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Sunday, October 10, 2010
ALDS Game 4 Preview: Rays at Rangers

By Mark Simon

A record-setting pitcher will attempt to help the Texas Rangers to their first postseason series victory on Sunday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tommy Hunter set two notable Rangers team records this season, becoming the first starter to finish a season with at least seven wins and an undefeated record in his home ballpark. Home was sweet for Hunter, who finished 7-0 with a 3.06 ERA in 11 home starts this season. He also posted the Rangers best winning percentage for any starting pitcher in franchise history, finishing 13-4 (.765) after starting the year with eight straight wins.

Those numbers would seem to favor the Rangers, except that Hunter’s mound opponent, Wade Davis, has been no slouch himself down the stretch for the Rays, going 7-1 with a 3.48 ERA in his last 14 starts.

Matchup To Watch
Davis has a limited sampling against Rangers hitters -- just one start on June 4 -- but it was one of the worst in his career, as he allowed eight runs and nine hits in 3⅓ innings. Josh Hamilton only has two career at-bats against Davis, but they ended with a double and a home run.

Both teams will also have to deal with the afternoon Texas heat, as game-time temperature at noon local time is expected to be around 87 degrees. The Rangers went 10-7 in home games played during the day in 2010 (41-23 at night).

Keys for the pitchers
Much like it has been for his Rays teammates, the challenge for Davis will be keeping the ball in the park. He gave up only two home runs in his last 28⅓ innings, but averaged one home run allowed every seven innings this season. Hunter was actually worse than that. He yielded a home run every six innings, including 12 in 67⅔ innings at home, somehow surviving that poor performance to remain unbeaten at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Hunter’s success tends to revolve around his cutter, which had the best run value among his pitches, according to Fangraphs.com. That lends itself to a key test against Evan Longoria, who rated seventh-best among 148 batting title qualifiers at successfully producing runs against that pitch.

Stat of the Day
The only other pitcher to go unbeaten at home this season, with a minimum of seven decisions, was also from the state of Texas. Houston Astros starter Brett Myers finished the season 8-0 at Minute Maid Park.