Friday at 8:30 p.m. will determine who will face the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series, when the Baltimore Orioles travel to take on the Texas Rangers in a one-game Wild Card matchup.
The Rangers head into this game reeling after losing what was once a 10-plus game lead in the AL West.
The Orioles, who hung tough with the Yankees all season, came within one game of winning the AL East lead and possess great confidence entering Friday.
These two squads played against each other seven times during the regular season, with the Rangers winning five of seven games and outscoring the Orioles 56-24.
So who's got the edge?
Let's find out.
Starting Pitcher: Joe Saunders, 9-13, 4.07 ERA, 1.34 WHIP (via MLB.com)
MLB (@MLB) October 4, 2012
It's kind of surprising that the Orioles will put their postseason future on the arm of the lefty Saunders, as he was far from Baltimore's best starter this season. Though he hasn't faced the Rangers this year, Saunders struggled in the latter part of the season, pitching to a 5-8 record and 4.61 post All-Star break.
Facing an extremely tough Texas lineup on Friday, you can bet Saunders will be on a short leash in this one-and-done matchup.
Projected Starting Lineup:
McLouth, LF (.241, 7 HR, 20 RBI)
Hardy, SS (.238, 22 HR, 68 RBI)
Davis, RF (.270, 33 HR, 85 RBI)
Jones, CF (.287, 32 HR, 82 RBI)
Wieters, C (.249, 23 HR, 83 RBI)
Thome, DH (.252, 8 HR, 25 RBI)
Reynolds, 1B (.221, 23 HR, 69 RBI)
Flaherty, 2B (.216, 6 HR, 19 RBI)
Machado, 3B (.262, 7 HR, 26 RBI)
The Orioles' offense doesn't jump out at you on paper—especially given the team's plus-seven run differential—but they had solid contributors throughout the lineup for the entire season.
Adam Jones was an early MVP candidate while Chris Davis emerged as a late-season offensive powerhouse, hitting 19 of his home runs following the All-Star break.
I like the experience and presence of Jim Thome in the Orioles' lineup, but given their propensity to strike out in 2012, I don't like their chances against a strikeout pitcher in Darvish.
The Orioles proved this season that their lineup couldn't hang with Texas and I believe the same will happen on Friday.
Starting Pitcher: Yu Darvish, 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP (h/t Fox Sports)
Darvish is the obvious option for the Rangers, as Texas will be in line to start Matt Harrison if the Rangers advance to the ALDS. The 26-year-old rookie has never pitched against the Orioles' lineup, and like Saunders, Darvish had a better first half of the season.
Darvish finished fifth in the AL in terms of strikeouts during the regular season and against a Baltimore lineup that finished No. 6 in collective strikeouts (h/t ESPN), the righty will have an opportunity to rack em' up on Friday.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Kinsler, 2B (.256, 19 HR, 72 RBI)
Andrus, SS (.286, 3 HR, 62 RBI)
Hamilton, CF (.285, 43 HR, 128 RBI)
Beltre, DH (.321, 36 HR, 102 RBI)
Cruz, RF (.260, 24 HR, 90 RBI)
Young, 3B (.277, 8 HR, 67 RBI)
Murphy, LF (.304, 15 HR, 61 RBI)
Napoli, 1B (.227, 24 HR, 56 RBI)
Soto, C (.198, 11 HR, 39 RBI)
We know what the Rangers' lineup is capable of.
First in runs, third in batting average, fourth in on-base percentage and second in slugging percentage. Texas can pile up runs in an instant, and against a starter like Saunders, that's exactly what we may see on Friday.
One through nine, the Rangers can beat you up and down the lineup. It starts with Kinsler, who possesses great leadoff power, and having to pitch to Hamilton and Beltre back-to-back is a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
With guys like Craig Gentry and Mitch Moreland providing depth off the bench, the Rangers' lineup has the clear advantage.
Aside from surrendering the division to Oakland, everything about this matchup screams Texas.
They have one of the best offenses in the MLB and have a strikeout pitcher on the mound against a team that ranked in the top third of the league in total Ks.
Baltimore is sending a pitcher to the mound who posts a career 4.15 ERA and has been shelled in the second-half of the 2012 season. Behind him is an offense that is average compared to the rest of baseball.
I think Texas is going to take advantage of Saunders early, scoring enough runs for Darvish and the Rangers to cruise to the ALDS where they'll meet the Yankees on Sunday.
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