October 5, 2012 by MarkHanrahan20
It’s Wildcard Friday in Major League Baseball (I feel like this should be on a Wednesday) and it very well could get crazy. Two one-game, winner moves on matchup to kick off the MLB Postseason. While I am not a huge fan of a team’s 162 game efforts coming down to a single game; I can see the reasons why MLB went this direction. Being a one game showdown, you have to break down the matchup a little differently than you would a regular season matchup or even a “best of” matchup. All four teams will be pulling out all of the stops to move on, I have even heard the Orioles are prepared to use as many as 10 pitchers to get through the game (that should make for a long night). When it comes to “breaking down” these games, I think it’s important that we take a look at the recent performance of the offenses as well as the bullpens, and just how deep each team can afford to go in that bullpen if need be. One thing is for sure, whoever moves on will be behind the eight ball in the ALDS, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There should be a reward for winning division, even if that division is terribly weak, looking at you Detroit…
St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves (4:00 CT) Lohse (16-3 2.86) vs. Medlen (10-1 1.57)
The Cardinals did it again, leapfrogging the Pirates and Dodgers to snag the second Wild Card in the National League. The thing that is different this year is that they really haven’t been playing great baseball as much as taking advantage of some very poor play by the Pirates and Dodgers and a favorable schedule down the stretch. I have said all year that I believe the Cardinals offensive numbers are inflated by piling on runs against poor pitching and beating up weak bullpens. But, this is the playoffs and there aren’t many bad arms on this Atlanta staff. Down the stretch, the Cardinals haven’t necessarily been tearing the cover off of the ball. When you look at the team’s offensive numbers over the last 30 days, only Allen Craig (.295) and late season surprise, Pete Kozma (.348) have been doing much damage. Their pitching has been steady, but nothing spectacular and as always, the bullpen remains a major question mark. Today’s starter, Kyle Lohse has been doing just enough all year to keep the Cardinals in the game and kept that up over the last 30 days, with a 3.02 ERA over his last 10 starts.
The Braves really haven’t been hitting to well down the stretch either, but the pitching has been damn close to lights out. Martin Prado (.333) and Dan Uggla (.288) are the only Braves hitting over .275 over the last 30 games and the Braves offense only managed to average 3.43 runs per game since September 1. But, the Braves will be sending Kris Medlen to the hill whose 8-0 in his last 10 starts with a miniscule 0.86 era and a gaudy 75 strikeouts against 7 walks. The Braves also have one of the most dangerous bullpens in baseball and manager Fredi Gonzalez has done a much better job of keeping them fresh than he did last year. Led by Cy Young candidate Craig Kimbrel (3-1 1.01 42SV 116K), this is not a team you can hope for a late comeback against.
With neither team having an offense that jumps off the page at you, this game will obviously come down to pitching. In a matchup that could see teams going deep into their bullpen, it’s hard not to side with Atlanta. I have the Braves moving on, beating the Cardinals 5-2.
Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers (7:30 CT) Saunders (3-3 3.63) vs. Darvish (16-9 3.90)
Two teams with completely different expectations going into the year, will now off to see who will live another day. Going into the year, the Rangers had to be thinking World Series or bust. They let former star CJ Wilson walk, but broke the bank to bring in Japanese phenom, Yu Darvish with the hopes that he would give them the ace they need to move them from contender to all out favorire. The Orioles on the other hand had to know that improvement was coming, with young stars like Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis, but if you were to tell Buck Showalter that he would be going into the final day of the season with a chance to win the AL East, he’d probably tell you that you’ve had a few too many crab cakes. These teams also come into this game going in opposite directions. While the Rangers have struggled down the stretch, going 15-15 and seeing their once comfortable lead in the AL West evaporate; the Orioles finished a strong 20-10 down the stretch and threatening the Yankees in the East.
Chris Davis has been red hot for the Orioles since the calendar turned September, hitting .312 with 10 home runs, many of which seemed to come in crucial situations that turned the game in the O’s favor. Meanwhile, both Adam Jones (.298) and Matt Wieters(.297) have started to step it up again and lead the team into the post season. Showalter has said that he is starting Joe Saunders on a “hunch” but really, this is a staff that lacks a true ace, and probably lacks a true #2 guy even, but the bullpen has been solid, lead by Jim Johnson and his 51 saves. Saunders will have a very short leash and the Orioles aren’t against using every pitcher on the roster if it gets them to New York.
The Rangers limped in to the post season and probably wouldn’t have gotten here at all if it weren’t for the play of Adrian Beltre (.344) and Michael Young (.323) down the stretch.
The Rangers have much to be concerned about though. Outside of Darvish and Matt Harrison, their pitching staff as a whole has been largely unreliable and superstar outfielder Josh Hamilton has been battling problems with his vision and has just one home run in his last 42 at bats.
Had this been a five or even three game series, I would probably be leaning towards the Rangers, but with it coming down to one game, and that one game coming down to as little as one inning, I have to go with the Orioles. I just think their bullpen is so much better than the Rangers and both teams will be into that bullpen early. I like the Orioles to win a 7-5 and head to New York with nothing to lose.