Big League Stew - MLB

As the start of the postseason approaches, Big League Stew's Alex Remington will take a look at the statistics that might make a difference in each series. First up is the matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers, who will star in Wednesday's first game.

44 The combined age of the Rangers' youngest All-Stars — shortstop Elvis Andrus(notes) and closer Neftali Feliz(notes). That's just four years older than the Rangers' oldest player and second-best reliever, southpaw Darren Oliver(notes), who turns 40 on Wednesday. The Rangers are actually older than the Rays on average (28.3 compared to 27.5), but two of their key players are younger than anyone on the Rays, and it's been a long season. Feliz and Andrus have been terrific, but postseason stardom is a lot to ask any 22-year-old to manage.

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172 Tampa Bay's major league-leading stolen-base total, largely built by Carl Crawford(notes) (47 steals) and B.J. Upton(notes) (42 steals). The Rays, however, got double-digit steals from RF Ben Zobrist(notes), 3B Evan Longoria(notes), 2B Sean Rodriguez(notes), and SS Jason Bartlett(notes). They stole at a 79 percent success rate, fourth in baseball, so they picked their spots effectively. Their baserunning is a big reason that the Rays scored the third-most runs in baseball this year.

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1.044 Josh Hamilton's(notes) OPS, best in baseball. He already won the batting title with a .359 mark, and he's a strong favorite for AL MVP as well, despite having missed nearly all of September with a rib-cage injury. Hamilton recorded a hit in Sunday's regular-season finale and if he's healthy for the playoffs, he improves the Rangers' offense immeasurably.  He's the best hitter in either clubhouse and in a best-of-five series, his booming bat could be the difference in more than one game.

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92 The number of double plays the Rays have grounded into this year, the fewest in baseball. There are few things more wrenching than a double play: Nothing can kill a rally faster or halt a would-be momentum swing more effectively. The Rays are fast, as their stolen-base totals would indicate, and they've figured out how to avoid twin killings better than anyone in baseball. This isn't a new development, either, as they had the fifth-fewest in 2009 and sixth-fewest in 2008. That's a key explanation for the seeming paradox that the Rays are a good offensive club — they scored 802 runs, third-most in baseball — but they're only mediocre at hitting. They're 26th in baseball in batting average, 18th in total bases, 14th in overall OPS. By comparison, the Rangers have the highest batting average in baseball, and yet they scored 15 less runs than the Rays. How did Tampa Bay score that many runs when the Rays are only mediocre at hitting? They are extraordinarily efficient and know how to take a walk.

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23 percent The percentage of base thieves the Rangers have caught stealing, 26th in baseball. (Tampa's a little better, as their 25 percent caught-stealing rate is tied for 21st.) This may have been a big reason they brought in Bengie Molina(notes), whom they've platooned with Matt Treanor(notes). But despite his defensive reputation, Bengie has only caught 24 percent of base-stealers all year himself. Considering the Rays' penchant for pilfering, the Rangers will have their hands full. Drama will ensue every time a Ray reaches first base.

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34 percent The Rays' major league-leading run-scoring percentage — which means that 34 percent of all Rays baserunners eventually score. That's the definition of efficiency. The Rangers aren't far behind, at 32 percent, fourth in baseball.

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4.56 Cliff Lee's(notes) ERA against the Rays in three starts this year. He went deep against Tampa Bay and averaged eight innings a start. He also only walked two batters, struck out 25 and didn't allow a single homer in 24 innings.

He did, however, yield a hit an inning while giving up 12 earned runs over those three starts. His Rays starts have been a microcosm for his career in a Ranger uniform, where he has racked up a ton of strikeouts but has just a 4-6 record with a 3.98 ERA, due to a high BABIP. He's still one of the best pitchers in the world, but the second half has showed that he's beatable. The Rangers basically need him to run the table for them to have a chance to go deep into the playoffs. The Rays need to keep him on the ropes.

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.800 The rate by which Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field depresses run scoring, making it by far the most pitcher-friendly park in baseball this year. (That means that, this year, the teams that come to Tropicana have only scored 80.0 percent of the runs they normally would, in a neutral environment. That's a massive dropoff.) This is clearly something of a fluke — last year, it was just the 14th-most pitcher-friendly park, and in 2008 it was 12th — but Tropicana Field has been better for pitchers than for hitters for several years now. And the Rays have home-field advantage. Other than Cliff Lee, the Rangers will have a tough time outpitching the Rays at The Trop.

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31.4 percent The percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that the Rangers swing at, fourth-worst in baseball. (The Rays are at 27.4 percent, fourth-best.) This plate discipline disparity is a big reason why the Rangers are 20th in baseball in walk rate, walking in just 8.1 percent of their plate appearances, while the Rays are best in baseball, walking in 10.7 percent of their plate appearances.

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1,292 The number of times the Rays have struck out at the plate, third-highest in baseball. The Rangers have proved much harder to strike out, whiffing just 986 times this year, the fourth-lowest total in baseball. Five different Rays have struck out over 100 times, not to mention Sean Rodriguez (97 strikeouts in just 378 PA) and Reid Brignac(notes) (77 strikeouts in just 326 PA) who easily would have cleared the bar if they'd played a full season. The Rays walk a lot, but they strike out even more, and with that .247 team batting average, they don't hit safely very often. The Rangers' best strategy may just be to throw strikes.

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