A.L. Wild Card Preview: Rangers vs. Orioles
After 162 regular season games, the baseball post-season is finally here! In the A.L. Wild Card game, the Texas Rangers face the Baltimore Orioles in Arlington. The Rangers are reeling, having blown a four game lead in their division with six games left to play. The Rangers lost the A.L. West to the Athletics as Oakland surged ahead of Texas on the last day of the season. The O’s also lost a chance to play for the division title on the last day of the season, but this is hardly a setback in their miraculous season.
The Rangers will start Yu Darvish while the Orioles go with Joe Saunders. Darvish had a decent first season in the Bigs, posting a 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and over 220 strikeouts. Darvish does have some control issues as he issued the fourth most walks in the A.L. (89) and his ten hit batsmen tied him for eighth in the Junior Circuit. Darvish’s control could haunt him tomorrow, and Baltimore would be wise to take a more patient approach at the plate (they were seventh in team walks in the A.L.) because of their weaker offence (discussed below). Saunders was acquired in late August from Arizona to boost the O’s rotation down the stretch, and he pitched well for Baltimore with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in seven starts. The knock on Saunders is that he is a contact pitcher who gives up way too many hits and he has surrendered 195 hits in 175 total innings this year. Even more troubling is the fact that the Rangers posted a higher team batting average (.285 vs. 269) and OPS (.793 vs. .775) against left-handed pitchers and that righties are hitting .307 against Saunders this year.
In head-to-head to play this season, the Rangers won 5 of 7 games from Baltimore. Texas boasts the stronger offence on paper, as they had the most hits and runs in the A.L. this year, and the second-best team OPS (.780). Baltimore was second in team homeruns (214) in the A.L., but finished in the bottom five in the A.L. in batting average and hits. Darvish will rack up lots of K’s tomorrow, as the O’s whiffed more than all but two teams in the A.L. in 2012. Baltimore needs to get on base and make their hits count tomorrow, because Darvish allowed the third fewest H/9 in the A.L. among qualified pitchers. The O’s will desperately miss outfielder Nick Markakis, who is out for the year.
Intangibles: The Orioles posted 93 wins in baseball’s toughest division and have defied their doubters all season. Baltimore is facing less pressure to win than Texas because nobody expected the O’s to do much of anything this year. Texas is reeling after blowing a “safe” lead in their division and some have even started to brand the Rangers with the “chokers” label. The Rangers have playoff experience on their side, as they have made it to the World Series for two straight seasons, while this is Baltimore’s first trip to the postseason in 15 years. And if you want a great side story, how about Buck Showalter returning to the postseason for the first time in 13 years against the team that he managed from 2003 to 2006?
The Rangers will win if: Josh Hamilton has a big game. It has been said that you are only as good as your best player, and the Rangers need Hamilton to be a difference-maker at the bat tomorrow. He has performed poorly in the past two ALDS (.462 total OPS) and World Series (.558 OPS) and he needs to get some big hits off of Saunders today. Although he is but one piece in a dangerous lineup, he is the man the Rangers count on to be their best hitter. It would also help if he avoids dropping any more routine fly balls at crucial times in the game.
The Orioles will win if: Joe Saunders can keep the Rangers’ bats in check. Texas loves hitting at home, and smacked 14 more home runs and scored 73 more runs than opposing teams did at Rangers Ballpark in 2012. Saunders must pitch deep into the ballgame and prevent the Rangers from putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard if the Orioles are going to have any chance of winning. His task is monumental.
Prediction: Texas in a romp, because I don’t think that Saunders can keep all of the strong right-handed Ranger bats at bay.
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