Rangers need one win to clinch home field

BY foxsports • September 30, 2016

With the best record in the American League at stake, the Texas Rangers send Yu Darvish to the mound Friday night to start a three-game home series against Tampa Bay to close out the regular season.

The AL West champion Rangers (94-65) are sitting in good shape to lock down home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Boston (92-67) and Cleveland (91-67) are still in the mix, but Texas can clinch with one win against the Rays (66-93) at Globe Life Park.

Darvish (6-5, 3.53 ERA) is making his final start before the AL Division Series. The 30-year-old right-hander is slotted to pitch the second game of the playoffs behind Cole Hamels.

"I'm very much looking forward to it," Darvish said. "I pitched in one postseason game and that was it. It's going to be on the bigger stage, and I'm looking forward to pitching in it."

Darvish appears to be hitting his stride at the right time. He's struck out 30.8 percent of batters faced (101 of 328) since the All-Star break, the second-highest mark in AL and fourth in the majors.

He made his only postseason start in the 2012 AL Wild Card game against Baltimore, allowing two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings.

"I feel like I'm a better pitcher now, mentally and mechanically," Darvish said. "I have been trying a lot of stuff, and my last outing gave me more confidence. I'm happy where I am at."

Darvish earned the win Sept. 24 in Oakland, a 5-0 victory. He worked seven innings, allowed two hits and struck out nine.

The Rangers are going with a four-man rotation in the postseason, though manager Jeff Banister hasn't named the starters behind Hamels and Darvish. The likely favorites are Colby Lewis and Martin Perez, who will close out the regular season against Tampa Bay.

"We look at all different scenarios, weigh the pros and cons," Banister said. "We just feel that four guys, given where we are at and the pitchers that we have, I think that's the best scenario for us."

The Rays send Matt Andriese (8-7, 4.34) to the hill in the series opener. The right-hander has allowed two or fewer runs in his last three starts after struggling throughout August and the first half of September.

"He's done a really nice job," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "When he was put back in the rotation he probably wasn't as efficient, wasn't consistent with his pitches, but over the last couple of starts he's really pitched ... well. Both the changeup and the curveball have played huge. He's got a better feel for his off-speed now."

It's been a long season for Tampa Bay, but Cash is looking forward to the environment this weekend.

"We expect to see some big crowds there, which will be good," he said. "It's always fun to play in front of those crowds, and they are playing for something because that home-field advantage means a ton."

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