about Garza (that is actually relavent) is that Garza has a reputation as a "power pitcher." He certainly has a good mid-to-upper 90s fastball but I feel as if casual baseball fans assume he's a strikeout machine. He's not. His no-hitter on July 26th was a perfect example of Garza's game: attack with fastballs in the zone, induce weak contact early in the count, then finish off the batter with a slider late in the count. Garza only recorded six strikeouts in the game, a somewhat pedestrian number for a no-hitter. Garza also hasn't posted a 200+ strikeout season, with 189 being his highest total in 2009. In no way am I saying that Garza doesn't have swing and miss stuff. He does. He just induces more weak contact than he does strikeouts. The caveat to inducing more weak contact than strikeouts is sometimes the hitters put good swings on the ball. Garza has given up 28 home runs this year, and 25 last year and posted a .248 batting average against this year. That's good, but not number one dominant, especially compared to what the Rangers' playoff starters have done this year.

To wrap up this extremely lengthy point, Garza has completely owned the Rangers over his career and especially this year (12.2 IP, 2.84 ERA, 14 K's, 4 BB). He's only struck out one other team more in his career than the Rangers. Ouch.

4.) Have the Rays 100 percent mentally checked out of this series?

The Rays have done everything they weren't in the regular season: sloppy baseball and total discomposure when the heat is on. They've committed three errors in the series (two more than the Rangers). They've suffered two back-breaking calls and let the moment slip away (fail to score after the Carlos Pena "foul tip" with bases loaded and one out in Game 1 and Michael Young's three run home run after a disputed strike three check-swing). Both games the Rays have been visibly upset with themselves and the umpires and the team has imploded in the latter innings of both games. Joe Maddon now looks like an arrogant (or desperate) manager with his lineup moves and pitching rotations. Check the first couple of innings to see if this Rays' team is ready to bring the series back to Tampa or if they've already booked their off-season vacations.

5.) Is Arlington (or North Texas for that matter) a baseball town/area?

Bill Simmons proposed this question during San Francisco's exhilarating 1-0 win over the Braves on Thursday. And while tomorrow's game will technically be played during daylight hours, I'm inclined to think The Ballpark in Arlington (it will always be known as that to me) could crack number three or four. I know an outrageous amount of people from all over Texas that will be attending the game, from Bedford to Denton to Tyler. The ballpark is sold out with no standing room left and will be filled with fans preparing to clinch it's first baseball playoff series win, ever. I can only imagine how jacked tomorrow will be. I'll be there.

Let's do this.

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