The Tampa Bay Rays pulled off the impossible, as they battled back to clinch the wild card in one of the wildest events in MLB history. Can they continue to stun the baseball world by beating the Texas Rangers and their hitting crew?

Less than 48 hours after winning the wildest, Wild Card racein MLB history, the fatigued Tampa Bay Rays open the American League playoffs against the red-hot and well-rested Texas Rangers. First pitch is set for 5:07 PM ET from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Every possible superlative has been used to describe the Rays stunning victory over the Yankees that got them into the postseason. Down by seven runs and just six outs remaining, Tampa Bay amazingly came back for an 8-7, 12-inning victory over the Yanks in a game that has achieved Instant Classic status. Now the question becomes how much do they have left in the tank after a 24-game stretch drive where every contest carried playoff implications.

Arms race

CJ WilsonRays manager Joe Maddon had considered using pitcher Jeff Niemann in the opener but instead opted to go with rookie Matt Moore (1-0, 0.00 ERA) against the hard-hitting Rangers. Moore, who will be making his second career start, struck out 11 batters in five scoreless innings to beat the Yankees on September 22. Niemann was 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA against Texas this season.

The Rangers (96-66) will counter with lefty C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94 ERA) hoping that he can continue his good fortune against the Rays. He was 2-0 against them in September with a 1.21 ERA and in three regular season starts vs. the Rays he had a microscopic 2.08 earned run average.

Wilson opened as a -160 favorite on the MLB odds boards with the total at 8 but both numbers have been on the rise since the opening line was posted.

The Rays warrant a slight pitching advantage over the Rangers’ whose 3.79 ERA was their lowest since the club-record 3.31 in 1983. TB starting pitchers posted a club-record and AL-best 3.58 ERA. The series figures to come down to Tampa Bay’s pitching against the Texas offense.

Too much good stuff

The Rangers lineup is ‘scary’ good led by reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton who despite missing a month with a broken arm still hit .298 with 25 home runs and 94 RBI’s.  Michael Young who was the odd man out in the preseason after Texas signed free agent Adrian Beltre, finished second in the league in hitting (.338), Beltre belted 32 homers and drove in 105 runs while Mike Napoli enjoyed a career year hitting .320 with 30 home runs. Ian Kinsler hit 32 home runs while Nelson Cruz added 29 round-trippers.

Texas led the majors with a .283 batting average and was second with 210 homers. As good as the 2010 Rangers were this lineup is even better.

Streaking

The series features baseball’s two hottest teams. The Rangers won six in a row to close out the year and 14 of 16 while the Rays took 17 of 24 including five straight wins to end the regular season.

The Rangers won the season series 5-4, where Texas batted .263 with 41 runs in the nine games against Tampa Bay this season. The Rays hit only .182 with 26 runs.

Overall Tampa Bay was 25th in the majors in hitting (.244) and was 15th in runs per game (4.36). Evan Longoria hit just .244 but led the team with 31 home runs and 99 runs batted in. First baseman Casey Kotchman was the only Rays regular to hit .300 or better (.306).

Harvey’s Take: The Rangers outscored the Rays by 148 runs this year (855-707) and they have the hottest starting pitcher in the series lined up to start twice. They also rate a slight edge in the bullpen and a huge advantage in experience. If Wilson wins tonight, and I’ve got money saying he will, then this series could be over quickly.

Take the Rangers to win Game 1 and the series.