Tonight in Arlington Texas the Baltimore Orioles are going to play the biggest baseball game in the history of western civilization…for the time being anyways! In general baseball’s based on series’, be it regular season or playoffs. So the Orioles find themselves in a very odd spot for a baseball team going into tonight’s game against the Texas Rangers as it’s in effect a “one-game series.” More specifically, it’s an automatic elimination game. Baseball teams and fans aren’t used to the season coming down to one game like this, however it certainly does add some immediate drama to the playoffs.
The Orioles are used to drama, as looking back on the season so many of the games themselves were close. Yet ironically part of why the Orioles’ run differential was so bad for so long was due to playing Texas. Texas outscored the Orioles 56-24 in their seven games this season. Tonight’s Orioles starter, Joe Saunders, is a career 3-7 with an ERA of 6.48 against the Texas Rangers. More poignantly, he’s 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in starts at Texas. So…why would Buck Showalter, a guy that’s known for playing the numbers, go with guy with those stats? One word: experience. The other option apparently was Steve Johnson, who has all of four major league starts under his belt. Johnson has been great for the Orioles, and quite frankly one could argue that they might not be in the playoffs if not for him as one “sum of the parts.” However with all due respect to Johnson’s talents, I think most analysts would agree that an elimination game is not the time to start a rookie.
Having said that, Saunders’ past numbers against Texas can’t be overlooked. I would expect Showalter to have him on a short leash tonight. Teams are also allowed to change their 25-man roster before each round of the playoffs. So with this being one game, the Orioles really only need to carry Saunders and perhaps Johnson as full-fledged starting pitchers. (Similar to quarterbacks in the NFL, you always want to have a backup in case Saunders injures himself, or is ineffective.) That means they can carry more bullpen relievers if need be, and perhaps a couple of extra position players as well.
The Orioles will have to get by more than just the likes of Josh Hamilton (who torched them for four homers in a game back in May) and Adrian Beltre, as they’ll face Japanese phenom Yu Darvish for the first time. Darvish has been one of the few bright spots for Texas in an otherwise awful September; he went 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA. However, like Wei-Yin Chen Darvish is out of the Japanese league where he wasn’t used to pitching as many innings as he did this year. Could that put the Orioles at a slight advantage? If you look at it from the perspective that in many playoff games starting pitchers don’t go very deep, there might not be a huge advantage for the O’s. However given that fact, the Orioles’ bullpen has been far superior this year to that of most teams in baseball. So give the O’s a slight advantage there.
On last night’s O’s Xtra playoff preview (on MASN), Tom Davis and Rick Dempsey mentioned that the Orioles have a chance to win a true elimination game for the first time in their history. They lost game seven of the 1979 World Series to Pittsburgh, and they lost on the final day of the season to Milwaukee in 1982 which eliminated them from playoff contention. Those were elimination games, however this is a bit different in that it’s in effect game one and game seven! Nevertheless, the Orioles have had a great season which defied expectations and then some. My personal stance at the beginning of the season was that we’d see some marginal improvement in the standings; never in my wildest dreams did I expect anything like this. Yet they find themselves opening their first playoff appearance in 15 years, and in a sense on the verge of elimination at the same time.
Very rarely have I made predictions this season on this column. First off, baseball’s unlike football in that you play everyday so it’s pointless to make 162 predictions. Yet this is perhaps almost like a football game in the sense that it’s a one-time shot. The winner will open up a five-game ALDS at home with the NY Yankees on Sunday night. That aside, the conventional wisdom says that Texas probably wins tonight because they’re at home and for the most part they probably have a better team than the Orioles. HOWEVER, that might have been true in the first half of the season. Texas has been reeling since the all-star break, especially of late. They’ve lost seven of their last ten, and of course they were swept in Oakland to lose the division title that they held all year long…
…aside from running into Tampa’s incredible pitching at the end of the regular season, the Orioles are a much hotter team right now. And they’ve played playoff baseball all season, or at the very least for the last two months or so. Let’s not forget that this is the team that won a game with it’s DH pitching in 17 innings back in May, has had numerous unnamed hero’s win games for them down the stretch, and that ultimately won games last month in 18 and 11 innings respectively. If there’s anyone in the playoffs that’s battle-tested, it’s the Baltimore Orioles. Yet it comes down to one game. If the Orioles are going to pick one single game to fly high, it has to be tonight’s. So here’s a prediction for you: Orioles 6, Texas 3. That’s not based on stats or anything else, just my gut. And if you’re looking for a guy to have a key game
tonight, I’d put my money on Mark Reynolds. Fly high Orioles…back to Camden Yards on Sunday night!