Four teams that played a grueling 162 game schedule now have just one game, one chance to continue their season in the wild card games today. It’s the first year with this structure and sure it gives two extra teams an opportunity at postseason glory, but unfortunately the two losing teams will go home empty handed and utterly heartbroken. But that’s the nature of the beast, so with so much at stake, who will prevail in these hugely significant contests today? Here’s a look at today’s matchup and my picks for who will advance to the divisional rounds.
Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers
The AL wild card will feature one team that has had a remarkably magical run to this point; while the other’s late season fade cost them the division and has put them in this undesirable position.
The Orioles certainly have more momentum, as their second half surge put them in serious contention for an AL East title and even though they came up short, they are a team that has shown an immeasurable amount of heart and determination, as they were able to set the Major League record for one-run wins in a season.
The Rangers didn’t have a bad second half by any means, but the fact is that they did let the AL West get away from them at the end. Part of that was due to the unexpected late-season surge of Oakland and part was due to Texas not playing as well as they should or could have down the stretch.
Rookie phenom Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA) will get the start for Texas and will go up against late-season acquisition, Joe Saunders (9-13, 4.07 ERA). The choice of Saunders is an intriguing one from manager Buck Showalter, but as he is one of the game’s best strategists, there must be a good reason behind it. It’s possible he may be planning to use a multitude of relievers in case Saunders gets in trouble and he will be able to since it’s a do or die game.
Even though it seems that Texas has the advantage of power in the lineup and in this pitching matchup, I can’t go against the Orioles. Showalter and Co. are sure to come up with a specific game plan and since Baltimore is so good at pulling out close games, it’s hard to see them losing one with this much on the line. The Rangers are also reeling, having lost nine of their last 13 and are coming into this game without a lot of confidence. Look for Baltimore to take this one and advance.
St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves
While the AL wild card chase was much more dramatic and swingy, the NL was more steady and consistent. Both of these teams were in good stead from early on in the season and held their ground with consistently solid play and strong pitching. Teams like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Milwaukee made runs at times, but St. Louis and Atlanta never relented and never went through a significant dry spell.
Both of these teams have a wealth of playoff experience and this should be another very close matchup. The good news for Atlanta is that Kris Medlen will get the ball today. The Bravos have incredibly won 23 in a row behind Medlen, who has a 1.57 ERA on the season. Coming out of the other dugout will be Kyle Lohse, who has enjoyed a remarkable season in his own right, going 16-3 in 2012 with an ERA of 2.86. Obviously it’s hard to bet against Medlen’s amazing streak and the Braves, but the Cardinals are ranked in top ten in every major offensive category this season, so if any team can upstage Medlen, it’s St. Louis. Take the Cardinals to win this one on the road as well and advance to the divisional series.