Tuesday: TBA vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (11-8, 5.04), 6:10 p.m.
Here's what to watch for in this week's showdown series between the Rangers and Rays:
Reeling teams: The month of September began with the Rangers and Rays virtual locks to make the postseason. Now with the hard-charging Indians a half game back of the two wild-card leaders and left with a cupcake schedule, one of Texas and Tampa Bay likely will not make the playoffs. We know all about the Rangers' brutal 2-11 start to the month. The Rays are 6-8 for September and have a minus-9 run differential for the month. Tampa Bay has 11 games left with contenders Texas, Baltimore and the New York Yankees before closing with last-place Toronto. The Rays are in a really tough spot.
Final road trip: Can the Rangers get their mojo back knowing they have baseball's best road record at 42-32? Maybe playing away from home in St. Petersburg and Kansas City will take some pressure off this team. The Rangers have won some big games at Tropicana Field in the playoffs in 2010 and '11, so there's that. And Texas took two out of three games from the Rays way back in April in Arlington. The Rangers are 11-10 against Tampa Bay since the start of 2011. The Rays are a sparkling 45-28 at home for a .616 winning percentage.
Bullpen woes: The Rangers never had the lead in six games on the homestand against Pittsburgh and Oakland. That's a mind-boggling accomplishment. Here's some good news -- the Rays have lost 13 games when leading in the eighth inning or later (by comparison, the Rangers are 67-3 in those situations). The Rays pulled it off again Sunday in Minnesota, blowing a 4-2 lead in the late innings. Reliever Joel Peralta got the first two outs of the bottom of the eighth, then gave up a home run to Ryan Doumit, followed by a single, a walk and a three-run homer by Twins rookie catcher Josmil Pinto, who was playing in his 11th major league game. It was Peralta's eighth loss of the season. Yes, the Rangers need a lead -- badly. But the Rays will cough up sure victories.
Leaving them loaded: You think the Rangers can't buy a hit with runners in scoring position? The Rays are hitless in their last 15 at-bats with the bases loaded. They were 0-for-3 on Sunday. That's almost impossible. This certainly will be a four-game battle of inept offenses. But here's a caveat -- the Rangers are 15-for-49 for a .349 batting average with runners in scoring position in their last four games. Somehow they managed to lose all four games.
Garza faces former team: Rays manager Joe Maddon said Sunday in the St. Petersburg Tribune that Tampa Bay will try to put pressure on former starting pitcher Matt Garza. And that might mean throwing down a few bunts, something they know -- well all of baseball knows -- Garza is not fond of at all. "The big there is when you have the opportunity to score something, he's the kind of guy you have to score runs on with outs because he can be so tough," Maddon said of his former pitcher. Garza is 0-3 in his last four starts.