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The Perfect Starting Lineup for Every Wild Card Contender in One-Game Playoff

Rick WeinerFeatured Columnist IVApril 8, 2016

The Perfect Starting Lineup for Every Wild Card Contender in One-Game Playoff

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    Expanding the postseason to two wild-card spots in each league was a decision that wasn't met with overwhelming approval when it was announced, with some traditionalists decrying the evolution of the game.

    But there's nobody associated with the game today who can possibly think that it was a bad idea as we have more teams than ever before in the thick of the playoff hunt and less than a week of the regular season left to be played.

    The wild-card round itself will be a thrilling set of games, as managers try to outsmart each other while keeping the Divisional Series in the back of their minds. 

    Should a team make any drastic changes to their lineup heading into a win-or-go-home wild-card game?

    Who starts the most important game of the season, keeping in mind that whoever it is will not be available until later in the Divisional Series?

     

    Let's take a look.

Atlanta Braves

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    Starting Lineup

    1. CF Michael Bourn

    2. LF Martin Prado

    3. RF Jason Heyward

    4. 3B Chipper Jones

    5. 1B Freddie Freeman

    6. C Brian McCann

    7. 2B Dan Uggla

    8. SS Andrelton Simmons

    9. SP Kris Medlen

     

    Analysis

    You can't argue with success, and this is the lineup that has gotten the Braves this far, so why mess with what works?

    The Braves have one of the two National League wild-card spots locked up, so their primary goal the rest of the way is to stay healthy.

    Ideally, Brian McCann will wake up and start producing at the plate, something he's struggled to do all season but especially since the All-Star break when he's batting .211 with a .645 OPS and only 11 extra-base hits.

    Kris Medlen, who has been the team's best starting pitcher since being inserted into the starting rotation at the beginning of August, is the logical choice to start the game. Throwing Medlen not only gives the Braves the best chance to win, but it also allows them to throw veteran Tim Hudson in the opening game of the Division Series.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Starting Lineup

    1. LF Nate McLouth

    2. SS J.J. Hardy

    3. RF Chris Davis

    4. CF Adam Jones

    5. C Matt Wieters

    6. DH Jim Thome

    7. 1B Mark Reynolds

    8. 3B Manny Machado

    9. 2B Robert Andino

    SP Chris Tillman

     

    Analysis

    If you told anyone, especially Orioles fans, that Nate McLouth, Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds would be integral parts of the team's success in 2013, someone likely would have had you committed.

    This lineup has worked for the Orioles as of late, so there's no reason to tweak it.

    Ideally you would have a hitter in the second spot who gets on base, but Manny Machado hasn't shown that ability yet so you stick with what you've gone with most of the season, and that's Hardy.

    Nick Markakis would be a better choice than Davis in right field, but he's still out of action due to thumb surgery, courtesy of Yankees' starter CC Sabathia.

    Wei-Yin Chen has faded in the second half and Jason Hammel is still injured, so that leaves Miguel Gonzalez or Chris Tillman as your starting pitcher. The nod goes to Tillman, who has pitched to a 2.40 ERA and held opposing batters to a .196 batting average and .594 OPS in September.

Chicago White Sox

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    Starting Lineup

    1. CF Alejandro De Aza

    2. 3B Kevin Youkilis

    3. DH Adam Dunn

    4. 1B Paul Konerko

    5. RF Alex Rios

    6. C A.J. Pierzynski

    7. LF Dayan Viciedo

    8. SS Alexei Ramirez

    9. 2B Gordon Beckham

    SP Chris Sale

     

    Analysis

    A well-balanced lineup with speed, power and the ability to get on base, there's no reason Robin Ventura needs to make any major changes to what he's gone with for the majority of the season.

    The real debate comes down to who starts the game, Chris Sale or Jake Peavy.

    While Peavy is the more experienced of the two, Sale has been the better pitcher. Using Sale in the one-game playoff would ensure that the White Sox have a quality veteran in Peavy waiting to take the ball in Game 1 of the Division Series.

Detroit Tigers

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    Starting Lineup

    1. CF Austin Jackson

    2. LF Quentin Berry

    3. 3B Miguel Cabrera

    4. 1B Prince Fielder

    5. DH Delmon Young

    6. RF Andy Dirks

    7. SS Jhonny Peralta

    8. C Alex Avila

    9. 2B Omar Infante

    SP Max Scherzer

     

    Analysis

    The only real questions regarding the Tigers lineup are who gets the start in left field and who pitches.

    Avisail Garcia has shown promise, but Quentin Berry gives the Tigers more speed on base in front of Cabrera and Fielder.

    As for who starts the game, the Tigers have Verlander set up to start the Division Series opener, and throwing him on three days rest would be a risky proposition, considering that he's never done it before.

    Scherzer, who has been outstanding this season, gets the nod over Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    Starting Lineup

    1. CF Mike Trout

    2. RF Torii Hunter

    3. 1B Albert Pujols

    4. DH Kendrys Morales

    5. LF Mark Trumbo

    6. 2B Howie Kendrick

    7. SS Erick Aybar

    8. 3B Alberto Callaspo

    9. C Chris Ianetta

    SP Zack Greinke

     

    Analysis

    There's a risk in putting Trumbo in the outfield, but his potential to contribute offensively outweighs the defensive liability. If the Angels get out to an early lead, Vernon Wells or Peter Bourjos can always be inserted into the game as a defensive replacement.

    Weaver is currently slated to start the season finale against the Mariners, so he's not an option. It comes down to Ervin Santana or Zack Greinke, not a difficult choice considering the seasons that each pitcher has had.

    Greinke starts the biggest game in his short Angels' career.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Starting Lineup

    1. LF Shane Victorino

    2. RF Andre Ethier

    3. 1B Adrian Gonzalez

    4. CF Matt Kemp

    5. SS Hanley Ramirez

    6. C A.J. Ellis

    7. 3B Luis Cruz

    8. 2B Nick Punto

    9. SP Josh Beckett

     

    Analysis

    You'd like to see Dee Gordon show some ability to get on base consistently so that you can take advantage of his speed atop the lineup, but instead we go with veteran Shane Victorino, who, while he's struggled batting leadoff this year, is a better option than Nick Punto or Mark Ellis.

    A case can be made to start either Punto or Ellis at second base, but Punto gives the Dodgers a bit more speed in front of starting pitcher Josh Beckett, who will have to show that he can move runners over.

    With Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano and Aarong Harang set to start the last three games of the season, the Dodgers have to choose between Joe Blanton and Beckett to take the ball. Beckett, who has come up huge in big games over the course of his career will be asked to do it once again.

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Starting Lineup

    1. RF Norichika Aoki

    2. 2B Rickie Weeks

    3. LF Ryan Braun

    4. 3B Aramis Ramirez

    5. 1B Corey Hart

    6. C Jonathan Lucroy

    7. CF Carlos Gomez

    8. SS Jean Segura

    9. SP Marco Estrada

     

    Analysis

    There are no real complaints with the Brewers lineup, which is solid through the first six batters and has speed in front of the pitcher.

    The wild-card game would fall when Marco Estrada is set to take his turn in the rotation, leaving the Brewers to choose between him and Michael Fiers.

    Estrada has been much better in September than Fiers, pitching to a 3.38 ERA as opposed to Fiers' 6.97—so Marco gets the nod.

New York Yankees

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    Starting Lineup

    1. SS Derek Jeter

    2. LF Ichiro Suzuki

    3. 3B Alex Rodriguez

    4. 2B Robinson Cano

    5. RF Nick Swisher

    6. 1B Mark Teixeira

    7. CF Curtis Granderson

    8. C Russell Martin

    9. DH Eduardo Nunez

    SP Andy Pettitte

     

    Analysis

    Jeter and Ichiro at the top of the lineup gives the Yankees two guys who know how to get on base and stay there, allowing A-Rod and Cano, while both have struggled with runners in scoring position, to drive them in.

    Swisher and Teixeira, while neither has much in the way of speed, are both high on-base percentage guys, allowing Curtis Granderson and Ibanez the chance to bring them home.

    Andruw Jones is a waste of a roster spot at this point, and inserting him into the starting lineup with the season on the line would be foolish. Ibanez hasn't been much better as of late, but he is still effective against right handers.

    But you still don't want either one starting.

    The DH spot goes to Eduardo Nunez, who can't field a lick but swings a solid bat. His speed at the bottom of the lineup stays in line with the strategy that the Yankees have used over the past few seasons.

    One of the most successful postseason pitchers of our generation, Andy Pettitte takes the ball in what could be the final start of his career.

Oakland A's

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    Starting Lineup

    1. CF Coco Crisp

    2. DH Jonny Gomes

    3. RF Josh Reddick

    4. LF Yoenis Cespedes

    5. 1B Brandon Moss

    6. SS Stephen Drew

    7. 3B Josh Donaldson

    8. C Derek Norris

    9. 2B Cliff Pennington

    SP Tommy Milone

     

    Analysis

    A fully recovered Stephen Drew would ideally hit in the second spot of the lineup, giving the A's a bit more speed in front of their run producers.

    Moss gets the nod over Chris Carter at first base while Gomes and his .378 on-base percentage get the call over Seth Smith for the DH spot. While his power might be more useful lower in the batting order, his ability to get on base in front of Reddick, Cespedes and Moss is more valuable.

    If Brett Anderson's strained right oblique is healed by the time the wild-card game comes up, then he'd be the choice to take the ball. Otherwise, the nod goes to Tommy Milone who, while he allows more hits than Jarrod Parker, walks significantly fewer batters.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Starting Lineup

    1. CF Jon Jay

    2. RF Carlos Beltran

    3. LF Matt Holliday

    4. 1B Allen Craig

    5. C Yadier Molina

    6. 3B David Freese

    7. 2B Daniel Descalso

    8. SS Pete Kozma

    9. SP Kyle Lohse

     

    Analysis

    Beltran's power seems a bit misplaced in the two-hole, but he's been a better hitter there (.285 BA/.906 OPS) than he's been from the cleanup spot where he spent most of the season (.264/.808).

    Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are on track to start the final two games of the regular season, so Kyle Lohse gets the ball to take on the Braves, a risky decision.

    In his only start against the Braves on May 30, Lohse got hit hard, surrendering nine hits and five earned runs over five innings of work, walking one and striking out three.

    But he's been the Cardinals' best starter all season long, and he gives the Cardinals a better chance to win than Joe Kelly or Lance Lynn.

    If he's recovered from a strained oblique, Jake Westbrook could be an option, though he also allowed five earned runs in five innings of work in his only start against the Braves this season.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Starting Lineup

    1. LF Desmond Jennings

    2. CF B.J. Upton

    3. SS Ben Zobrist

    4. 3B Evan Longoria

    5. DH Luke Scott

    6. 2B Jeff Keppinger

    7. RF Matt Joyce

    8. 1B Carlos Pena

    9. C Jose Molina

    SP Matt Moore

     

    Analysis

    For whatever the reason, B.J. Upton seems to feel more comfortable in the two-hole than lower in the lineup, so he stays in between Jennings and Zobrist. 

    Jeff Keppinger, who I initially thought of putting in Upton's place, is a high on-base guy who will give Matt Joyce and Carlos Pena a chance to drive in a run.

    On the mound is the southpaw Moore, allowing Joe Maddon to start David Price in the Division Series opener.

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