BALTIMORE ORIOLES (93-69)
at TEXAS RANGERS (93-69)
American League Wild Card Game
First pitch: Friday, 8:35 p.m. EDT
Line: Texas -185, Baltimore +175, Total: 9
After blowing a 13-game division lead this season, the Rangers will try to regroup at home in the first ever one-and-done Wild Card game against the Orioles on Friday.
Texas ended the 2012 regular season with seven losses in its final nine contests, dropping their final three games in Oakland to squander the large division lead it had on June 30. Baltimore scored 31 runs during a four-game win streak to end September, but scored just five runs in the three-game October set at Tampa Bay, losing two of three. Fridayís loser-goes-home playoff contest features two red-hot pitchers in lefty Joe Saunders and Texas right-hander Yu Darvish. Saunders had a tremendous September with his new team, going 3-2 with a 2.75 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Darvish has been even better lately, going 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 0.87 WHIP during eight straight quality starts. While the Rangers clearly have more talent, they have not responded to the immense championship-or-bust pressure after coming within a strike of winning the 2011 World Series. On the other hand, the Orioles, who havenít played in a postseason game in 15 years, have thrived in pressure situations. They are 29-9 in one-run games this year, and have won 16 straight extra-inning affairs. Baltimore also has the ALís best road record (46-35, .568), and clearly has the superior bullpen between the two clubs. The Oís are also 61-46 (.570) as an underdog this year. All things considered, the pick here is for heavy Ďdog BALTIMORE to advance to the ALDS where the Yankees await.
This four-star FoxSheets managerial trend also sides with the Orioles:
BUCK SHOWALTER is 58-34 (63.0%, +40.8 Units) against the money line with a hot bullpen whose WHIP is under 1.000 the last 5 games as the manager of BALTIMORE. The average score was BALTIMORE 4.8, OPPONENT 4.2 - (Rating = 4*).
Although Saunders (9-13, 4.07 ERA, 1.34 WHIP in 2012) has been terrible against Texas in his career (3-7, 6.48 ERA, 1.49 WHIP), heís only faced them once in the past three seasons. And in that start, also in Arlington, Saunders allowed just one run in seven innings while striking out six in a 1-0 defeat. However, that dropped his lifetime record to 0-6 all-time with a 9.38 ERA and 1.80 WHIP at Rangers Ballpark. Saunders has the benefit of extensive postseason experience, but he is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA and 1.94 WHIP in his four career playoff starts. In last yearís postseason with Arizona, he allowed Milwaukee to score three runs in just three innings off him with five hits and two walks. The Orioles could choose to play this game like a spring-training affair with multiple pitchers throwing an inning or two here and there. The Orioles bullpen has been outstanding this season, going 32-11 (.744) with a 3.00 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 55 saves in 71 chances (78%). These numbers are even more impressive on the road: 16-4, 2.56 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 82% save percentage (31-of-38).
Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) has never pitched in a bigger spot in his major-league career, and he has never faced the Orioles in his lone big-league season. He was known for his clutch pitching in Japan though, going 8-2 with a 1.38 ERA in 11 playoff starts for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Texas is not an easy place to pitch, but Darvish has been more successful at home this year than on the road. In 14 starts in Arlington, he is 10-2 (team is 11-3) with a 3.88 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 111 strikeouts in 92.2 innings. His one weakness is control, as Darvish has walked 89 batters this year, the fourth-highest total in the American League. This has kept his innings below 200 for the season, as he sits at 191.1, or 6.6 innings per start. If he canít last seven innings, Texas could be in real trouble. Since Sept. 1, its bullpen carries a 4.21 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. However, the Rangers are clearly the better offensive team, scoring 5.0 runs per game, as opposed to 4.4 for Baltimore. Also, Texas has already scored 10+ runs three times against the Oís this season and Josh Hamilton smacked an MLB-record-tying four homers against them on May 8.