What they’ve done lately:
Texas certainly can’t be happy about being stuck in this situation, going from looking like the best team in baseball to blowing a 13 game lead over Oakland from July 1st on. They needed to win just one game in the final series of the season in Oakland to take the A.L. West crown, but instead they got swept, and blew a 5-1 lead en route to losing 12-5 in the final game of the regular season. In other words, Texas has arguably backed into the playoffs to a larger extent than any other team in baseball, and certainly more so than any other American League participant.
Likewise, the Orioles took the Yankees to the final day of the season in the A.L. East race, and like Texas, they have to be a little bit disappointed about how they finished the season, dropping two out of three games against the Rays to not only fail to claim the division crown, but lose the chance to host this game as well. All they needed was a win on the final day of the year to ensure this game would be played at Camden Yards, but they were held scoreless for eight innings by a Rays team that had already been eliminated on the way to a 4-1 loss .To add injury t insult, Baltimore burned it’s best pitcher in attempting to win that game.
What they did against each other:
No ambiguity on this point, as Texas absolutely owned Baltimore this season. They won five of the seven games the two teams played against each other, and outscored the Birds by a combined total of 56-24. Texas scored at lest six runs in five of those games, and put up double digits in three games, including the game in which Josh Hamilton hit four home runs on May 7th. Suffice it to say, this is probably not the matchup Buck Showalter and the O’s were hoping to get tonight.
Saunders, one of the Orioles many low-cost summer additions, has given Baltimore the innings eating mid-rotation starter they were hoping for, but he’s definitely a curious choice to start this game. For one, he’s a fly ball pitch-to-contact pitcher who’s given up 13 home runs in 32.1 career innings at the ballpark in Arlington. For another, he’s left-handed, and Texas will be throwing a righty heavy lineup that posted the majors’ best OPS against southpaws at him tonight. The move raised a lot of eyebrows yesterday, but with Chris Tillman unavailable after pitching Wednesday and Steve Johnson both inexperienced and nursing a sore knee, Saunders may have been the only choice available. Expect Buck Showalter to keep him on the proverbial short leash and turn the game over to his bullpen at the first sign of trouble.
As for Texas, they’ll be turning things over to their high priced “ace” in Darvish. Darvish has had a bit of an up and down season, and though he brings stuff as good as anyone’s, he’s also struggled to harness it at times. The strikeouts (10.4 K/9) have been there, but so have the walks (4.2 BB/9). If he’s throwing strikes he’ll be very hard to beat in a one game playoff context, but that could be a big if, and Baltimore certainly has plenty of hitters who can make him pay in a big way for the slightest of mistakes. Darvish didn’t face the Orioles this season, so they’ll be getting their first look at him tonight in the biggest of scenarios, which kind of sucks for them. All in all, you can’t really escape the conclusion that Texas will have the starting pitching advantage tonight in a big way.
This is where things get fun, because of this incredibly silly fact; both of these teams will get to set playoff rosters for this game alone. That means you should expect to see extra full bullpens and benches, in a way that makes it fairly hard to predict how the bullpens will come into play tonight, especially for Baltimore if they decided to yank Saunders early. Be that as it may, the bullpen has been the Orioles’ most consistent strength over the season, and they’ll have all hands on deck tonight (though they won’t be carrying uber-prospect Dylan Bundy, which is a letdown), while Texas will be without primary set up man Mike Adams, who’s out of action after being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome.
What they did against the Yankees:
Of course, beyond the entertainment value of the game, Yankee fans are primarily concerned about this game from the standpoint of facing the winner. All in all though, if you’re looking for past performance, there’s no clear cut advantage to playing either team for the Yankees. The Bombers split the season series with Baltimore 9-9, and went 3-4 against them in September, while they came out ahead of the Rangers 4-3, including taking three out of four in their last series at Yankee Stadium in August.
Who to root for:
Personally, the crap shoot nature of the postseason means that I’m not worried about who wins from the standpoint of the ALDS, but all the same I’ll have my black and orange PJ’s on. There are three main reasons for this: 1.) I live in Maryland, and don’t really want to see my very excited friends have their night end in sudden disappointment, 2.) I hate the Rangers, 3.) if Texas loses, we don’t have to worry about being subjected to those incessant cut-away shots of Nolan Ryan and George Bush for the duration of the ALDS.
But maybe I’m wrong, so here’s your chance to sound off: as a Yankees’ fan, which team are you pulling for tonight?