As four sweeps in the MLB Wild Card Round left us without baseball on both Thursday and Friday, the action starts early for us with Game 1 between the Rangers and Orioles at 1 pm ET to start this series featuring AL East champions against a No. 5 Wild Card team that missed out on making it into AL West Division on last day of regular season.
Credit must go to the Rangers for not succumbing to a postseason hangover; instead, they went out on the road and quickly defeated the Rays 11-1 over two games. Orioles haven’t played since Sunday; though their rotation remains intact and relievers have had plenty of rest between games, teams aren’t used to having five full days off during an MLB grind, so it will be fascinating to see how that affects them and other teams with postseason byes.
Baltimore would’ve appreciated two or three days off before commencing playoff action, but due to a best-of-three Wild Card series scheduling arrangement, it forced them to wait longer and longer before starting Game 1. We will see whether this adversely impacts them in Game 1, but giving the bullpen some much-needed rest was also crucial, Felix Bautista’s season-ending UCL injury could be a killer.
The Rangers had an intriguing second half. On some days, they looked like world-class racehorses; on others, they were like newborn foals struggling to walk. In two games against the Rays, however, the Rangers showed great promise by only giving up one run per game and improving defensively while providing Tyler Glasnow and Zach Eflin with much-needed rest before heading into the ALDS with confidence.
Baltimore’s key advantage in this series lies with pitching. Even without Bautista, Baltimore boasts one of the top 10 bullpens compared to Texas. While Texas didn’t rely heavily on their bullpen with Montgomery’s outstanding Game 1 start and seven runs they scored during Game 2, that could open the door for Baltimore – giving them another opportunity to take advantage of.
Beyond Montgomery, the Rangers rotation is fragile. Eovaldi pitched well against Tampa in Game 2, but his return from injury left him as an outlier throughout September. Rodriguez pitched at 2.58 with 2.76 FIP over 76.2 innings pitched; Bradish posted 2.34 ERA/2.96 FIP; Kremer had 3.25 ERA/3.98 FIP, while Means posted 2.66 ERA/5.24 FIP from his four starts.
Max Scherzer would provide the Rangers with a tremendous boost should he return. After the All-Star Break, Scherzer posted an outstanding 3.20 ERA and 3.41 FIP across eight starts. Montgomery has been stellar, but Dunning has posted an uninspiring 3.94 ERA and 4.42 FIP over 14 starts, while Heaney and Jon Gray have proven unreliable.
Assuming all factors remain equal, I favor Baltimore due to their large pitching advantage—Orioles in four games.
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