The Texas Rangers have to be disappointed that they'll be playing in Friday's American League one-game wild-card playoff rather than preparing for Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
Despite their final-week collapse in which they lost two of three games to the Los Angeles Angels and five of six to the Oakland Athletics, circumstances may have worked out fortunately for the Rangers in this wild-card playoff.
Texas manager Ron Washington tabbed rookie Yu Darvish to start Friday's (Oct. 4) game against the Baltimore Orioles. Darvish is the Rangers' No. 1 pitcher, just the guy a team would prefer to start in a one-and-done scenario. With their season on the line, the Rangers will have their best arm on the mound.
If the Rangers beat the Orioles and advance to the ALDS, losing the AL West on the final day of the season isn't going to matter much anymore. Here are five reasons why Darvish will carry Texas to the next round of the AL playoffs.
The Kid Is Hot
The Rangers may have lost the AL West by going 15-16 in September and the first three days of October, but that wasn't because of Darvish. He was 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA in five starts during that span. Opposing batters hit .160 against him.
In his final eight starts of the season, Darvish didn't give up more than three runs in any of those appearances. In four of those games, he allowed one run or less. Over that eight-game stretch, his ERA was 2.36 with 67 strikeouts and 15 walks in 57.1 innings.
Darvish is the Rangers' best pitcher right now and is exactly the guy Washington should be starting in a one-game playoff. Fortunately for Texas, Darvish's neck injury allowed them to change his schedule and rotation to make him available for the AL Wild Card Game.
Compare that to the Orioles, who will have to pitch Joe Saunders on Friday. As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson tweeted, Saunders has an 0-6 record and 9.38 ERA in six career starts at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. That looks like an unfortunate turn of events for Baltimore.
Throws the Right Stuff
Darvish finished the season with 221 strikeouts in 191.2 innings. No other Rangers starting pitcher was even close.
The second-highest strikeout total among Texas starters was Derek Holland's 145. Darvish did pitch 16 more innings, but still racked up 76 more strikeouts.
Darvish ended up with a strikeout rate of 10.4 per nine innings, higher than anyone else in the Rangers starting rotation. Ryan Dempster finished second with a rate of 9.1 Ks per game.
Locating his pitches is sometimes an issue with Darvish, and his walk rate of 4.2 per nine innings was higher than his fellow starters. But Darvish's strikeout stuff kept potential damage to a minimum. He allowed the fewest hits (7.3) and home runs (0.7) per nine innings.
Rangers Bring the Runs
It doesn't seem fair that the Rangers' best pitcher, one who can shut down the opposition on any given night, also receives excellent run support from his lineup.
This season, the Rangers scored an average of 5.14 runs per game for Darvish, the 10th-best total among MLB starting pitchers (Holland actually got a little bit more support, receiving 5.48 runs per game and ranking him at No. 5).
Texas scored 56 runs in its seven games versus the Orioles this year. The chances of the Rangers giving Darvish his usual run support—especially since they'll be playing in Arlington—look rather strong.
According to ESPN.com's park factors, Rangers Ballpark is one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in MLB. It's one reason Texas has had trouble developing top-level starters over the years.
But Darvish apparently likes his home park just fine. He makes it a pitcher-friendly ballpark. In 14 starts at home, Darvish has a 10-2 record and 3.88 ERA.
Opposing batters do hit Darvish slightly better in Arlington with a .235 average, .690 OPS (compared to a .209 average and .631 OPS on the road) and nine home runs. Maybe that has something to do with those hitter-friendly conditions.
Never Seen Him Before
The Orioles didn't face Darvish this season. A first-time matchup typically favors the pitcher, as opposing batters have never seen his stuff and how it moves. Baltimore hitters won't know his tendencies first-hand, though they'll presumably have plenty of scouting reports on him.
But let's zoom in from the general to the specific.
As ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett reports, Darvish has done extremely well against teams he has encountered for the first time. In such matchups, he has a 10-3 record and 3.12 ERA. He also has 108 strikeouts and 41 walks in 95 innings.
The O's may not forget what they saw from Darvish on Friday, especially if it's the last game they'll play this year.
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