Rangers-Rays Preview

The Texas Rangers are the only team in the majors never to win a

playoff series, but if Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Rays is any

indication, that may be about to change.

The AL West champions can return home with a 2-0 lead in their

division series if they capture Thursday afternoon’s game at

Tropicana Field, where the Rays hope struggling starter James

Shields will help them avoid a daunting deficit.

The Rangers’ limited postseason history had been almost entirely

negative before Wednesday, when ace Cliff Lee shut down the Rays

for seven innings in a 5-1 victory.

The win was only the franchise’s second in the playoffs, and it

snapped a nine-game postseason losing streak that came entirely

against the New York Yankees in the 1990s.

“I guess whatever happens from this point on will be history in

Texas Rangers folklore,” manager Ron Washington said. “I’m just

happy my guys were relaxed and they were able to go out there and

play the type of game that we know we can play.”

Nelson Cruz and Bengie Molina homered for Texas, with Molina

totaling three hits and two RBIs to bolster a strong postseason

resume. The catcher won a World Series with the Angels in 2002 and

hit three homers in the 2005 division series to help Los Angeles

beat the Yankees.

The Rays, meanwhile, were limited to four singles and two

extra-base hits – both by Ben Zobrist, who homered in the seventh

inning.

The AL East champions’ offense was also sluggish down the

stretch, averaging 2.0 runs and getting shut out three times in the

final eight games. All of those were without star third baseman

Evan Longoria, who made an error and went 1 for 4 in his return

from a quadriceps injury Wednesday.

“A lot of guys had pretty good at-bats, so I’m really not

discouraged,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m actually encouraged.

… I’m looking for a carryover into (Thursday).”

If they can’t get more production from their lineup, the Rays

need Shields (13-15, 5.18 ERA) to quickly rebound from a

surprisingly poor season.

Shields was the opening day starter, but he allowed an AL-high

34 homers while setting career highs in losses and ERA. The

right-hander went 0-4 with a 7.59 ERA in his final six starts.

“The best attribute for a baseball player is amnesia,” Shields

said. “I feel really good right now. I feel confident in my stuff,

I feel confident in what I’m doing out there.”

Maddon may have tabbed Shields as the Game 2 starter due to his

strong performance for the Rays in the 2008 playoffs.

Shields went 2-2 with a 2.88 ERA in four postseason starts,

winning Game 1 of the division series against Chicago and beating

Philadelphia with 5 2-3 shutout innings in Game 2 of the World

Series.

“Having the experience of going through that in 2008 is

definitely going to help me out and help my confidence out,”

Shields said.

Not only does Texas’ C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.35) lack any playoff

experience, but this was his first full season as a starter in the

majors.

The former closer was a revelation for the Rangers, leading the

team in wins, innings and ERA among starters.

“When things go according to plan, everybody looks smart,”

Wilson said. “I guess things went according to plan with the

transition to starting. So everything is good.”

Wilson, however, has gone 1-3 with a 5.85 ERA since the start of

September, prompting questions about his increased workload.

Wilson’s 204 innings are 130 more than he threw in 2009.

The left-hander struggled in his lone start against the Rays

this year, walking four and allowing five runs – three earned – in

five innings, although he got plenty of run support in a 9-6

victory June 4 in Arlington.