One of baseball’s biggest surprises continues a dream run as the Baltimore Orioles meet the Texas Rangers Friday night at Rangers Ballpark in the American League wild card playoff.
The winner will play the New York Yankees in the ALDS Sunday at 6 p.m. EDT.
Baltimore battled back during the last two months of the season and nearly caught the Yankees for the AL East crown, but dropped two of their final three games against the Tampa Bay Rays.
That still doesn’t diminish a tremendous season from the Orioles who flipped their last place record from 2011 to 93-69, improving by 25 games and earning their first postseason berth since 1997.
Unlike the Orioles, Texas was expected to not only make the playoffs, but appear in their third straight World Series. After carrying the majors’ best record and offense for most of the regular season, the Rangers faltered in September, losing nine of their last 13 games, and gave the Oakland Athletics their first AL West title since 2006.
Texas will start 26-year-old Japanese rookie Yu Darvish, who was third in the AL with 221 strikeouts, but did not face the Orioles this season. Darvish did have a propensity to be wild, walking 10 percent of the batters he faced this season, but has gone 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA in his last eight starts.
Darvish may have been the lone bright spot on the Rangers’ pitching staff in the second half. Texas posted a league-low 4.29 ERA after the All-Star break.
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter counters with lefty Joe Saunders, who has not had tremendous success against the Rangers' dominant lineup. Texas has tagged Saunders for a .347 average and 6.48 earned runs in 11 career starts.
The Rangers also took the season series 7-2, and outscored the Orioles 56-24. Texas scored a major league-high 808 runs in 2012 behind the bat of MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, who hit 43 homeruns and knocked in 128 runs this season.
While Baltimore’s offensive statistics are not quite as awe inspiring, their late game heroics make them a venerable threat to the reeling Rangers. The Orioles were 16-3 in extra-inning games this season, and 28-9 in one-run games.
Prediction: Texas may have the least confidence of any team heading into the postseason after handing Oakland the division. If the game is close at the end, look for Baltimore to move on to New York.
Predicted: Baltimore 5, Texas 4