Stats & Info: Texas Rangers

Top stats to know: Rangers at Yankees

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21

Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports
Jacoby Ellsbury and the New York Yankees face the Texas Rangers on "Monday Night Baseball."
The Texas Rangers (39-59, last in AL West) and New York Yankees (50-47, second in AL East) face off on ESPN’s "Monday Night Baseball" at 7 p.m. ET.

Here are the top stats to know about tonight’s young starters, the Rangers’ injury woes, and contributions from a speedy Yankees outfield and a dominant setup man.

Probable Pitchers

Miles Mikolas will make the fourth start of his career Monday night.

The 25-year-old Rangers righty is off to a rough start this season with a record of 0-2 and a 10.05 ERA. Mikolas is the first Rangers pitcher to allow at least 17 runs in his first three career starts since Tommy Hunter in 2008. He is also one of four Rangers pitchers to allow at least nine runs in a game this season. No other team has had more than two pitchers do that.

Shane Greene, another 25-year-old righty, is off to a much better start for the Yankees. Greene enters his third career start with a 2-0 record and 1.32 ERA.

Greene has been dominant against right-handed batters in limited action this season. Righties have a .105 batting average (2-for-19) and a strikeout percentage of 36.4 percent against Greene. Lefties are hitting .207 and are striking out far less frequently (12.5 percent).

Rangers Injuries

The Rangers are 11-33 in their last 44 games, going from four games behind the Oakland Athletics to 22 games back and in last place in the AL West.

Injuries have played a major role.

The Rangers have used 51 players so far this season, most in the majors and the most they have used since 2008 (55 players). They have already tied the most pitchers they have ever used in a single season with 30.

Speedy Outfielders Lead Yankees

Jacoby Ellsbury is off to a strong start with the Yankees after signing a seven-year, $153 million deal in the offseason. Ellsbury leads the Yankees in hits (106), doubles (21), steals (27) and on-base percentage (.352) while batting primarily third in the order.

Ellsbury has become more of a line-drive hitter with the Yankees. After hitting line drives on 20 percent of balls in play during his last four seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Ellsbury has hit line drives more than 29 percent of the time in 2014 (first in AL).

Meanwhile, Brett Gardner continues to be one of the most valuable Yankees players while batting primarily leadoff. Gardner has the second-highest WAR (wins above replacement) among Yankees position players over the last five seasons at 18.7. Only Robinson Cano's 29.8 wins above replacement ranks better since the start of 2010.

Dominant Setup Man

Yankees reliever Dellin Betances has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season and already has 88 strikeouts, 23 more than any other relief pitcher.

Among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched in 2014, Betances ranks first in ERA (1.46), WHIP (0.71), opponent batting average (.124), opponent OPS (.410), strikeouts per 9 (13.7) and strikeout percentage (41 percent).

Wednesday Night Baseball: Tigers-Rangers

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25

Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
Aníbal Sánchez takes a 2.33 ERA into Wednesday’s start against the Rangers.
The Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers square off on Wednesday Night Baseball at 8 ET on ESPN2.

The Tigers have won five in a row and lead the Kansas City Royals by three games in the AL Central. The Rangers are 11 1/2 games behind the Oakland Athletics in the AL West and on a six-game losing streak.

Here are three statistical storylines of two teams headed in different directions going into the matchup.

Anibal Sanchez leads the way

Aníbal Sánchez, the Tigers’ starter Wednesday night, has been the best pitcher on a staff that features two of the past three AL Cy Young Award winners. Since joining the Tigers’ rotation in 2012, Sánchez has an ERA of 2.79. Only Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners has a lower ERA among qualified AL starters during that time (2.73).

Sánchez uses off-speed pitches 52 percent of the time, the fifth-highest percentage among AL starters (minimum 10 starts). Among the 65 AL starters with at least 10 starts in 2014, Sánchez ranks in the top 11 in opponent batting average (.185), on-base percentage (.219) and slugging percentage (.260) in at-bats that end with off-speed pitches.

J.D. Martinez stays hot

J.D. Martinez followed up his award-winning week with a 2-for-5 performance that included a two-run home run Tuesday. Martinez began his current 13-game hit streak June 9 and has raised his batting average from .242 to .314 in the process.

Martinez has 12 extra-base hits during his hitting streak, including five home runs. Both numbers are tied for the best in baseball over the past 16 days.

Joe Saunders struggles

Wednesday’s starter for the Rangers is Joe Saunders. Saunders is 0-3 with a 4.11 ERA in six starts this season and has not won a start since Aug. 31, 2013. Saunders is 0-6 in 10 starts since that win.

Opponents have a .346 batting average against Saunders this season, worst among MLB starters (minimum six starts). Teammate Colby Lewis has the second-worst batting average against at .345.

Saunders is 1-3 with a 5.20 ERA in 10 career starts against the Tigers.

Inside the matchup: Trout vs. Darvish

June, 22, 2014
Jun 22
Both Mike Trout and Yu Darvish have excelled in 2014.
The marquee matchup in the "Sunday Night Baseball" game between the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels (8 ET, ESPN) will be the one between Rangers ace Yu Darvish and Angels star Mike Trout.

Let’s examine it from a few different angles.

Trout’s strength
Trout has four home runs in 31 at-bats against Darvish and is hitting .376 with eight home runs in 25 games since May 20.

Trout is the best hitter in baseball on pitches that are in the lower third of the strike zone. Over the last three seasons, he’s hitting .359 with a .592 slugging percentage and 29 home runs on pitches in that area. The batting average and slugging percentage rank best in the majors, and his home run total ranks second.

Trout’s 13 home runs against pitches in the lower third are the most in baseball this season. The next-closest entering Sunday is Adam Jones with nine.

All four of Trout’s home runs against Darvish have come in the lower half of the zone, with two coming in the lower third.

Trout’s weakness
The higher the pitch, the more trouble Trout has hitting it. Amazingly, he’s 0-for-32 this season in at-bats that have ended with a pitch in the upper-third of the strike zone or higher (he’s 8-for-73 when we expand that look to the upper half of the zone).

Trout does not often swing at upper-third pitches (only 29 percent of the time), but when he has this season, he’s missed on 40 of 95 swings, a 42 percent rate that is nearly twice as often as the average major leaguer.

Darvish’s strength
Darvish has excelled against right-handed hitters this season. He's held them to a .195 batting average, with 46 strikeouts, eight walks and only one home run allowed to the 142 he’s faced. The one home run allowed is impressive considering he’d allowed a total of 19 to right-handers during the last two seasons.

Darvish’s fastball, which averages nearly 93 mph and tops out at 96, has been his best pitch against righties. They’re hitting .194 against it this season, though they miss the pitch much less often than they did last season (28 percent versus 16 percent).

Darvish’s weakness
It’s hard to find any weakness for Darvish against right-handed hitters, as he excels against them in just about every area and with every pitch type.

Trout has taken advantage when Darvish has come down in the strike zone. He’s 9-for-25 against Darvish when at-bats end with pitches to that area. All other righties are hitting .186 against Darvish on those pitches.

The one other issue that Darvish may have is if Trout reaches base.

Darvish has allowed eight stolen bases in eight attempts this season. Trout is 9-for-9 on his steal attempts.

Darvish will do his best to keep him off the basepaths in Sunday night's contest.

Fielder injury might explain power outage

May, 22, 2014
May 22
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiPrince Fielder was struggling to produce even before his recent injury.
If Prince Fielder’s herniated disk in his neck costs him the rest of the season, it would be a surprise turn for a player who had been among the most durable in baseball.

Since his first full season in 2006, Fielder has missed a total of 13 games over a span of eight seasons. His 1,283 games played during that stretch were more than any other player in baseball.

The slugging first baseman has already missed five games this season, matching the most he’s missed in a single season in 2006 with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Fielder’s absence is just the latest in a long line of maladies that have afflicted the Texas Rangers. They have used the disabled list 17 times already this season, four more than the next closest team, the Cincinnati Reds.

Signs of decline
Even before his injury, Fielder had been struggling to replicate the power numbers that he had in the past. After posting a .981 OPS in his last season with the Brewers in 2011, his OPS has decreased in each of the last 3 seasons, bottoming out at .720 so far this season.

Due to the fact that Fielder doesn’t contribute much on defense or the basepaths, his diminished hitting has resulted in -0.3 wins above replacement this season, making him one of the least productive first basemen in baseball.

Power outage
Back in 2011, 22 percent of Fielder’s fly balls ended up as home runs. That number dropped to 16 percent in 2012, then 13 percent last season. Through 42 games this season, only eight percent of his fly balls are turning into home runs. This season his average fly ball distance is just 272 feet – that ranks outside the top 100 in baseball.

Opposing teams have taken notice. Fielder is seeing more pitches in the strike zone and more fastballs than he had previously in his career. Although he seems to be seeing no shortage of hittable pitches, he’s no longer doing anywhere near the damage with pitches in the strike zone that he used to, slugging just .402 against pitches in the strike zone on the season.

Justin Havens and Lee Singer contributed to this post

Top stats to know: Athletics at Rangers

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
The Texas Rangers host the Oakland Athletics on Monday night at 8 ET on ESPN.

The Rangers swept the A’s last week in a three-game series in Oakland, but which team’s ace will reign supreme tonight, Yu Darvish or Sonny Gray? Below is a look at the matchup.

Yu Darvish to the rescue
The Rangers currently have 11 players on the disabled list, including four starting pitchers. No other team has more than seven players on the DL.

The Rangers ranked in the top 10 in team ERA last season but rank 18th so far this season despite Martin Perez (1.42) and Darvish (1.61) ranking first and third in ERA in the American League.

Darvish has found success throughout his major league career, but has gotten better each season with improved control.

Darvish’s 2014 season would look even better had it not been for last week’s start against the Athletics, however.

Darvish took a no-decision in Texas’ 4-3 win over Oakland on April 21. In Darvish’s first three starts of the season, he allowed a combined two earned runs and four walks, and he gave up no more than seven hits in any of those games. Against the A’s, Darvish allowed three earned runs, four walks and eight hits.

It was the first game all season that he struggled to locate his fastball. Darvish threw 52 fastballs that game, but threw a season-low 50 percent for strikes. When the A’s did swing against the heat, they hit .429 with a home run (Brandon Moss).

Darvish held opponents to a .154 average against his fastball in his first three starts of the season.

Sonny Gray is A-OK
Gray has made 15 starts in his career, posting a 2.64 ERA and striking out 92 batters. Only Tim Hudson had more strikeouts for the Athletics in his first 15 career starts.

Gray is 3-1 this season, with his only loss coming against the Rangers, a 3-0 setback during which Gray struggled with his control.

Only 46 percent of Gray’s pitches in the game were thrown in the strike zone. This led to a season-high four walks for Gray, but he also generated five strikeouts on pitches out of the zone.

The Rangers were able to take advantage when Gray threw one in the strike zone, slugging .563 on those pitches, the highest allowed by Gray this season.

Perez zeroes in without dominating

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23

Martin Perez has excelled versus everyone in this three-start run.
Rangers lefty Martin Perez isn’t necessarily a dominant pitcher, but he’s finding ways to get through starts without allowing any runs.
Martin Perez
Perez pitched his second straight shutout in beating the Athletics and has now thrown 26 straight scoreless innings over his last three starts.

He’s the first pitcher to throw consecutive shutouts since Cole Hamels in 2012 and the first Rangers pitcher to do so since Derek Holland in 2011. He’s the fourth pitcher in franchise history to throw eight or more scoreless innings in three straight starts, the first since Charlie Hough in 1983.

How he did it
Perez has not overpowered opposing hitters. He has 13 strikeouts in his last three starts, with three in this game and two in the 1-0 win over the Astros on April 13.

But when he gets two strikes, he’s made things difficult. Opponents are 1 for 36 with two strikes against him. Key to that has been pitch location. Sixty nine of his 84 two-strike pitches have been in the lower-half of the strike zone or below.

With that, Perez has made excellent offspeed pitches. Opponents are 2 for 30 in at-bats ending in a changeup, curveball or slider (1 for 20 against the changeup).

Perez has also been perfect when it comes to avoiding tough situations. Opponents are 0 for 23 against him with runners on base.

Looking ahead
In his next start, Perez will try to be the first pitcher to throw three straight shutouts since Cliff Lee in 2011. He could also be the first pitcher to throw four straight starts of eight or more scoreless innings since Orel Hershiser set the scoreless inning record with six straight such starts in 1988.

That game should come against the Athletics, whom the Rangers will host from April 28 to 30. Perez has allowed four earned runs in 22 1/3 innings in his last three starts against them, including Wednesday's shutout.

Each win stranger for Rangers

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
The Texas Rangers are living a charmed life in the early part of the 2014 season.

They’re 8-7 this season despite being outscored by nine runs, and they’ve already managed a majors-best four walk-off wins, the latest being a bizarre 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

The game lived up to its billing as a great pitcher’s duel between aces Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez.

The Mariners lost on a combination of mishaps, the first being the inability of Brad Miller to convert a potential forceout for the final out of the game. Miller entered the day with solid defensive numbers -- three defensive runs saved for the season.

The next was a wild pitch by closer Fernando Rodney, who has averaged a wild pitch about every 19 innings for his career. His wild pitch Wednesday allowed the tying run to score.

Leonys Martin then won the game with his third walk-off hit in the past eight months, a bloop single to left field that gave reliever Pedro Figueroa his first big league win.

The Rangers went from having two outs and nobody on, a situation in which their win probability was about 4 percent, to an unlikely victory.

The Rangers continue to win despite not hitting home runs. They entered the day with only seven, which ranked 14th in the American League, and did not add to that total on Wednesday.

For the Mariners, it was another in a long line of wasted starts by their starting pitchers.

Last season, they lost 12 games in which a starter went at least seven innings and allowed one run or fewer (the most in the majors since the 1986 Montreal Expos lost 13). It was their first such defeat in 2014.

Hernandez has now made 17 starts in the last five seasons in which he went at least seven innings and allowed one run or fewer. That’s the most in the majors in that span. Ex-Mariner Cliff Lee kept pace with his 13th on Wednesday for the Philadelphia Phillies, tying him with Jered Weaver for the second-most such starts.

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Day
The Rangers are the first team with four walk-off wins by April 16 since the 2000 Kansas City Royals.

Fielder finally gets ahold of one

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
It took until the 14th game of the season for Prince Fielder to hit the kind of home run that Texas Rangers fans had been waiting for.
Prince Fielder
Fielder had not homered in his previous 30 games (including postseason) entering the day, but he had a 446-foot shot Tuesday in the Rangers' win over the Seattle Mariners.

It was the longest home run for Fielder since May 10, when he hit a 460-foot home run against Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians.

There had not been much positive to say about Fielder prior to this game. He entered the day ranked tied for last in the American League in Wins Above Replacement through the season’s first two weeks.

Historically, April has been a good month for Fielder. He hit .300 or better in April in each of the previous three seasons. But he's not headed that way to start 2014.

He hasn’t completely fixed things
Fielder had been in a funk since joining the Rangers. He entered this series with the Mariners with seven hits in 47 at bats. He’s now 3-for-7 in the past two games.

One of the issues attached to Fielder’s struggles were that he has been unable to get hits on pitches outside the strike zone.

In the previous three seasons, Fielder averaged 47 hits per season against pitches that were out of the zone. This season, he has managed only two such hits and the outs are piling up.

His two strikeouts swinging Tuesday gave him 17 outs against out-of-the-zone pitches this season. Typically, Fielder’s ratio of outs to hits on these pitches is 3-to-1. This season, it’s 17-to-2.

Better days to come
One potentially positive indicator for Fielder would be this: He’s 4-for-9 this season when he hits a ball that our hit classification system rates as “hard-hit.”

A typical major leaguer gets hits on 70 percent of his hard-hit balls. Fielder has been at about 65 percent the past couple of seasons, so 4-for-9 is a little below expectation.

Looking ahead
Fielder will face Felix Hernandez on Wednesday night in the day’s premier matchup (Yu Darvish will pitch for the Rangers).

Fielder is 0-for-5 with four strikeouts against Hernandez. But a lot of Rangers have had good days against Hernandez in the past.

Hernandez is 12-20 against the Rangers, by far his most losses versus any team (next-most: 13 versus Angels).

Top stats to know: For openers ...

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30

Getty Images, AP PhotoAmong those worth watching on Opening Day are Stephen Strasburg and Albert Pujols.
Three teams have had their Opening Day so far, but the baseball season really gets going Monday with a near-full slate.

Here are some of the statistical storylines we'll be keeping an eye on.

Usually a good day for the Mets
The New York Mets haven’t had a winning record since the 2008 season, but Opening Day is usually a season highlight for them.

The Mets’ 34-18 Opening-Day record is the best of any team.

They’ll face a Washington Nationals team that was picked by 12 experts to win the World Series and that has the consensus favorite for MVP in Bryce Harper (by comparison, none of the experts have the Mets even making the playoffs).

The Nationals will start Stephen Strasburg, who was 4-0 with a 1.83 ERA in five spring-training starts. He’s allowed one run in 14 innings in two previous Opening Day starts.

Cano’s debut comes in best pitching matchup of day
Robinson Cano makes his Seattle Mariners debut in Anaheim (10 p.m. ET on ESPN2) against the Angels.

Cano has contributed 34.3 Wins Above Replacement over the last five seasons, the most in baseball in that span.

Jered Weaver will be charged with stopping Cano, who is 12 for 32 against the Angels ace in his career. Weaver has won his last three Opening Day decisions and has a 1.93 ERA in five Opening-Day starts.

Felix Hernandez has started all but one of those openers for Seattle (this will be his sixth straight). He’s 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA on Opening Day (five of the six starts came against the Oakland Athletics)

The Mariners have won seven straight Opening Day games. With the Diamondbacks losing their opener earlier this season, the Mariners’ Opening Day winning streak is the longest current one in the majors.
Milestone Watch: Most Opening Day HR
Opening Day in Chicago means a matchup of the two teams at the bottom in the AL Central last year with the Twins facing the White Sox.

White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn will be trying to set the major-league record for most Opening-Day home runs. Dunn’s eight are tied for the most all-time with Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr.

In terms of season milestones, the most notable one on the horizon is that Angels first baseman Albert Pujols is eight home runs from 500 for his career.

Pujols would become the fourth player to hit 500 home runs within his first 14 seasons, joining Mark McGwire (522), Alex Rodriguez (518) and Willie Mays (505).

Elias Sports Bureau Stats of the Day
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the Athletics are the first team to lose nine straight season openers since the Atlanta Braves did from 1972 to 1980. No team has lost 10 straight.

Oakland has been beset by pitching injuries, most notably to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, and will start rookie Sonny Gray, the ninth pitcher to start on Opening Day for the Athletics in the last nine seasons.

Gray, who impressed in last year’s postseason, will be making his 11th career start.

That won’t be the fewest of anyone on Monday. The Rangers, also beset by injuries, will start Tanner Scheppers against the Philadelphia Phillies. Scheppers will be the first pitcher to make his first start in a season opener since Fernando Valenzuela for the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers.

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsShin-Soo Choo will bring a much-needed skill to the Rangers: on-base ability from the left side.
It’s being reported that the Texas Rangers and OF Shin-Soo Choo have agreed to a seven-year, $130 million contract.

Are they worth it? To find out, let’s take a look at the 28 unique contracts for non-pitchers worth at least $100 million handed out that have been in effect since at least the 2013 season (including both of Alex Rodriguez’s huge deals).

Of those 28, players averaged 5.7 Wins Above Replacement in the season prior to the contract starting, and 4.2 WAR in the first season of the new deal.

From the second year on, that sample of 28 never again averaged 4 WAR a season as a group, though their collective decline is much less dramatic than it's been for pitchers.

Nine of those contracts have played out to completion with a wide range of production. Albert Pujols (8.2 WAR per season over eight seasons) and Alex Rodriguez (8.1 WAR over seven seasons) remained remarkably productive, but Ken Griffey Jr. (1.5 WAR over nine seasons) and Carlos Lee (1.5 WAR over six seasons) failed to return value.

More specifically to Choo’s situation, there have been 15 free-agent contracts handed out to position players worth at least $100M. Their return-on-investment has been similarly unimpressive. The players saw their WAR drop from 5.9 in the year prior to signing the deal, to 4.3 in year one, declining steadily to a paltry 1.8 WAR in year six.

Combining position players and pitchers, there have been 10 free-agent contracts of at least $100 million issued to players 30 years or older at the time the contract began (Choo is 31). The results are startling.

This crop of players produced an average of 6 WAR in the season before signing their new massive contract. In the first year of the deal, that dropped to 4.9, and the group's average permanently dips below 3 WAR per season by year three.

In the sixth and seventh years combined, none of the eight players posted at least 3 WAR. (As a point of reference, some players who had a 3 WAR this past season were Mark Ellis, Francisco Liriano and Norichika Aoki).

Choo’s calling card is his ability to get on base. His .423 OBP in 2013 was fourth in the majors, and was the fifth-best by any lefty outfielder in the past 10 seasons (Barry Bonds, J.D. Drew, and Bobby Abreu twice).

The Pirates and Marlins were the only teams with a lower OBP from their left-handed batters than the Rangers last season.

After an injury and off-the-field-trouble plagued him in 2011 (tied for 60th in WAR among MLB OF), Choo has quickly bounced back to re-establish himself as a borderline All-Star (T-17th last season).

One of the concerns with Choo has been his struggles against left-handers -- his slugging percentage has dropped nearly 90 points since 2011, and he’s hitting line drives at a much lower rate.

Over the past two seasons, righties have taken 66 percent of the Rangers’ plate appearances, 3rd-most in MLB in that span.

Choo will likely be a corner outfielder for the Rangers. He played 1,333 innings in centerfield for the Reds and had -17 Defensive Runs Saved, by far the fewest in the league among qualified center fielders.

From 2009-12, Choo played right field for Cleveland and had 0 DRS, which is average.

-- Contract information provided by Justin Havens

Fielder trade: Follow the money

November, 21, 2013

USA TODAY SportsThe Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade should open up playing time for young players Jurickson Profar and Nick Castellanos.
The Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers agreed to a blockbuster trade Tuesday that might be as much about future salary as it is about current talent.

The Tigers will send Prince Fielder, who is due to make $168 million over the next seven seasons, to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler. The second baseman is due to make another $62 million through 2018, a year in which he has a $10 million club option or $5 million buyout.

Fielder is the fourth player in MLB history to be dealt with more than $100 million remaining on his contract. He joins Alex Rodriguez, who was dealt from the Rangers to the Yankees, as well as Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, who were part of the same deal between the Red Sox and the Dodgers.

Big-time production
Fielder has had one of the best starts to his career by a left-handed power hitter. His 285 career home runs are the fifth-most in MLB history before the age of 30 by a lefty, behind just Ken Griffey Jr., Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott and Adam Dunn.

During his two years in Detroit, Fielder was one of four players to hit 50 home runs, drive in 200 runs and hit .290 along with now former teammate Miguel Cabrera, free agent Robinson Cano and Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

Kinsler, who entered the league in 2006, has been one of the best second baseman in the game. His 34.9 WAR is the fourth-best among second basemen in that span behind just Chase Utley, Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia.

One thing to watch for this upcoming season is how Kinsler adapts to playing in Detroit, as he was much more productive at the Ballpark in Arlington in his career than on the road, hitting 62 points higher.

Postseason pasts
One area where the two players have had different degrees of success is in the postseason.

Since joining the Tigers, Prince Fielder hit .196 in 92 postseason at-bats with just one home run. And in his past 18 postseason games, Fielder hasn’t driven in a single run.

Kinsler, meanwhile, has hit .311 in his postseason career.

Roster impact
For the Rangers, the roster change is fairly apparent, as they had three quality middle infielders for two spots last season, including Elvis Andrus whose eight-year, $120 million extension starts in 2015. Moving Kinsler allows Jurickson Profar to man second base, while Fielder provides a big upgrade over Mitch Moreland at first base. Profar was Keith Law’s No. 1 prospect heading into last season.

For Detroit, moving Fielder allows Miguel Cabrera to take over at first base -- where he won’t be as big of a liability on defense. It also opens the door at third for the Tigers’ top prospect, Nick Castellanos, who started his career as a third baseman but was moved to the outfield in 2012. Castellanos was a first-round pick in 2010 and was the 2012 Futures Game MVP.

Rays had the right combination vs. Rangers

October, 1, 2013

Evan Longoria's low-ball hitting was vital for the Rays in the final week.

The Tampa Rays are headed to the postseason for the fourth time in the last six seasons after beating the Texas Rangers in the one-game tiebreaker.

It was a game won by the team that had the better combination of pitching, hitting and defense. Let’s go inside the box score to assess the biggest keys to the Rays’ victory.

How Price won
David Price had previously struggled against the Rangers, going 1-3 against them in the regular season and 0-3 in postseason play prior to Monday.

Price didn’t get many swings-and-misses: the four he got were his third-fewest in any start this season. But he won this game by keeping the ball out of spots in which it could get drilled.

Only 21 of his 118 pitches were over the middle-third of the plate width-wise, which on a percentage basis (18 percent) ranked third-lowest among his starts in 2013.

Price’s defense cooperated, turning 13 of the ground balls hit against him into outs and making a pair of catches on four line drives hit against him. That ran counter to Price’s last four starts, in which he allowed hits on 18 of the 22 liners hit against him.

Price’s win was similar to that which Joe Saunders got in the Wild Card Game against the Rangers last season. Saunders entered that game 3-7 in his career against the Rangers and 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in six career starts at Rangers Ballpark, but beat Yu Darvish to send the Orioles into the ALDS.

It was the fifth complete-game win in a one-game tiebreaker, the first since Al Leiter of the 1999 Mets beat the Cincinnati Reds. That game also marked the last time a road team won one of these games. Visiting teams had lost the previous three.

At-Bats of the Game: Longoria vs Martin Perez, Alexi Ogando
Evan Longoria had a pretty lousy start to September.

But he sure made up for it in the final week.

Longoria capped his latest clutch run with three hits, including a home run on Monday.

All three hits came on pitches in the same area- the lower-half of the strike zone.

Longoria has been mashing that pitch all week, as you can see in the image atop this article. Ten of his 12 hits came on pitches to that location.

Longoria had been struggling against those pitches prior to his successful run.

He missed on nearly one-third of his swings against them in the first three weeks of September

The final week for Longoria was similar to his final week in 2011, when he posted a .500 on-base percentage and had seven RBIs in seven games (more on that below) to help the Rays reach the postseason.

Defensive Player of the Game: David Price
Price had a pickoff, caught a runner stealing on another pickoff, and made a nice defensive play on an Elvis Andrus bunt in the eighth inning. The pickoff of Andrus was his first straight pickoff of the season and the caught stealing versus Kinsler was his fourth of 2013.

Price has done a good job at holding baserunners. He’s allowed 11 steals, but has had 11 runners caught stealing or picked off.

Elias Sports Bureau Stats of the Night
Longoria’s seventh home run in his team’s regular-season finale breaks Stan Musial’s record for most home runs in regular-season finales.

Six of those seven home runs came in the last three seasons. He hit two, including the game-winner in the Rays’ win over the Yankees in the game that clinched a Wild Card berth, on the final day of the 2011 season.

He added three more home runs in a win over the Orioles in the 2012 regular-season finale. And then he homered in Monday’s win to help lead Tampa Bay into the postseason again.

Top stats to know: Rays vs Rangers

September, 30, 2013
This year’s regular season has an extra day, with the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays meeting in a one-game tiebreaker to determine the second Wild Card spot.

Here are half a dozen statistical storylines related to this matchup.

The home team has a good recent history
Since 1995, there have been six one-game tiebreakers. The home team has won five of the six, including the last three, with the only road win being by the 1999 Mets against the Reds.

Rays closer Fernando Rodney had direct involvement in the last one, allowing the walk-off hit to Alexi Casilla as the Twins defeated the Tigers 6-5 in a one-game tiebreaker that decided the 2009 AL Central title.

David Price struggles against the Rangers
The Rays will start last year’s Cy Young Award winner, David Price. His history against the Rangers is rough—1-4 with a 5.98 ERA in eight regular-season starts, 0-3 with a 4.66 ERA in three postseason starts.

In four starts at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Price has allowed 19 earned runs and 25 hits in 16 2/3 innings.

Price has had trouble figuring out how to get the Rangers righties out. As the chart on the right notes, they have good numbers against both his fastball and his offspeed stuff.

Price’s situation is similar to that of Joe Saunders, who faced the Rangers in Texas in the Wild Card round last season. Saunders entered that start 3-7 career against the Rangers and 0-6 in Arlington, but got the win for the Baltimore Orioles over Yu Darvish to advance to the ALDS.

Nelson Cruz returns
The Rangers will have Nelson Cruz available if they wish to use him. Cruz has not played since August 4 after accepting his 50-game PED-related suspension.
Nelson Cruz
Cruz is an appealing option because of how well he hits lefties. He has a .317 batting average, .387 on-base percentage and .578 slugging percentage versus left-handed pitching over the last four seasons and is hitting .290 with five home runs in 100 at-bats against southpaws in 2013.

Combining regular season and postseason, Cruz is 9-for-21 with three home runs against Price. He homered against Price the last time they met—in a 6-5 win for the Rangers on Aug. 27, 2012.

Matchup to watch: Wil Myers vs Martin Perez
Two of the top candidates for AL Rookie of the Year will go head-to-head when Rays outfielder Wil Myers faces Rangers starter Martin Perez.

Myers was the Rays top hitter in September, hitting .317 with four home runs, 13 doubles and 14 RBI, including 2-for-4 in the season finale on Sunday.

Myers had a .299 batting average and .388 on-base percentage against left-handed pitching this season. His success came as the result of spraying line drives at a high rate (20 of the 72 balls he put into play, 28 percent).

Perez had trouble with right-handed hitters in the final month of the season, when they hit .317 against him, though eight of those hits against him were infield hits. Perez profiles as a hittable pitcher, but he’s managed to limit damage with men on base, yielding only one home run with men on base in his 19 starts.

Impact defender: Craig Gentry
Both these teams have good defenders in their infield, most notably Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Evan Longoria. The Rangers have a difference-making defender in the outfield in Craig Gentry.

Gentry has 26 Defensive Runs Saved in the outfield over the last two seasons, but has done so in only 1,284 innings. Gentry has the third-best Runs Saved per 1,200 innings total among outfielders in that span, trailing only Gerardo Parra and Lorenzo Cain.

Rays have a deep bench
Since this is a regular-season game, each team will be working from up to a 40-man roster.

For the Rays, that means that Jake Odorizzi could play a key role if either Price struggles, or the team uses up its bullpen in a close game. Odorizzi has made a pair of relief stints of at least three innings in the last 10 days and was unscored upon in each.

Joe Maddon will also have Freddy Guzman available as a pinch-runner. Guzman has appeared in one game this season. He pinch-ran in the 11th inning stole a base and scored the tying run in a win over the Rangers on September 18. Guzman stole 73 bases in the Mexican League this season.

Breaking down chances for AL wild card

September, 23, 2013

Jason Miller/Getty Images
The Indians enter the season's final week with a 1 1/2-game lead for the second AL wild card spot.

All together, six teams are still mathematically in the mix for the two American League wild card spots. The Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians sit atop the bunch, with the Rays a half-game ahead of the Indians for the top spot.

Here’s a reason to be optimistic, and not so optimistic, about those six clubs down the stretch. Also included is their percentages to make the postseason based on mathematical modeling by

Tampa Bay Rays (86-69) – 87% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Rays close with a pair of three-game series against the Yankees and Blue Jays. Rays starting pitchers have an ERA under 3.00 against five teams this season, and the Yankees and Jays are among those teams.

• Reason to feel nervous: Each of the Rays' final six games are on the road. Tampa is 36-39 on the road this season, 16th in all of the MLB and third-worst among teams currently with a winning record.

Cleveland Indians (86-70) – 81% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Indians' final six games are against the White Sox and Twins, teams they’ve beaten up on this year. They are 23-8 against those two opponents and 63-62 against all other teams.

• Reason to feel nervous: The power has disappeared for the Indians lately. In their last seven games, they’ve hit just four home runs (no more than one in a game) while slugging just .380.

Texas Rangers (84-71) – 30% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: Much like the Indians, the schedule sets up well for Texas. Their remaining seven games are against the Astros and Angels, who they are 25-6 against this year. Against all other teams, they’re under .500 (59-65).

• Reason to feel nervous: The Rangers are 5-15 in September, the second-worst mark in the MLB behind only the White Sox, who have the third-worst overall record in the majors.

Kansas City Royals (82-73) – 1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: Although a long shot to make the playoffs, the Royals can lean on their bullpen down the stretch. Their 2.54 bullpen ERA is the best in the American League, and second-best in the majors behind the Braves (2.46).

• Reason to feel nervous: K.C. closes the season with a three-game road series against the White Sox. The Royals have averaged just 2.6 runs per game with a .215 batting average against the Pale Hose this season.

New York Yankees (82-74) - <1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: If the Yankees can stay alive, they’ll close the season with three against the team with the worst record in the majors: the Astros. This season, the Astros have played 12 teams that currently have winning records, and have losing records against all 12, with an 18-70 combined record.

• Reason to feel nervous: With an elimination number of three, the Yankees will have to survive a three-game series with the Rays starting Tuesday. In their last seven games against the Rays, Yankees starting pitching has gone 0-5, with a 6.05 ERA and a .311 opponents’ batting average.

Baltimore Orioles (81-74) - <1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Baltimore bullpen has been solid against their final two opponents. They allowed no runs in 7.2 IP in their last series against the Blue Jays, and no runs in their last four games (13.1 IP) against the Red Sox.

• Reason to feel nervous: If the Orioles stay alive, they close with three against the Red Sox. In their last eight games vs Boston, they’ve hit just .183, scoring 2.5 runs per game.

AL Wild Card race heating up in final stretch

September, 21, 2013
With nine days left in the regular season, the American League wild-card race is heating up.

The Tampa Bay Rays lead the Cleveland Indians by a half-game for the first wild card, while the Indians lead the Texas Rangers by a half-game for the second wild card. Those three teams have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, as the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals are 2½ games behind the Indians, and the New York Yankees are a half-game behind the Orioles and Royals.

What have you done for me lately?
After losing 13 of 17 from August 25 to September 11, the Rays righted the ship and have won six of their last nine games. That includes a pair of walk-off wins in extra innings in their last three games.

The Indians have been trending in the right direction in September. They’re 13-6 this month after trailing the second wild card -– the Rays at the time -– by 4½ games entering September. The Indians are trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007, when they lost in seven games to the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS.

Entering September, the Rangers were two games ahead of the Oakland Athletics in the AL West. The Rangers were 3½ games ahead of the next-closest wild card team –- the Rays. But the Rangers are 4-14 in September, on the verge of a potential collapse. They haven’t strung together consecutive wins since August 26-28. The Rangers are trying to reach the playoffs in four straight seasons for the first time in franchise history.

What’s ahead?
The Rays have three home games left against the Orioles, followed by a pair of three-game road series against the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays.

The Indians certainly have the easiest schedule remaining based on opponent win percentage. The Indians, who face a pair of last-place teams and a fourth-place team, have two home games against the Houston Astros, followed by two home games against the Chicago White Sox, and then a four-game road series with the Minnesota Twins.

The Rangers have two more crucial road games at Kansas City, a three-game home series with the Astros, and they end the season with a four-game home stand against the Los Angeles Angels.

Other MLB notes from Friday
Alex Rodriguez hit his 24th career grand slam, breaking a tie with Lou Gehrig for the most grand slams in Major League history.

Alfonso Soriano is the third player in Major League history with at least 16 home runs for an American League team and a National League team in the same season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others were Manny Ramirez in 2008 and Mark McGwire in 1997.

The Pittsburgh Pirates had won 163 straight games when leading by three or more runs in the ninth inning or later. They hadn’t lost a game in that situation since July 2009, according to Elias. But the Pirates blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds, snapping their streak.