MLB Monday

USATSI_7214689_160320754_lowresTAMPA BAY RAYS (91-71) at TEXAS RANGERS (91-71)

Sportsbook.ag Line: Tampa Bay -117 & 7.5 under -115

Despite winning eight of their final 10 regular-season games, both the Rays and Rangers still have to square off against one another Monday night to see who will earn the second Wild Card spot in the American League.

The winner of this tiebreaker game will head to Cleveland to face the Indians who won the Wild Card with 10 straight victories to close out the season. This contest features of pair of left-handers, ace David Price (9-8, 3.39 ERA) for Tampa Bay and Texas 22-year-old southpaw Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55 ERA). The Rays had won seven straight games heading into the final series of the year at Toronto, but lost two straight before a tight 7-6 victory on Sunday put them in this game. The Rangers needed to win seven straight contests just to reach this spot, and they did so in dominating fashion by outscoring the seven opponents by a 46-19 margin. They certainly have the advantage at home, going 46-35 (.568) in Arlington this season, and also have history on their side, as the home team is 5-1 in one-game tiebreakers since 1995. Tampa Bay is 40-41 on the road, but it has won seven of its past 10 away tilts. Texas holds a slight 4-3 advantage in the season series, including 2-1 at home. In the past three seasons, the Rangers have won 16 of 29 meetings, including an 8-6 record in Arlington. Texas All-Star OF Nelson Cruz is eligible to return from his PED suspension for this game, and he is expected to start. Tampa Bay CF Desmond Jennings hasn’t started since Sept. 22 because of a hamstring injury, and is questionable for this contest.

David Price (1.11 WHIP, 5th in AL) is the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, and has put together another strong season despite his team’s 13-13 record when he takes the mound. He’s actually been much better on the road this season, going 7-3 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 88 strikeouts in 95.1 innings (8.3 K/9). The left-hander has held each of his past four opponents to exactly two runs, going 1-1 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 8.5 K/9 in these four starts. However, facing the Rangers has not been kind to the lefty over the years. In 11 career starts against them, he is 1-7 with a 5.57 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. This includes three career postseason matchups, all of which were in Tampa Bay, when he was 0-3 with a 4.66 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 7.9 K/9. As bad as these numbers are, Price has been completely shellacked at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, going 1-2 with a 10.26 ERA and 1.98 WHIP in his four career starts at this stadium. Including the postseason, the current Texas players that have hurt Price the most are OF Alex Rios (.435 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI in 23 AB), OF Nelson Cruz (.429 BA, 3 HR, 5 RBI in 21 AB), SS Elvis Andrus (.407 BA, 4 RBI, 5 walks in 27 AB) and 3B Adrian Beltre (.346 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI in 26 AB). 2B Ian Kinsler is the rare Rangers player that has not been successful off Price, hitting just .222 in 27 at-bats. If Price gets into trouble again at this ballpark, he has a quality bullpen to rely on, as Rays relievers are 27-24 with a 3.57 ERA and 1.20 WHIP this season. However, those numbers are considerably worse on the road where they are 7-15 with a 4.44 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.

Perez (1.35 WHIP) has led his team to a 12-7 record this season, including 8-3 in his past 11 starts where he is personally 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 6.2 K/9. Perez has been better at home this season despite a 3-3 record, as he’s produced a 3.18 ERA in eight starts in Arlington. This includes a strong performance on Wednesday when he allowed just three runs in seven innings to the Astros and recorded a career-high-tying eight strikeouts. The left-hander has never started against Tampa Bay, but he did throw five innings of relief against them on Sept. 9, 2012. In that contest, he allowed two runs (both solo homers) on seven hits, while walking one and fanning three. Perez has faced just four current Rays hitters in his career. OF Matt Joyce and 3B Evan Longoria are both 1-for-2 off Perez, while C Jose Molina and 2B Ben Zobrist are both 0-for-2. The youngster has averaged 6.3 innings per start, but the Rangers won’t hesitate to go to their excellent bullpen early if Perez can’t handle the biggest game of his life. Texas relievers are a whopping 35-18 this season (.660) with a 2.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 46 saves in 57 chances (81%). These numbers have been even more impressive at home, where they have a 22-7 record (.759) with a 2.63 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.

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