AL Wild Card Breakdown
The American League playoff picture is complete, and there are two big surprise teams playing against one another. The Orioles are a surprise because no one gave them a chance to finish above .500 much less challenge for the AL East, and the Rangers are a surprise because of how big of a lead they squandered down the stretch. Regardless of the reasons why the teams are there, we can be sure that this game will be incredibly entertaining. Let’s break this game down...
Aside from the team total in homeruns, the Orioles’ offense is pretty average. However, the Rangers have the best lineup in baseball, and they can hurt you from 1-9. All things equal, the Orioles lineup just does not stack up on paper.
The Rangers will start Yu Darvish and the Orioles will give the ball to either Joe Saunders or Steve Johnson. Johnson is a rookie and has been dealing with some knee issues, while Saunders has struggled to pitch well at the Ballpark in Arlington. Darvish is 10-2 at home and he compiled 221 strikeouts in his rookie season. Also, the Orioles have never faced Darvish before. More so than most pitchers, when Darvish pitches against a lineup for the first time, he baffles them with his wide array of pitches, speeds, and arm angles. Needless to say, this is not an ideal situation for Showalter. It’s all up to YUUUUU.
The Rangers’ bullpen has been fairly solid, but the Orioles might have the best bullpen in the American League. To make it even better for the O’s, they have one of the game’s best closers at the back end of the bullpen in Jim Johnson. He has a league-high 51 saves, and the Rangers will do their best to make sure their lead is big enough to avoid him in the ninth inning.
Ron Washington has shown flashes of brilliance as he has helped lead the Rangers to two straight AL pennants. However, Buck Showalter seems poised to win the AL Manager of the Year Award and for good reason. He has helped to build up four franchises (Yankees, Diamondback, Rangers, and Orioles), but he will be getting his first opportunity to be a part of his team’s ultimate success. Ron is good, but Buck is better.
As I mentioned above, the Rangers have enjoyed a tremendous amount of playoff success over the past couple of seasons. The core of their roster has played in a lot of huge games over the past two seasons, and they do not seem to fold under the pressure of big games. Simply, the Orioles do not have that as a whole. Experience will be key in this matchup.
Biggest Storyline: Epic Collapse Potential
If the Texas Rangers lose this game, it will be an unbelievably disappointing and epic collapse. This team spent the better part of the season enjoying a huge and comfortable lead, but now their backs are against the wall. It will be interesting to see how they respond.
Key for the Orioles: Keep the in the Ballpark
As I have mentioned, the Rangers have an unbelievable lineup full of guys that can take you deep. With this game going down in the homerun friendly Ballpark in Arlington, the Orioles pitching staff will need to do their best to minimize the long ball chances for the Rangers. They need to keep the ball down and pray that Beltre doesn’t do his down-on-one-knee HR swing.
Key for the Rangers: Clear the Mechanism
Just as Billy Chapel from the movie “For the Love of the Game” did, the Rangers need to “clear the mechanism.” They need to take the off day to forget about their missed opportunities and focus in on the task at hand. Yes, they lost the AL West on the last day of their regular season, but they are not out of it. Their road is just a little harder.
Prediction: Rangers win
I will be the first one to admit that I have loved to watch the Orioles play with such passion and fire this season. However, I think that the Rangers’ experience and lineup will give them the advantage. Yet, one thing is for sure, the Orioles seem poised to be a force in the AL East for years to come.
Tweet to @MLBFanCave using the hash tag #WildCard to let us know who you think will win this game.