So. It all comes down to one game for the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers. Well, it all comes down to one for the chance for it to come back down on one more game on Wednesday night. Regardless, the Rangers streaked into this position, winning their final seven games straight while the Rays backed in, winning on the season’s final day after losing two straight to the Toronto Blue Jays on the road.
Luckily for the Rays, they have their ace and best pitcher ready to fire tonight, sending David Price on full rest against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. These aren’t your father’s Texas Rangers, mind you. The old Rangers bashed and mashed their way to consecutive World Series appearances. The 2013 edition still scored plenty of runs, ranking in the top ten in both runs and homers, but the offense feels more organic than the old days of standing around, waiting for a homer.
The centerpiece of the Rangers offense remains Adrian Beltre, a potential Hall of Famer who posted a now-typical Adrian Beltre season in 2013 – he hit 30 home runs, played the living hell out of third base, engaged in shenanigans and possibly solved crimes with his shortstop, Elvis Andrus, and got really weird whenever somebody touched his head.
Beltre is the cleanup hitter for Texas and his is the bat most deserving of attention in the Rangers order. So how might David Price attempt to work around the free-swinging third baseman and get his Rays into the next stage of the playoffs?
David Price has had a very hard time getting Adrian Beltre out over the last three years. That is not unusual, as Adrian Beltre is very good at not getting out but, conversely, David Price is quite good at getting batters outs. It’s a conundrum. Good not-out maker versus prolific out-creator.
Tonight will be the first meeting between Price and Beltre this season. They meet six times each in 2012 and 2011 and 11 times in 2010 when Beltre was with the Red Sox. Microsplits are a mope’s game but we can learn from their past encounters. How did David Price attack Adrian Beltre in those previous, less than stellar encounters? What can we expect him to do different?
All told: not much. David Price is a dominant left-handed pitcher. He throws really hard for a lefty, and as such he throws his fastball a lot. A pitcher with David Price’s stuff isn’t about to become a slop-tossing nibbler because Adrian Beltre hit him hard of late.
In his own, peculiar way, Adrian Beltre represents a touch matchup for David Price. Most left-handers try getting Beltre out with the back-foot slider.
For all his strengths, that isn’t really a pitch Price goes to very often. His slider isn’t quite that kind of pitch, as he generally backdoors that offering to righties. His curveball is a major weapon but every pitch works in service of his high-end heater.
Price alternately paints the corners and just blows his fastball past Red Sox hitters. He shows an uncommon confidence when coming inside against righties. Not many hitters can stay inside 94 on the hands.
Adrian Beltre is not “many hitters.”
Beltre’s area of strength is also a key area for Price. Additionally, Beltre is a good enough hitter that if you try to just sit on the outside corner, he can drive the ball the other way with authority.
Which isn’t to say Adrian Beltre is a lost cause for David Price. Especially given the mysterious presence of Nelson Cruz back in the Rangers lineup, pitching around Beltre might not be an option for Price. Pitching around Adrian Beltre might not be an option for anybody, as Beltre swings at whatever he likes.
The above home run and linked double to right-center field both come from an August meeting between the eventual Cy Young award winner and the Rangers. In April of the same year, Price set Beltre down in three straight at bats.
The first plate appearance, Price stayed away. First with a fastball then a changeup that Beltre rolled over for a fielder’s choice. The second time up, Price flipped the script completely. He started soft with a change up down and in, then stayed inside with a fastball off the plate. Two more fastballs inside before a curveball totally eats him up, resulting in some seriously soft contact.
So there is hope. It all depends on how Price feels as the game progresses. If his changeup is working early on, he can use it as a weapon to hold off the aggressive Beltre. If he has good command of his fastball and can work to both sides of the plate, he’s golden (as always.) Adrian Beltre is going to mash any mistake Price makes, so changing speeds and locations with quality pitches is key.
These are tired cliches but, sadly, it’s true. The relative quality of his secondary offerings make the difference between David Price being a good pitcher and David Price being one of the best in the American League. The Rays and Rangers have different hopes as to which one gets off the plane in Arlington*.
* – for now. When the Rangers trade for Price in the off-season, they’re expectations and desires for his stuff will change dramatically.