The stage is set for the most intriguing first round in MLB playoff history. Four teams face one game each. Win or go home.
Of course, both winners will face the best their respective leagues have to offer, but that must be the furthest thing from their minds as they enter the playoffs with an immediate Game 7 situation.
The next few slides will preview the American League wild card game, as well as the potential matchups for either side against New York. Additionally, we will take a look at the known ALDS matchup between the Detroit Tigers, the no-surprise central division champions, and the Oakland Athletics, the all-surprise upset champions of the west.
The Texas Rangers entered their final three games needing only one win to secure a division crown which was coming more difficultly than expected. They went on to be swept by the upstart Oakland A's and now face the surprising Baltimore Orioles in this one-game playoff.
On paper, these teams do not belong on the same field. The Rangers led all A.L. teams in hits, runs scored and home runs (31 more than the next team). They were also second in total bases and batting average. Baltimore was ninth in runs scored, 10th in hits, and 10th in batting average.
While the Orioles and Rangers pitching staffs posted similar statistics, their projected starters did not. Joe Saunders was 9-13 with a 4.07 ERA and 112 strikeouts. Yu Darvish was 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 whiffs.
All signs point to the Rangers winning this one, but they also were not supposed to get swept and blow the division last week, so in a one-game playoff, anything can happen.
Also of note, this matchup pits the two top shortstop prospects in baseball, two players expected to be superstars for years to come, in Baltimore's Manny Machado and Texas' Jurickson Profar.
First pitch is scheduled for 8:37 p.m. eastern time.
Prediction: Rangers, 7-3
Oakland was an afterthought in a division boasting the two-time AL defending champions as well as the new home of both Pujols and Wilson, but they roared back with 67 wins in their last 100 games to take the division from the Rangers.
Detroit was expected to coast through the central after adding Prince Fielder, but a slow start left them lunging for the finish line, barely pulling ahead of the Chicago White Sox in the final weeks. Depending on your opinion of a certain 21-year-old Angel, the Tigers may boast the best hitter and best pitcher in baseball.
Like Baltimore, Oakland comes into this series with underwhelming credentials. They were No. 28 in team batting average and No. 24 in on base percentage. While the pitching staff was No. 6 in both ERA and WHIP, they lack a proven ace or closer.
The A's have found ways to win all year, and it would not come as a surprise to see them steal one, if not two. But even if they pushed a Game 5, they would face a second start from Justin Verlander, and I do not see them winning it.
This series will kick off in Detroit on Saturday at 6:07 p.m.
Prediction: Tigers in four
By upsetting Texas, the Orioles would earn a shot at the team that outlasted them in a tighter-than-expected AL East race.
The Yankees endured significant injuries to Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Rafael Soriano and Mark Teixeira and leaned more heavily than expected on Andy Pettitte, Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez and a bevy of replacement starters to win the division.
Baltimore would enter the series off of a surely emotional win over Texas in which they will be forced to use every asset available. The Yankees will be resting (which is a significant advantage for a team of their age) and will boast a superior rotation with Sabathia, Kuroda and probably Pettitte.
I expect the wild card round to take a lot out of the winners and doubt the Orioles will have much left in the tank to gear up for a solid Yankees team.
The series kicks off Sunday at 6:15 p.m.
Prediction: Yankees in four.
On paper, the Rangers are a better team than the Yankees. However, they will enter this series without their ace, who is pitching in the wild card round, and will be forced to go to their bullpen early on if he is off his game, possibly leaving the pen short-handed as well.
Still, they have represented the American League in back-to-back World Series, which means this team has been tested before and has emerged victorious more often than not. This series has the looks of a daily knockdown, drag-out matchup. The rotations and lineups are both close enough to debate, and the Yankees hold a slight edge in the bullpen.
This series will start Sunday at 6:15 p.m.
Prediction: Yankees in five.
AL Wild Card Game: Baltimore (Saunders) at Texas (Darvish), 8:37 p.m.
Detroit vs. Oakland
Sat. 10/6: at Detroit, 6:07 p.m.
|Sun. 10/7: at Detroit, 12:07 p.m.|
|Tues. 10/9: at Oakland, 9:07 p.m.|
|Wed. 10/10: at Oakland, TBD (if necessary)|
Thurs. 10/11: at Oakland, TBD (if necessary)
New York vs. TEX/BAL
Sun. 10/7: at TBD, 6:15 p.m.