Through three innings of Game One of the American League Division Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers, the Rangers own a 3-0 lead thanks to major production from the bottom half of their lineup. Nelson Cruz, Jeff Francoeur, and Bengie Molina have notched early RBI against Rays starter David Price, who is making his debut as a starting hurler in postseason play.

The real danger signs for the Rays, though, are on the other side of the ball. After two tough innings in which he threw a combined 42 pitches and allowed four base-runners, Rangers ace left-hander Cliff Lee has settled in, needing just seven pitches to retire the Rays in order in the third inning.

Lee is finally using his whole repertoire, offering the Rays at least three distinct fastballs, a changeup and a curveball. Tampa cannot lay off the deceptively tough Lee heat, which registers only in the low 90s but is located perfectly. Lee is getting more and more calls on the corners as the umpires watch him paint the black, and the Rays may be in real trouble if he has another clean frame in the fourth.

Keep an eye on Lee’s pitch count from here on out: He never exceeded 119 pitches in regular-season play, and the high pitch counts in the first two frames could be as damaging as they were surprising and uncharacteristic. For a man who averaged over seven innings per start this regular season, it could mean an early exit.

Will Ron Washington stretch out his ace to earn a crucial Game One win? Will Lee simply continue his efficient third-inning pace? Only time will tell. The Rangers may allow Lee to take it easy if they continue their barrage on Price: They have just scored again on a Molina homer to make the score 4-0 through three and a half innings.

Matt Trueblood is a student at Loyola University Chicago and B/R Writing Intern. Follow him on twitter.

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