ALDS Game 5 Preview: Rangers at Rays

Baseball’s postseason dates back to 1903, but there has never been a series in which the road team has won every game, according to our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau.

So there’s a chance for some history tonight when the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays meet at Tropicana Field, with the road team having taken each of the first four contests.

Let’s take a look at keys to this game from the perspective of both teams:

Keys for the Rays

David Price has made two starts against the Rangers this season, and thanks to some studying of our Inside Edge video data by Stats and Analysis’ Lee Singer, we know that those are the two starts in which Price threw his highest percentage of fastballs in the upper third of the zone and above all season.

That’s a mistake against a Rangers team that crushed fastballs better than any team in the majors this season. Price had his best success against the Rangers in Game 1 when he mixed his pitches. In the first four innings, he threw 68 pitches, 57 of which were fastballs, and the Rangers went 7-for-20. In his last 2 ⅔ innings, he scaled back to 73 percent fastballs, and held the Rangers to just two hits in 10 at-bats.

The Rays hit .307 with 11 extra-base hits in the last two games and it will be interesting to see if Joe Maddon leaves a couple of lefty bats in against Cliff Lee -- such as Dan Johnson and John Jaso -- or goes with right-handers Willy Aybar and Kelly Shoppach at DH and catcher, respectively.

Aybar is an intriguing choice to ponder. He only hit .246 against left-handed pitching this season, but the last time the Rays were in a winner-take-all postseason game, he hit a key home run in a win over Jon Lester and the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS.

Keys for the Rangers

Priority No. 1 for the Rangers will be to get their top bat going. Josh Hamilton is just 2-for-14 in the series and has not looked comfortable. Hamilton has been vulnerable to offspeed pitches throughout the series, according to a review of our Inside Edge data by Stats and Info’s Katie Sharp. He’s swung at 11 offspeed pitches out of the strike zone, missing seven. In all, he’s 0-for-8 in at-bats ending against offspeed pitches with four strikeouts.

Teams to Win Best-of-5 Series
After Trailing 2-0

It goes without saying that the Rangers will do everything possible to keep Cliff Lee in the game, but if he’s not in late, Neftali Feliz will also be faced with the pressure of trying to close out a series in front of a hostile crowd.

The Rays have done a good job being patient with Feliz, who has retired just four of the nine hitters he faced. If Feliz finishes the series, he’d become the youngest relief pitcher to close out a winner-take-all postseason game. Feliz is 22. The current mark is held by none other than David Price, who was 23 when he got the last out of the 2008 ALCS.

This Date in Baseball

Thirty years ago today, Nolan Ryan was on the mound in Game 5 of a best-of-five series for the Astros against the Phillies in the National League Championship Series. Ryan had a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning but left after loading the bases and walking in a run. The Phillies would go on to win the game and the series in extra innings.

Perhaps it’s a bad omen, but Ryan’s teams were 0-3 all-time in Game 5 in postseasons when he pitched. He did have experience closing out a postseason series though. Ryan was the man on the mound for the 1969 Mets when they clinched their LCS against the Braves in Game 3 to advance to the World Series.

Stat of the Day

Road teams are 7-6 in Division Series Game 5s since baseball went to the eight-team playoff format in 1995.