With the Orioles securing the A.L East and becoming the number 1 seed in the A.L, they've secured themselves a first-round bye. This means the Orioles will be set to face the winner of the Rangers vs Rays wild card series, which begins on Wednesday October 3rd. Here's a look into which one of these teams would present a better matchup for the Orioles in the ALDS.
Would the Orioles benefit the most from playing the Rangers or the Rays in the ALDS?
Both the Rays and Rangers feature prolific offenses that have produced a very similar output this season. Both teams rank in the top 4 in OPS, slugging percentage, on base percentage, batting average, and runs scored in the majors. The Rangers are tied for 3rd with 233 homeruns this season, while the Rays are 6th but are just 3 homeruns behind the Rangers with 230. But the Rays do have a substantial advantage on the base paths, sitting at 4th in the majors in steals compared to 27th for the Rangers.
In terms of individual performers, both teams have plenty of star power. If it weren't for Shohei Ohtani, Corey Seager of the Texas Rangers would probably be running away with the A.L MVP award. He's slashing an unreal .327/.390/.623 with 33 homeruns and the second best OPS in baseball. He's having arguably one of the best offensive seasons by a shortstop ever.
The Rangers also feature one of the best run producers in baseball in Adolis Garcia. He's second in the A.L in both homeruns and RBI's. Not to mention Marcus Semien in the leadoff spot who recorded 29 homeruns and 100 RBI's while leading the league in runs scored. You can look anywhere in this lineup and you'll find production.
The Rays offense has been led by two breakout stars, Yandy Diaz and Isaac Paredes. Although they both showed flashes last season, it seemed like these two really put it together in 2023. Much like Semien, Diaz's production came from the leadoff spot this season where he finished with the 3rd highest OPS in the A.L and the highest batting average (sitting at .330).
Paredes on the other hand was their major run producer, leading the club in homeruns and RBI's with 31 and 98 respectively. They also received a huge, bounce back season from Josh Lowe (who has a brother on the Rangers), who supplied 20 homeruns, 32 stolen bases, and finished with an OPS of .835.
Overall, there isn't much difference between these two offenses. They both have star-power and they both have depth. But I think if you're the Orioles, you'd rather face the Rays. That Rangers offense can be the best in baseball if it gets hot at the right time, regardless of the pitching staff they are facing.
Pitching and Defense
Unlike the offense, the pitching side of things is a different story. The Rays have a substantially better pitching staff and there is no argument that will tell you otherwise. The Rays have the 5th best team ERA in the majors, while the Rangers rank 18th.
But it's not just ERA. Basically, any way you slice it, you'll find that the Rangers just aren't on the same level. They've allowed more hits, more homeruns, have walked more batters, and have a higher WHIP then the Rays.
The big concern for the Rangers is their bullpen, which has repeatedly let them down during important games. The Rangers bullpen has the 7th worst ERA in the majors and is easily the worst of any playoff team. They blew the 3rd most saves of any bullpen in 2023. On the flip side, the Rays have a solid bullpen (11th in ERA) to compliment their stellar rotation.
As for the defenses, they are very comparable. The Rangers have the second highest fielding percentage in the majors, while the Rays have the ninth highest. As for the advanced numbers, Fielding Bible has the Rangers as the 7th best defense in baseball with 37 defensive runs saved, while the Rays are 10th with 31.
Both teams have suffered huge injuries to their pitching staffs throughout the season. The Rangers lost Jacob DeGrom early in the year to Tommy John Surgery, and more recently lost Max Scherzer for the season.
As for the Rays, they also lost their ace in Shane McClanahan to Tommy John Surgery too, while also sustaining injuries to various starting pitchers such as Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs. But through all of these injuries, it's clear that the Rays were more well-equipped for the adversity. They have the easy advantage in the pitching department.
I think the Rays are a better team than the Rangers, but I'd rather face the Rays in the ALDS. Now I know that sounds strange on the surface but allow me to elaborate. The playoffs are all about momentum and who gets hot at the right time. The Rays are tied for the best home record in baseball, sitting at 53-28 on the season. Imagine if the Rangers offense gets hot and goes into Tampa Bay and wins a playoff series. Their confidence will be through the roof.
It's also important to note that the Orioles have faced the Rangers when they were hot early in the season, and the result was not pretty. Although the Orioles split the season series 3-3, they lost 2 out of 3 games at home and were outscored 19-8 in the 3 game series. I just think this Rangers team is a streaky club and we've seen teams built like this be successful in recent seasons (i.e. the 2022 Phillies).
Lastly, I want to point out the Orioles success this season against the Rays. Facing a divisional opponent can be a gift and a curse in the playoffs, but the Orioles never looked outmatched against the Rays this season.
They didn't lose any of the series they played against them, and they won 8 of the 13 matchups. For a young club like the Orioles that doesn't have a ton of playoff experience, knowing your opponent could be a big advantage.
Ultimately, the Orioles are going to face a very tough opponent in the ALDS, and I think you could make an argument for either team being the better matchup. In this case, I think the Orioles would benefit from playing the familiar opponent in the Rays.