Let's start at the top ... In one obvious respect, the Texas Rangers seriously outplayed the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011. The Rangers outscored their opponents this season by 178 runs. That's third-most in the majors, behind only the Yankees and the Phillies. Meanwhile, the Rays' +93 differential ranks fifth, which isn't bad but it's a distant fifth, well behind those aforementioned teams, along with the ill-fated Red Sox (+138).
Maybe that's why the Rangers are big favorites among the bettors.
The big difference, of course, is between these teams' respective hitting attacks. The Rangers scored 855 runs this season, trailing only the Yankees and Red Sox; nobody else scored even 800 runs. The Rays scored 707 runs, good for eighth in the American League.
But wait, what about the ballparks? The Rangers' home is notoriously hitter-friendly; the Rays', not so much. Somewhat shockingly, when we look at road scoring, the picture is almost exactly reversed: Tampa Bay finished second in the league in road scoring, Texas seventh.
Of course, the same thing happens if we look at road anti-scoring. The Rangers led the American League in road ERA (3.19), the Rays sixth (4.04). Oddly, while the raw numbers suggest the Rangers are a good-hitting team with okay pitching and the Rays are a good-pitching team with okay hitting, the road stats suggest the opposite.
Road numbers can fool you, too. The truth is that both clubs are pretty good at almost everything (including defense). The Rangers have the better run differential because their hitters have been substantially better this season, and their pitchers just as good.
How do the Rays make up the gap? They're already doing it. Left field was a problem spot until Desmond Jennings arrived; now that position is a strength. Shortstop's been a problem spot when Reid Brignac and Elliott Johnson have played there, but Sean Rodriguez has seen plenty of action lately.
The Rays are on a serious roll, going 35-20 in August and September, and they're riding a wave of emotion after what happened Wednesday night.
Historically, those things haven't mattered. Historically, it's like the baseball gods punch a giant RESET button the moment the regular season ends, as there's been very little correlation between late-season performance and postseason performance.
Which doesn't mean the Rays don't have a solid shot in this series. The Rangers do deserve to be favorites. But not BIG favorites. They're really good. But not THAT good.