Barring a collapse of historic proportions, the Rays are going to the playoffs. The only question that remains is whether they can fight off the Yankees for the division title. But winning the East may not necessarily be the best move for the Rays.

As of today, the Twins and the Rangers hold big leads in their respective divisions. But more importantly, the Twins have a 1-game lead over the Rangers for overall record. This is important, as the team with the better record at the end of the season will host the Wild Card winner in the ALDS.

So which team would be a better first-round matchup for the Rays?

Some things to consider…

  • The Twins have played a game below their Pythagorean Record (76-55). Meanwhile, the Rangers record is identical to their Pythagorean Record (74-57). So that tells us that neither team is playing way above or way below their true talents.
  • Winning the division means 3 of the 5 ALDS and 4 of the 7 ALCS games would be at The Trop. If the Rays finish second in the East, they would be giving up homefield advantage in both rounds.
  • In the best-of-5 ALDS against the Rangers, the Rays would have to face Cliff Lee twice. Even though the Rays are 3-0 against Lee this season, he is still one of the best pitchers in baseball and capable of shutting the Rays down. Not to mention, he now has a much better offense scoring runs for him.
  • If the Rays faced the Twins, they would likely have to face Francisco Liriano two times. Not as consistent as Lee, but he can be just as dominating. In one start against the Rays this season, Liriano held the Rays to just 4 hits and 1 run in 7 innings, striking out 10. And in his career, he has a 2.16 ERA in 5 starts against the Good Guys. If there is an advantage to facing Liriano over Lee, it is that Liriano could be out of the game after 6 innings even if he is pitching well.
  • Does anybody really want to face the Twins, in Minneapolis, outdoors, in October?

We are torn, but are leaning towards preferring to face the Twins. Which team would you prefer to face?

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23 Comments

  1. I don't really care which team the Rays play in the 1st round, they're capable of beating both. I prefer for the Rays to win the division and get homefield, especially for an ALCS match-up with the Yankees. I'd much rather have 4 games at Trop as opposed to New Yankee Stadium.

    It's all going to come down to the Rays bats in October. I think the quality of opponent doesn't matter as much how the Rays are hitting come playoff time. A cold Rays lineup could just as easily flop against either the Twins or the Rangers.

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  2. Boxauthor says:

    Let's go for the division win. Then at least if we lose the first round, we still have another banner to decorate the Trop. Besides, if we win the division, then we've done it twice out of the last three years. If the Yanks take it, they've got two years in a row. I don't care much for that.

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  3. Joe D. says:

    I want to see another AL East banner hanging from the rafters from the Trop for sure, but ad far as teams to face.

    I love that the Yanks can't hit Cliff Lee and the Rays can but Texas scares me especially in Texas, Twins, not so much, though I do like the Rays against Lee more so than Lairiano (The White Sox, even with Manny don't scare me)

    I guess I'd rather see Rays take out Twins in the DS, and Texas take out Yanks in DS, and Rays face Texas in the CS. Then again, how sweet would it be to conquer NY head to head in the CS? Ahh, I can't wait for the playoffs, so exciting!

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  4. Sarah says:

    Of course you go for the division win! a. we can't predict nor control the final standings of MN vs. TX b. we can predict that the home field advantage will be a plus, and that the confidence boost of a division title may mean something. c. we like seeing new banners hanging in Tropicana field, and I don't think you make a banner to celebrate a wild card selection, do you?

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  5. Thad says:

    Cork, I should know this, but you're saying that if Rays and Yankees finish with the best records in the AL, but say the Rays end up the Wild Card. If Rays win ALDS and whoever plays Yankees beats them in the other ALDS, would the Rays automatically be "road" team in ALCS even though they would have better record? Seems illogical, but I'm not sure. NFL starts out playoffs by seedings, but reverts to better record in subsequent rounds if WC teams start winning.

    If so, it's a crock that the Rays (or Yanks for that matter), could possibly finish with 100 wins or more in the AL East and finish as a Wild Card and not have home field advantage for any series including the World Series (see: All-Star Game). That's just not right.

    I agree with Michael, that there's prob not a clear cut advantage/disadvantage in my mind over either Twins or Rangers. Each present their own challenges, but none are insurmountable. I MIGHT rather play a completely inexperienced Rangers team with a struggling Lee at the top end of the rotation and a little psychological advantage having beaten him several times.

    Rays, Yanks and Twins have been there, done that. Rangers have not (other than Lee and Vlady).

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      Yeah, MLB does not re-seed. Most recent example I can think of is '06 ALCS. Detroit was the Wild Card team and Oakland won the west. Detroit had the better regular season record, but Oakland had homefield in the ALCS.

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  6. Cork Gaines says:

    This post was a bit more focused on Twins vs Rangers. But for those arguing that Twins or Rangers doesnt matter that winning the division is most important, there is another factor to consider: How hard should the Rays be willing to push for the division title? I mean, if the Rays and Yankees are tied or close with a week to go, how important is winning the division really? Do you want the starting pitchers going 8+ innings on normal rest? Do you want Carl Crawford in the lineup everyday? Or should Maddon ease up on the gas a bit, let the Yankees take the division and have everybody well-rested when the postseason starts?

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    • Thad says:

      That's a fair point. You'd have to think that some rest for regualars would prepare the Rays better for postseason play. Fortunately for the Rays, their depth and extremely weak final 10 games may make BOTH possible.

      After the four game set in the Bronx that ends on the 23rd, Maddon will have a pretty good idea where we stand. If Rays are 3-5 games back, you prob substitute liberally and hope for the best against a weak schedule. If Rays are within down 2 or up 2, you prob keep the pedal down at least against the Mariners and maybe Orioles before letting off the gas on the road against the Royals. If Rays are 3 up or more, you prob start sprinkling in some modest substitutions and hope the depth and weak schedule carry you through.

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    • I think it shouldn't matter with the back end of Rays schedule. Definitely favorable for giving some "rest" and still winning.

      Back to the teams again, Minnesota in October does sound a little cold.

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    • Beth says:

      Yes, Cork, I think the way you put it just now is a more interesting question. Of course it's better to win the division, but not if it means exhausting your best players to where they can't make it through the post season in top form.

      But actually my first thought was: look at the post season schedule and see which team would play more Friday games: the wild card or the division leader? We definitely want to avoid Friday games.

      Question: if the Rays and Yankees end up tied for first, is the tie breaker their head to head record? Under what circumstances might first place be decided by a one game playoff?

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      • Cork Gaines says:

        Head-to-head is first tie-breaker (Rays up 6-5 with 7 left). Not sure of remaining tie-breakers, but (unless this has changed recently) MLB only uses 1-game playoffs if needed to decide who goes to the playoffs. They wouldn't use a playoff just to determine seeding.

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        • Deadeye says:

          I am pretty sure there is a one game playoff for a divison title. Seedings between teams tied after tie breakers in seperate divisions would be a coin toss.

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      • Cork Gaines says:

        2nd tiebreaker is division record. Rays are currently 32-19 and Yankees are 27-29.

        3rd tiebreaker is 2nd-half record against AL teams. Rays are 27-16 and Yankees are 25-18.

        So the Rays are winning all 3 tie-breakers and can't lose the 3rd tiebreaker.

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    • Joe D. says:

      I want to see the rays maintain about an over.500 won percentage but I really want to get a look at these September call ups, and see what Hawpe, Swindel, Hellickson, McGee, Jennings, Anderson, Navi, ect...what they have to offer not just potentially for the postseason, but also next year.

      I want the division, of it makes sense, but I'd prefer to see an ALCS banner, over an AL East, and I want WS Champions above and beyond all of that.

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    • Deadeye says:

      I think you still go for it while setting your lineup up. Momentum is big in MLB IMO. See 2007 Rockies and 2008 Rays in the WS and how letdowns and delays affected the teams.

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  7. Don says:

    How important is winning the American League East title?
    It's EVERYTHING....
    Look, anything can happen in the playoffs...thats why they have them...anyone can beat anyone..you could have the best team and be out in the 1st round...
    BUT...that DIVISION TITLE they can not take away from you...
    You beat the Yankees/Red Sox for 162 games in 2010.....
    Thats FOREVER....plus bragging rights for at least another year..plus torture every day for Yankee/Soxs fans!

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  8. Gus says:

    Need to win the division. Home games in the ALCS will be crucial. I'd go with facing Texas only because they haven't been there before and Gardenhire is a great manager (Washington may or may not be using nose candy for the "2nd time").

    Note to management: Remember to send the party girls to the Rangers hotel. (No way those bunch of partiers can resist the temptations over 4 days under the pressure of the playoffs; Ron Washington will have a Molina leading off after a few days under the spell of Dale Mabry's finest). Also, make sure Josh's friends from the Palmetto tattoo shop have great comped tickets.

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  9. Political_Man says:

    Doesn't the team with the best record also get to decide if they get the day off between games 1 and 2 series as well? Or does that flop from league to league? Anyone remember the story with that?

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  10. Alex says:

    As much as I hate facing Lee twice, the Twins just scare me. They are one of those annoying scrappy teams that plays a very similar game to ours.

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  11. Tyler says:

    Living in Austin, I'd like to see the Rays come out to Texas and kick some Ranger butt.

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