October 5, 2012
Baltimore's Best Bet to Beat Texas
An Orioles fan might put money on the O’s to win their wild-card play-in game against Texas tomorrow night, but a betting man wouldn’t, at least with even odds. Then again, by now the betting man may have already gone broke backing Baltimore’s opponents.
The Orioles have spent the whole season surprising people. First they flouted the expectation that they couldn’t compete in the AL East, then the near-certainty that they couldn’t sustain their early-season success (or, for that matter, their success later on in the season). To reach the Division Series, they’ll have to have one more surprise in store.
The Orioles have drawn a difficult opponent in the Rangers, who’ll have their strongest starter, Yu Darvish, on the mound. Texas outscored its regular-season opponents by over 100 runs; Baltimore’s run differential barely broke even. Darvish has pitched to a 2.13 ERA over his last seven starts, striking out 59 batters against only 10 walks in 50 2/3 innings and looking a lot like the ace the Rangers expected to see when they signed him. Not only will the O’s have to defeat Darvish, they’ll have to do it in Arlington, where the Rangers have gone 50-31. And while the Orioles might appear to have more “momentum” in the wake of the Rangers’ disappointing denouement, history has taught us that how a team fares leading up to October doesn’t help us predict how it will play once the postseason starts.
Darvish’s opponent has not yet been named: as we went to press, Buck Showalter was still deciding between Steve Johnson, a soft-tossing righty with just 38 1/3 big-league innings under his belt, and Joe Saunders, a soft-tossing lefty who’s been about league average in his eight-year career. Johnson, whose sore knee was declared good to go after a successful bullpen session on Wednesday, seems more likely to get the nod, both because the Rangers excel against southpaws and because Saunders has struggled in Arlington, recording a 9.38 ERA there in six career starts.
*UPDATE: Showalter went with Saunders, noting that the team wasn't completely confident that Johnson's knee would be up to the task.
In many cases, a team’s choice of starter can make a major impact on its odds of success in an elimination game, but neither Johnson nor Saunders would move the needle much more than the other. In a sense, that’s appropriate, since the Orioles’ rotation has consisted of a largely interchangeable (and often interchanged) cast of characters all season. Either way, as Showalter admitted, the O’s will have their work cut out for them.