Baltimore Orioles vs. Texas Rangers: 5 Biggest Matchups in AL Wild Card Game
The first true wild-card games in MLB history will be taking place this year, and in the American League, let's face it, the two teams are about as polar opposites as you can get.
The Baltimore Orioles were relegated to the basement of the AL East by nearly everyone, especially me. Instead, they have pulled off miraculous wins despite a lack of talent on paper and have had the right people step up at the right times, not to mention their fantastic bullpen.
The Texas Rangers, meanwhile, needed to win this year. They held on to the AL West and held off the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with little difficulty. In just a couple weeks, however, they fell apart against the Oakland Athletics and have to fight their way into the ALDS.
Now, these two polar opposites join up to play a single game that will determine their fate. Will Baltimore's storybook season continue, or will Texas right the ship at the last second? Here are five of the biggest matchups that the game will come down to.
Buck Showalter vs. Ron Washington
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Before Ron Washington took over, the Texas Rangers were a .500 team despite plenty of talent, namely in the lineup. The manager during those years? That would be none other than Buck Showalter.
Showalter gets my vote as AL Manager of the Year despite the Oakland Athletics rallying late, and he'll be facing off another Manager of the Year in Washington. The two know what their teams can and can't do, and they have rallied teams well in the past.
When there is one game to play, coaching matters far more than usual. It could be the difference-maker above all others.
Josh Hamilton vs. Adam Jones
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Josh Hamilton has been the heart and soul of the Texas Rangers the past few seasons, and he knows this is his last chance to win a title with the Rangers. He nearly led the AL with 43 home runs and 128 RBI, so he is a force to be reckoned with.
Everyone knows Hamilton can play, but Adam Jones has done nearly as well for Baltimore. He has gotten better every year, and after a 32 home run season with a .287 average this year (which barely beat Hamilton's .285), he can lead his team.
After all, that's what he's done in the lineup all year, and it's what got him the massive contract extension. If Jones is able to outplay Hamilton, then the Rangers will be in dire straits.
Bullpen vs. Bullpen
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If there is one position where the Orioles have an advantage over the Rangers, it's in their bullpen. All season it has been dominant and has kept them in close games, especially since their rotation is merely okay.
While Jim Johnson, Darren O'Day and others can seal the deal for starters, the Rangers have a nice bullpen of their own. Joe Nathan has bounced back after working off the rust early in the year, and Robbie Ross has had a great rookie year.
If anything creates an advantage, it could be O'Day, who was a key piece of Texas's run in 2010, and is back to top form again. If anyone knows those hitters, it's him.
Adrian Beltre vs. Chris Davis
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As nice as Hamilton vs. Jones sounds as the marquee matchup, the truth is that the game could easily be decided by power hitting, which both teams have in spades. Both teams have a hot bat that could get the job done.
Former Ranger Chris Davis hit .333 since September 1 with 10 home runs, and has been there for the Orioles in the clutch. Adrian Beltre has had similar success with 11 home runs since September 1 and a .330 average.
If Davis or Beltre gets hot, then that can change the tone of the game, especially if either come up to the plate with men on base. Home run hitters don't get too much hotter than these two have recently.
The Cinderella Story vs. the Aging Veteran
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Two things are likely going through your mind. First, I did not note the starting pitchers. Honestly, given the two teams' bullpens and the bats they have on display, I don't see either starter having a significant game.
This one is, of course, more intangible than the other four, but it rings especially true because the mentality of both teams right now will play a huge role in the matchups.
The Orioles have done the improbable all season long and have been on a dream run. Even though they failed to win the AL East, they are riding high. The Rangers, meanwhile, came so close to winning the World Series twice and now are one game away from collapsing.
The Orioles feel their drive will prove advantageous, and likewise the Rangers will note that they have been here before. Simply put, this is not the Texas Rangers of 2010 and 2011. Then again, this is clearly not the Baltimore Orioles of 2010 and 2011 either.
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This matchup is going to be quite a high-scoring one from the looks of it. Both teams will come out fired up after being disappointing in Wednesday night's matchups.
Aside from the players mentioned, Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus have to be looked at. Kinsler can hit for power and speed, and if they make trouble on the basepaths, that could change things.
The Orioles have to use Manny Machado, who has played well despite being 19, and if he has a breakout performance here, there's a great start to a legacy. Aside from that, Matt Wieters has been one of the best catchers in the AL, and if Davis or Jones struggles, he can pick up the slack.
The Cinderella story is going to continue. The Orioles have been playing so well while the Rangers have been falling apart. If the third time was a charm, they would be firing on all cylinders. I have Orioles winning 8-6 in what will be a hard-fought, great game.