Baltimore Orioles @ Texas Rangers - Friday, October 5, 8:37 PM EDT - TV: TBS, Radio: TBA
Starters: BAL – LHP Joe Saunders* (3-3, 3.63 ERA); TEX – RHP Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA)
WASHINGTON, October 4, 2012 — The last time that Baltimore experienced playoff baseball, it was the fall of 1997, and the Baltimore Orioles were a juggernaut, going wire-to-wire in the AL East behind the arm of Mike Mussina and the bats of Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro, and Brady Anderson. They won 98 games, scored 131 runs more than they allowed, and saw their season come to a cruel end in an ALCS upset at the hands of the Cleveland Indians.
The 2012 Baltimore Orioles were expected to finish last in their division for the fifth year in a row. They lost three leadoff hitters, including franchise cornerstone Nick Markakis, to season-ending injuries. They barely scraped positive on their run differential, scoring 712, and allowing 705.
And when it was all over, a valiant charge for the AL East title shot down, they could settle into the first wildcard spot with 93 wins and a lineup that for lack of the usual championship qualities, simply had stopped everything thrown at them except the two games that separated first from second.
Down in Arlington, Texas, it was the same story two years ago. The Texas Rangers were in the playoffs for the first time since Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez had first given the Rangers an all-offense, no-defense legacy. Now, the Rangers are simultaneously flying and reeling. They’ve won back-to-back pennants, but dramatically lost the AL West title to the upstart Oakland Athletics on the final day of the season.
Welcome to the inaugural AL Wild Card Round, a one-game play-in into the ALDS between a team that numbers say should not be in the playoffs, and a team that discerning eyes say should not be a wildcard.
The Orioles are a talented enough ball club that this shouldn’t be thought of as David and Goliath. But it’s hard to move away from that storybook feel. Rangers manager Ron Washington has named ace Yu Darvish as the starter Friday night, while Orioles manager Buck Showalter has chose a castoff former ace, Joe Saunders.
But pitching isn’t the reason why either team has made it this far. The Orioles rode the long ball into October, with five starters topping 20 homers, shortstop J.J. Hardy (22 HR), catcher Matt Wieters (23), first baseman Mark Reynolds (23), center fielder Adam Jones (32), and right fielder/designated hitter Chris Davis (33).
There are just three key offensive categories in which Baltimore ranked in the top half of the AL this year, homeruns (2nd), doubles (7th), and walks (7th). Together, they sum up a simple offensive philosophy – get on base, and wait for the extra-base knock. Don’t try to steal, don’t play small-ball. Let each at-bat take its course.
For yet another year, the Rangers are relying on their bats to get things done. Center fielder Josh Hamilton and third baseman Adrian Beltre slugged .577 and .561 respectively. Five players topped 30 doubles, and as a team, Texas led the league with 1526 hits. Their running game, such as it is, consists of second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus, who stole 21 bases apiece.
Pitching-wise, the Rangers send the better starter to the mound. Darvish hasn’t dominated as he did in Japan, but he clearly has the upper hand on Saunders, who sports a 6.48 ERA over his 11 starts against Texas, a frequent foe from his days with the Los Angeles Angels. When it comes to the bullpen, the O’s look to have the better arsenal, with the quartet of righties Luis Ayala, Darren O’Day, and Pedro Strop, plus southpaw Troy Patton setting the table for regular season saves leader Jim Johnson.
If Texas’ key to winning is to get a strong performance out of Darvish, then the key for the O’s is to stake Saunders to an early lead. If Baltimore plays the way that they have approached each individual game, then they will have the upper hand over a slumping Rangers team that dropped seven of their last nine games. There’s more to the 2012 Orioles then a dramatic bounce back, and they will show it Friday night.
Pick: ORIOLES over Rangers
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