The national storyline going into this particular incarnation of the American League Division Series was momentum - specifically, that Tampa Bay had it. I certainly understand the narrative; after all, they had just run down the Boston Red Sox in one of the most memorable comebacks/chokes of all time. However, it did ignore one inconvenient fact: the Texas Rangers were the hottest team in baseball down the stretch. It doesn't matter if you look at September stats, last 10 games, last 20 games, whatever. The Rangers were a better team (in terms of wins) down the stretch.
Of course, none of that mattered one bit, and even if Texas had a more legitimate claim on the mystical sports phenomenon known as Momentum, they don't anymore. The Rays have all the mojo working in their favor...if there is any such thing, of course.
I'll be at the game today, so I'm not going to be thinking too much about the fantasy perspective - I'm much too worried about how the crowd will respond to a shocking first result - but when I do reflect on this one, it will be to ask questions of Derek Holland's mental approach.
Holland is one of those players that most everybody agrees possesses elite talent, but the knock on him has always been repeatability. Inconsistency is not a desirable trait in fantasy sports, and it sure is a hard label to shake. Though his overall numbers (16-5, 3.95 ERA with a remarkably similarly 3.94 FIP, a decent 7.36 K/9 and an improved 3.05 BB/9) don't reveal a pitcher that's hard to trust, a look at his game log tells the story. Holland tossed 4 complete game shutouts this year, but there were just as many games where he didn't make it out of the fourth inning.
It's easy to empathize with the head-to-head fantasy player who has trouble trusting Holland from start to start, but since he's still 25 (for another week anyway), the predominant narrative concerns the skillset he possesses that, if he could just put it all together, would be enough to produce some world-class numbers.
That's what I'll be watching for tonight. The Rangers had a horrific start to the ALDS, and in a 5 game series, a Game 1 loss is almost a death blow. Given Mr. Holland's appearance in Game 2 of last year's World Series, where he walked three straight batters on 13 pitches, his expected role as Texas' stopper is certainly unlikely. If he were to do the improbable (and let's be honest, it's not all that improbable, it just seems that way) and silence the Rays' bats tonight, Mr. Holland's legend will only grow.
Legend is something to watch out for in the playoffs, as she can be an evil temptress, causing even the most level-headed fantasy players to proclaim Matt Moore a Top 10 starter for next year on the back of one (!) performance. However, in this case, it's not that hard to imagine Holland finding some mental fortitude along the way were he to, say, start a winning streak with his performance.
Could a quality Game 2 start signal a new ability for Derek Holland, an ability that Ron Washington might sum up by saying, "Getcha head outcha butt and let's play baseball tomorrow"? I'll tell you one thing: I sure hope that's the conversation we'll be having tomorrow.