After the Texas Rangers snatched Game 1 of this best-of-three Wild Card series in commanding fashion on Tuesday afternoon, the 99-win Tampa Bay Rays suddenly find themselves needing a win in Game 2 to keep their season alive. First pitch from Tropicana Field is set for 3:08 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ABC. Nathan Eovaldi (12-5, 3.63 ERA) gets the ball for the visitors, while the Rays pin their hopes on righty Zach Eflin (16-8, 3.50).
Tampa enters as -162 favorites on the moneyline at DraftKings Sportsbook, while the Rangers are +136 underdogs. The run total is set at 8.
Rangers-Rays Wild Card Game 2 picks: Wednesday, October 4
Out: SP Max Scherzer (shoulder), SP Jon Gray (forearm)
Out: 2B Brandon Lowe (knee), 1B/OF Luke Raley (cervical strain), RP Jason Adam (oblique)
Nathan Eovaldi vs. Zach Eflin
Eovaldi spent much of the 2023 season as a Cy Young candidate, stepping into the void left by Jacob deGrom’s injury and carrying a depleted Rangers rotation until reinforcements arrived in the form of Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery. He had a 2.69 ERA at the end of July, including a remarkable stretch of nine quality starts in 11 outings from late April to early June. Alas, that workload — Eovaldi led the Majors in innings pitched in the first half — may have taken their toll, as the righty went down in late July with what the team initially called arm fatigue but was eventually revealed as a forearm strain. Eovaldi was desperate to get back to help the Rangers’ playoff push, returning in early September without so much as a single rehab start, but he simply hasn’t been the same pitcher: His ERA last month was an ugly 9.30, with five or more runs allowed in three of his six starts and his fastball velocity dipping down below 94 mph. He’s given up 12 runs across his last 8.1 innings, and unless he suddenly rediscovers his midseason form, he could be in for a short afternoon.
The Rays have dealt with plenty of rotation injuries of their own, and Eflin has been the one constant through it all, taking the ball 31 times — the only member of Tampa’s Opening Day rotation to pitch a full season — and churning out 24 starts of three runs allowed or fewer. Eflin’s sinker/curveball combination has always been effective, but the righty saw a major jump in strikeout rate this year as his four-seamer, changeup and slider all saw leaps under Rays coaching. He won’t light up any radar guns, but he throws a ton of strikes (99th-percentile walk rate) and gets a ton of ground balls (84th-percentile ground ball rate) to help him work deep into games. He’s yet to face the Rangers this season.
Yes, Tuesday saw a 4-0 final as the Rays couldn’t do anything against Montgomery, but this number is simply too low for how Eovaldi has been pitching in recent weeks. This is more than just a string of bad luck; the righty looks like a pitcher playing through an injury out of necessity, with a fastball down several ticks from what it typically is, and the results have borne that out. Texas will likely scratch across at least a couple against Eflin, and the Rangers bullpen outside Aroldis Chapman is always a flammable situation.
Pick: Over 8
Tampa not only needs this game, but they should be awfully motivated after a frankly embarrassing four-error performance in Game 1. They have a pretty substantial advantage on the mound in this one, and while it’s always possible that this deep Rangers lineup roughs Eflin up, I think the Rays are better suited to win a battle of the bullpens to keep their season alive.
Pick: Rays -162