There is a lot on the line for both the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays as they start their four game series tonight. With both teams tied for the Wild Card, and the Cleveland Indians sitting just a half game back, this series is of vital importance for both teams. Being able to win this series may catapult the victor to the playoffs, with the loser on the outside looking in.
In such an important series, being able to find any advantage may be key. As it happens, the Rays may have just that in tonight’s matchup. When they step into the batter’s box at the start of the game, staring back for the Rangers will be none other than old friend Matt Garza, a pitcher who the Rays may know more about than any other starter they have faced this season. Although Garza left following the 2010 season, the Rays are still familiar with his potential weaknesses.
One of the areas of weakness that Garza happens to be his problems in fielding bunts. With players such as Desmond Jennings, David DeJesus and Sam Fuld as possible options to plug into the lineup, Garza may see the Rays seeking to exploit that issue. Even Luke Scott has been known to drop a bunt down from time to time in an attempt to get around the shift. In fact, Evan Longoria all but admitted that may be a part of the strategy heading into tonight’s game.
“If he’s expecting guys not to bunt on him, he’d be remiss,” Longoria said.
Not only are the Rays adept at putting their players in the right positions to succeed, but they also seemingly have a knack at being able to get the opposition out of their comfort zone. Whether it is through playing the matchups with their lineup or by their defensive shifting, the Rays force their opponents to beat them by going outside of their strengths.
It would not be a surprise to see the Rays drop a couple of bunts down towards Garza in the early going, to see if he proves to be able to make the plays required of him. If he proves to be unable to, the Rays could end up playing an extreme game of small ball, putting runners in motion and dropping the ball down in the general vicinity of the mound.
The Rays may know Matt Garza’s weaknesses more than any other team. Now, we all get to see whether or not they exploit them tonight.