Rangers ready for old playoff foe in tiebreaker game

ARLINGTON, Texas – Seven consecutive wins by the
Texas Rangers are a huge accomplishment for a team that was scuffling a
week ago.

But Sunday’s 6-2 victory over the Los
Angeles Angels doesn’t get the Rangers into the postseason. That will
only come with an eighth consecutive win Monday against the Tampa Bay
Rays, with the winner advancing to play Cleveland in the American
League wild-card game Wednesday.

While happy to have
seven straight wins, the Rangers know that the Rays and ace David
Price stand in the way of them and a fourth consecutive trip to the
playoffs.

“Tomorrow we’ve got to come in and be
prepared,” Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “It’s just one game, so
it’s a tough task. We’ve done it seven times, so hopefully tomorrow we
can make it eight.”

The Rangers will certainly have
some familiarity with the Rays. Texas won two of three against Tampa Bay
two weeks ago to secure home-field advantage in the first tiebreaker
game in the majors since 2009.

The Rangers won the
season series 4-3 and while the game won’t technically be a playoff
game, it will have that feel because it’s win or go home. Texas and Tampa Bay played each other in the American League
Division Series in both 2010 and 2011, with the Rangers beating Tampa Bay
in five games in 2010 and four games in
2011.

While many of the key contributors for both
teams will be the same as they were in the previous playoffs, there is one key newcomer: Texas starter Martin Perez.

The rookie
left-hander (10-5) will get the ball for the biggest game of his career
and be opposed by reigning American League Cy Young Award winner David
Price.

Perez, who has the record for wins by a Texas
rookie lefty, is looking forward to the opportunity. He’s won eight of
his last 11 starts, but hasn’t faced the Rays this
season.

“I feel comfortable because they trust me and
give me that game,” said Perez, who will be pitching on his regular
rest. “I just have to do my job. I don’t want to put pressure on myself.
It’s just another game and I have to focus on what I have to do and
throw strikes. Tomorrow is an important game for us. Tomorrow is the
game we have to win. I just have to throw strikes, keep the ball
down.”

Texas manager Ron Washington said the Rangers
have confidence in Perez but will have plenty of pitchers ready in case
he falters. The bullpen has been taxed in the seven do-or-die games the
Rangers have played in the last week. Closer Joe Nathan and set-up man
Tanner Scheppers have each pitched in four consecutive
games.

The Texas bullpen comes into the series not
having allowed a run in 13 1/3 innings.

“I feel
good,” Washington said of starting Perez. “He’s one of the reasons we
have this opportunity. It’s his turn. He’s well rested. We’ll have
plenty of guys back there to back him if things get out of control and
we’ll stop it quick.”

The Rangers could also look a
little different offensively against the Rays Monday. Outfielder Nelson
Cruz, who was suspended for 50 games for his involvement in the
Biogenesis clinic PED scandal, will be active for the
game.

Texas general manager Jon Daniels said it will
be manager Ron Washington’s decision whether or not to play Cruz, who was an
All-Star this year.