Manager Buck Showalter has done a fantastic job turning these cellar dwellers into a contender. Yet, despite his knowledge and the success of the Orioles this season, he decides to start SP Joe Saunders?
Joe Saunders is a veteran pitcher, and he has not allowed more than two earned runs in his last three starts. It is just questionable that for a one-game playoff against the Texas Rangers Showalter goes with a guy that is 9-13 on the season.
Richard Durrett of ESPN.com sheds some light on the decision. He reports that:
Showalter believes Saunders is "rested and ready to go."
Baltimore's manager also stated that, "He's pitched some in the playoffs. We've said that our No. 1 starter is the guy pitching that day. Our whole rotation has been a sum of the parts. Joe has pitched well for us since he's been here. He's got a tough task ahead of him."
Saunders may be rested, but like Showalter said, "He's got a tough task ahead of him."
This is a massive understatement.
Saunders is 0-6 against the Rangers with a 9.38 ERA in his last six starts at Rangers Ballpark. He is 3-7 with a 6.48 ERA in 11 total starts against Texas. The fact that the Rangers feature the league's most potent offense only brings further question to how Baltimore expects to win.
Texas almost has a complete lineup of All-Stars.
Ian Kinsler is one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball. He scored over 100 runs in 2012—an accomplishment he has achieved in four of his last five seasons. He is also a legitimate speed threat, as he has stolen 20 bases in four of his last five seasons.
Moving on, Saunders will have the pleasure of facing one of the best power-hitting catchers in baseball. Mike Napoli hit 24 home runs, and he has hit at least 20 in his last five seasons.
Then there's OF Nelson Cruz. He finished with 24 home runs, 90 RBI and also scored 86 runs.
And to think, Cruz is one of the worst hitters in the Texas lineup.
One of the biggest dangers of the Ranger lineup is 3B Adrian Beltre, who can do everything except steal bases. In the regular season, he hit 36 home runs with 102 RBI, and he posted a .321 batting average.
He isn't even the "big dog" in the batting order.
The man with the biggest bite is OF Josh Hamilton.
This monster hit 43 home runs during the regular season. He paired those with 128 RBI, scored 103 runs and hit for a .285 batting average. I would say Saunders should avoid him at all costs, but with the Texas lineup as it is, what would be the point?
If Saunders did not have enough problems, he will be battling the No. 1 pitcher for Texas, Yu Darvish.
Darvish went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA during the regular season. His weapon of choice is the strikeout—a feeling 221 batters have felt this season.
There is hope for Saunders and the Orioles though.
Not much, but some.
The Rangers lost five of their last six games, including getting swept by the Oakland Athletics. The sweep allowed the A's to steal the division, leaving Texas to play a must-win game to continue their season.
On the other hand, Baltimore comes into the game winning five of their last seven.
Baltimore also has a couple big-boppers to give Saunders some run support.
DH Chris Davis exploded this season with 33 home runs, more than his last two years combined. He also plated 85 RBI, and he hit for a .270 average.
Davis is joined by OF Adam Jones. With 32 home runs, 82 RBI and 103 runs scored, Jones has been Baltimore's greatest weapon. He also posted a .287 batting average during the regular season.
Davis and Jones will headline a lineup that has other power hitters in Jim Thome, J.J. Hardy and catcher Matt Wieters. This is a very solid lineup, and it could easily cause trouble for Darvish, especially since he has never faced the Orioles before.
Joe Saunders would not be my first pick to win an elimination game against the No. 1 offensive team in baseball.
But seeing that manager Showalter has turned this perennial loser into a playoff team in less than two years, why question him now?