MLB Playoffs 2012: Biggest Concern for Each Wild Card Team
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Pop the champagne, you've made it to the playoffs! Or kind of, at least.
The Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers, ironically enough, would have squared off in a 163rd game of the year anyway as the teams finished with identical 93-69 records.
However, the implementation of the Wild Card Game to Major League Baseball will put a bit of a damper on clinching a playoff spot via a wild card berth from now on. The Atlanta Braves would have been in a National League Division Series if this were last year.
But it's not. Welcome to 2012. Teams know that it is do-or-die time and can't make excuses or blame the new playoff format. A loss tonight, and sayonara to the division series.
Here is the biggest concern for each team heading into the wild card game.
Baltimore put together a fantastic season without "superstar" players behind designated hitter Chris Davis and center fielder Adam Jones.
Plus, there wasn't a better team in extra innings this season in the majors as the Orioles were 16-2 in these games.
That alone was the difference in bringing Baltimore to the playoffs.
The O's score a ton of runs via the home run and could be in trouble if that doesn't continue, but their biggest concern may be Josh Hamilton. Yes, he is two for his last 13, but this is the same guy who hit four home runs in one game against the Orioles earlier this season.
Which team will win the inaugural AL Wild Card Game?
Though much improved since that point, Baltimore faces an angry Texas lineup that could unleash the fury of their recent struggles tonight.
Texas comes into the wild card game, err, struggling to say the least. The Rangers dropped nine of their last 13 regular season games. The pitching staff as a whole has been far from consistent. The lineup isn't putting a lot of runs on the board.
Simply put, the Rangers' concern is that they are their own worst enemy.
Not taking anything away from the aforementioned fantastic Baltimore team at all, but this is still the Rangers' game to lose.
Yu Darvish was great in September. The game is at home. The lineup is mad, they want to score runs.
But this isn't football. All that aggressive energy can't be used to hit the ball harder or farther. If the Rangers start swinging freely, the Orioles' lineup will put a few runs on the board and it will stick.
The Braves welcome the St. Louis Cardinals to Turner Field by sending newfound ace Kris Medlen to the bump.
Run support is the biggest key for the Cardinals as Lohse cannot do it alone. They have the lineup to get it done, but putting it all together one more time is crucial.
St. Louis must put runs on the board against the hottest pitcher in baseball early, and preferably often, if they want to take down the Braves.
Atlanta comes into the game fresh off a 4-0 victory over the Pirates. The entire starting lineup minus Michael Bourn and Andrelton Simmons was given a day off during the series, too. The bullpen is not worn down like last season.
It seems that the Braves are in the perfect position to win with a rested lineup and the best pitcher in baseball.
But everyone likes the underdog.
As last year clearly showed, the Cardinals love being the underdog.
The biggest concern for the Braves is not capitalizing with runners in scoring position and allowing St. Louis to hang around in the game.
With a Lohse vs. Medlen battle on the hill, the game does not look to be a high-scoring affair. Every chance that Atlanta gets to plate a run, they must convert on the opportunity.
In the words of New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, "Can't wait!"
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