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With game 163 being a win or go home game, strategy for managers can change quick. Managers are looking for any and every way to get an edge in the most important game of the season. Win or go home games often cause managers to be more innovative, or try to play matchups more than an average regular season game. Different managers will use different strategies in these situations. How will Joe Maddon and Ron Washington strategize in order to get their teams the edge in game 163?
Looking at starting pitchers, both teams already have a strategy down. Joe Maddon will go with his ace of the staff, David Price. Price is historically the Rays best starter, having more experience in big games than pitchers like Matt Moore and Alex Cobb. The Rangers have seen Price eight times in his career, with poor results for Price, showing the trust Maddon has in his ace. While Cobb may have had a slightly better season in terms of ERA, Maddon goes with the starter who has experience and consistency. Ron Washington decided to go with the hot hand, choosing rookie Martin Perez, who has a 3.26 ERA in his last 10 starts, to start over more experienced options like Matt Garza and Alexi Ogando, both of whom will be available out of the bullpen. Another advantage of starting Perez is that the Rays have yet to face him this year, and have only seen him once in his career. Both starters will likely have a short leash in such an important game. Joe Maddon has proven down the stretch that he has no problem quickly turning to the bullpen if his starter falters, and game 163 will be no different. Ron Washington will likely have the same mentality in a game of this importance, especially having a young starter on the mound and two veteran starters in the bullpen. Rest and pitch count will be less of a factor in this game, as both managers will ask their pitchers to go to the max. It would not be surprising to see the starters surpass 110 pitches if they are pitching well. Key relievers for both teams could also be asked to get more than three outs if it is needed.
Another interesting piece of strategy by the Rangers is the decision to activate Nelson Cruz, who just finished serving a 50-game suspension in connection with the Biogenesis clinic. Cruz has been active in the instructional leagues, but this is not the same as seeing major league pitching everyday. His .500/.571/1.000 line with 2 home runs against David Price in twelve at bats may be a key reason for his activation. In a game with this importance, the Rangers are trying to exploit every advantage that they can, and Cruz’s success against Price is one of these. Cruz is one Texas’ top hitters, so having him back will provide a major boost for their lineup.
Both managers will not be afraid to play the matchups today. With 40-man expanded rosters still being valid for game 163, both teams have a surplus of bench players and bullpen arms. Thus, they can be more aggressive in playing the matchups. Both managers’ starting lineups will likely be heavily right-handed, as both teams are starting a left-handed pitcher. Joe Maddon has always managed the matchups, showing that he is unafraid to pinch hit in order to gain an advantage. With an extended bench, Maddon will pinch hit in any situation that gives his team the advantage. In the bullpen, Maddon will also not be afraid to play the matchups. Once again, the expanded rosters give Maddon more flexibility to give the Rays the best advantage possible. Maddon would also not hesitate to use a starter out of the bullpen if it could be the difference between winning or losing the game. Washington will use a similar strategy, playing the matchups wherever possible.
Both managers will do anything they can in order to gain the advantage in this crucial game. While both had differing strategies when determining a starting pitcher, they both will likely have similar in-game strategies. Neither manager will be afraid to go to his bullpen quick or use a pinch hitter in order to gain any slight advantage possible. With expanded rosters still being a factor, we will see many pinch hitters, pinch runners, and defensive changes in tonight’s game. Lets just hope that all the strategy can pay off for the Rays.