Is it even possible to dispute the statement that the Texas Rangers’ have been the Tampa Bay Rays’ kryptonite in the postseason? The 2010 Rays looked to be just as good as the 2008 team while the 2011 Rays were a team of destiny after Game 162 but both times the Rangers disposed of them in the ALDS. In the regular season the last four years, the two teams have been evenly matched, with the Rays winning 14 games and the Rangers winning 13. But every time the two teams play, no Rays fan can’t help but think that the Rangers have the Rays’ number and the series is not going to go well. Now, the Rays face off with the Rays for a four-game set that might as well be a playoff series–if either team wins three out of four, the other team will almost surely drop behind the Cleveland Indians and fall out of the Wild Card lead. The dread is unescapable, and Rays fans have to hope that this time is different.
Further complicating the situation is the starter for the Rangers on Monday, Matt Garza. Garza is the Rays’ postseason hero, the pitcher who went 2-0 with a 2.52 ERA in his final four playoff starts for the Rays to lead them in the World Series in 2008 and put them within one game of beating the Rangers in 2010. Since Garza was traded, the Rays have not won a playoff series. That fact is likely a coincidence–the Rays have assembled plenty of quality pitchers to replace Garza. Nevertheless, though, Garza represents that postseason grandeur that has alluded the Rays since 2008. That Garza trade was a step back, dealing a star pitcher for prospects, and while it was almost universally regarded as a win for the Rays at the time, recent history could cause you to question that fact. The 2010 Rays were coming off a 96-win season with a group of players as good as any team in baseball. Several players departed after the year, but it was the Rays’ window to win a championship, to do what they could not do even in that 2010 season. The magic was there and the Rays just couldn’t do it. But could it have happened with Garza around? Could this 2013 season have been different had James Shields not been traded? The Rays’ long-term perspective is great and they have built themselves another great team while stocking up on prospects like Wil Myers and Chris Archer that have been key pieces of their success, but seeing Garza makes you wonder whether the Rays’ big picture thinking cost them a shot at a World Series title. Time will tell whether that is true, but the Rays have the power to affirm everything they have done right now by beating the Rangers, returning to the postseason, and showing the rest of baseball just how good it can be. It all starts tonight against Matt Garza. Can the Rays defeat the ghosts of years past looming over them and finally get the ending they have been waiting for?