The Baltimore Orioles visit the Texas Rangers in a crunch game tonight (8.30pm ET).
When Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig decided to add a second wildcard team, it was certain this would shake-up the baseball season and potential playoff scenarios. 162 days later, this is exactly what has happened.
The second best team in the American League East and second best team in the AL West face off in just one game to determine who will have the opportunity to play in the American League Divisional Series later this month.
Although both the Rangers (93-69) and Orioles (93-69) may have finished the season with the same record, their road to this one-game playoff has been vastly different. The Rangers looked to have a stranglehold on the AL West before free falling in September and allowing the Oakland Athletics to complete one of the best comeback stories in baseball’s recent memory. Meanwhile, the Orioles battled toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the American League coming up just short of beating the NY Yankees and winning the AL East.
In the first ever wildcard play in, it comes down to two equally talented teams with two very different paths and just one playoff spot on the line.
Are the Texas Rangers Still World Series Bound?
In 2010, the Texas Rangers anchored by Cliff Lee took their team to the postseason for the first time in franchise history. In 2011, this time with rookie C.J. Wilson at the helm, the Rangers did it again.
They didn’t win the World Series in ’10 against the San Francisco Giants as they watched Lee leave in free agency to return to the Philadelphia Phillies. They didn’t win the championship in ’11 against the St. Louis Cardinals as C.J. Wilson too found a new home in the offseason with the LA Angels.
The Rangers have seen their fair share of disappointment in the past two seasons but despite this, they still managed to come into the 2012 season with playoff hopes and World Series aspirations.
In the offseason, Texas replaced Wilson with one of the most coveted free agent pitchers in Japanese phenom, Yu Darvish. Darvish, who will be starting the pivotal playoff game for Texas, has been stellar for the Rangers all season long. He is 16-9, with a 3.90 ERA and 1.28 WHIP on the season. He also has 221 strikeouts, averaging 10.40 per nine innings. At home, he is 10-2 and in the month of September, he is 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA. In the most important game of his career to this point, Darvish will be facing the Baltimore team for the first time.
Darvish led a Texas staff that featured a lot of great arms but the problem is, if he doesn’t win game one, neither Ryan Dempster (12-8, 3.38 ERA), Matt Harrison (18-11, 3.29 ERA), nor Derek Holland (12-7, 4.67 ERA) will get a chance to start again in the 2012 season.
With Baltimore having the third worst strikeout numbers at 8.1 per game and Darvish having the fifth most strikeouts on the season, the match-up bodes well for the rookie.
All he will need is a little bit of offense from his team which shouldn’t be a problem with CF Josh Hamilton and 3B Adrian Beltre leading the charge.
If the Rangers hope to make it out of this game and back to the World Series, they will need Hamilton and Beltre to continue their torrid seasons. For Hamilton, this means displaying his raw power like he did in the regular season with 43 home runs and 128 RBI. Beltre also showed great power as he blasted his second highest career total with 36. He also added 102 RBI and 95 runs.
Needless to say the Texas offense runs through these two All-Star hitters. Their contributions are lofty but as a testament to how good the Rangers offense has been, these two aren’t the only ones that can hit.
From top-to-bottom, the Rangers boasted one of the American League’s best offenses. As a team they averaged .273, which was second best in the AL, had a major league best 808 runs scored and finished fifth in the league with 200 home runs.
Can the Baltimore Orioles Make it to the Promised Land?
For a team that shocked many this season as they just barely fell short of winning the AL East title for the first time since 1997, the Orioles believe that there is nothing they can’t do. Considering that the Orioles really never struggled this season and that Texas is coming off a devastating slide that saw them lost seven of their last nine, the Orioles have every reason to be optimistic.
With starting pitching as one of their weak points, the Orioles will turn to lefty Joe Saunders to attempt to neutralize Texas’ bats. In seven starts with the Orioles, Saunders is 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA. He has 23 strikeouts accumulated in 44 2/3 innings pitched.
For the Orioles to have a shot at beating the Rangers, Saunders needs to just keep them in the game. If he goes seven innings and gives up three runs, the Orioles should have a good shot at winning as their offense can hang with the Rangers in most categories.
With their strong line-up featuring catching sensation Matt Weiters and outfielders Nate McLouth and Adam Jones, the Orioles ranked ninth in the AL in runs scored with 712 and tenth in batting average. Where they really excelled however was the long ball as they blasted 214 which was second best in all of the majors.
Orioles at Rangers Picks
Both teams have talented offenses that will certainly help to determine a winner. Where the real game changer will be however is in the pitching match-up. Currently, Darvish has the edge and so do the Rangers. That said, the Orioles have shocked the baseball world all season so don’t be surprised if they do it again.
- Take the Orioles to win on the moneyline @ +175 with BetOnline (+165 with Bovada).
- If you are looking for a side bet, take the over on the nine runs @ -105 with BetOnline (-110 with Bovada). Both these teams score a lot when pitted head-to-head.