Tonight is going to be… interesting. For the first time in the game’s history the league will hold their two wild card play-in games to determine which teams get to play the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals in their respective leagues. This is Major League Baseball’s attempt to manufacture the unbelievable excitement that was organically created on the last day of the season in 2011, by boiling down a marathon race to a one hundred yard dash.
Yeah, a 26 mile race that comes down to the last 100 yards is incredibly exciting, but only because it is unbelievable that after hours and hours of competing the two opponents are still neck and neck. According to the MLB’s logic here, all teams should just play the ninth inning…since that’s the most exciting part anyway…
Regardless of the logic to it, four quality teams are facing an elimination game today. The Texas Rangers are taking on the Baltimore Orioles, and the St. Louis Cardinals are matching up against the Atlanta Braves. Here’s my take:
Rangers vs. Orioles –
The Texas Rangers have found themselves in an unfamiliar situation. The club charged out of the gates in 2012 and were early favorites to win the American League crown for the third consecutive year. A late collapse, however, dropped the Rangers to the wild card spot by one game after the streaking Oakland Athletics whizzed by in the last week of the season. The Rangers lost five of their last six games, including their last three of the year to Oakland. As a result, the Rangers who were hoping to bounce back from two consecutive World Series losses with a Championship in 2012, will be fighting for the right to just stay alive against the upstart Orioles
Baltimore was not expected to be in this situation either. Few believed that they would even have a winning record this season, much less find themselves battling for the American League East. Something which stats can’t explain is going on in Baltimore. It may be pure luck, but damn that’s a long lasting lucky streak if it is.
The O’s will toss out Joe Saunders to pitch their most important game of the year. The former Diamondbacks lefty finish the season with a 9-13 record and a 4.07 ERA. One bright note for Saunders, however, is that in September he posted a 3-2 record with a 2.75 Era in 39 innings.
The Rangers will toss out standout rookie Yu Darvish. Darvish likely would have been the odds on favorite to win the AL- Rookie of the Year award if it weren’t for Mike Trout. The right-hander finished with a 16-9 record, a 3.90 Era and 221 strikeouts in 191.1 innings pitched. He has tapered off, however, after a great start of the season. In the first half he posted a 3.59 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 103 innings pitched. In the second half, he posted a 4.26 ERA with 104 strikeouts in 88.2 innings pitched.
Prediction: The Orioles luck will come to an end and the Rangers will survive…for now.
Braves vs. Cardinals –
The Atlanta Braves had a really stellar second half of the season in 2012, and were even able to close the gap on the Nationals to somewhat give them a run for their money in the National League East. They did so the old fashion way, behind great pitching and a solid lineup. While this season was supposed to serve as a farewell tour for Chipper Jones, it turned into much more in August and September for the club.
Ironically, as the Braves surged, Jones faded. The 40-year-old All-Star hit .318/.396/.480 with 6 home runs and 33 RBI in the first half. In the second, he hit just .262/.363/.435 with eight home runs and 29 RBI. His September mark was abysmal, hitting .230/.356/.297 with one home run and seven RBI, a sign that Chipper’s age may be catching up to him as the long season drags on.
The Cardinals on the other hand are a bit of an odd story. The team lost the best player of a generation, Albert Pujols, to free agency. They also lost of the most accomplished managers of the last 30 years, Tony La Russa, to retirement. Their best pitcher, Adam Wainwright, clearly hasn’t fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, and their biggest free agent acquisition last year to make up for all this was Carlos Beltran, a player who hadn’t played more than 98 games in a season since 2008.
With all that turnover what did they get? The second best run differential in the National League at +117, and what perhaps might be an underachieving record of 88-74. Carlos Beltran magically transformed himself to 2008 form and played in 151 games, performing at an All-Star level. Kyle Lohshe, a pitcher who two years ago posted a 5.66 ERA finished the year with a 16-3 record and a 2.86 ERA. And despite losing one of the top 10 hitters of all time, the Cardinals scored the most runs out of any National League playoff team.
The Cardinals will throw out Loshe in their elimination game, hoping that the veteran right-hander will help lead their team into another deep post season run. The defending World Series Champions entered 2011 as an unlikely wild card contender too before winning their second title in a decade.
The Braves will start rising star Kris Medlin. The 26-year-old has tormented the National League this season with a 10-1 record and a 1.57 ERA. The right-hander was converted to a starter in late July, and since has been unbeatable. Literally, unbeatable. The Braves have won the last 12 games which he has started this season, and their past 23 games overall which he has taken the mound as a starter.
Prediction: Medlen stays unbeaten.