When Bud Selig decided to change the playoffs, I admit I was more than a little skeptical. I thought it was a bad idea to have two Wild Card teams that face off in a one-day playoff since it would water down the races and allow more teams into the Postseason. I admit it: I was wrong.
After a thrilling last few weeks as teams charged to get into the playoffs or win their division, it all comes down to today as the Cardinals and Braves face off in the National League and the Texas Rangers host the Baltimore Orioles later tonight in the American League.
I’ve followed these teams all year for their fantasy players, and for various picks in ESPN’s Streak for the Cash and Yahoo’s Sports IQ game. I’ve gotten to know them pretty well, so here’s my picks for today’s game.
St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves
In the first of the Wild Card games, the reigning World Series champions take on the Braves at Turner Field in the first ever one-game playoff for the Wild Card.
Kris Medlen will start for the Braves, and he’s been so lights out the second half of this year it’s impossible for me to pick against him. Atlanta has won every start by Medlen for more than two years. He didn’t even start the year in the rotation as he worked his way back from Tommy John surgery. He and the Braves avoided a Strasburg-like shutdown by pitching him out of the pen to start the year. Since he was reinserted into the starting rotation on July 31, Medlen is 9-1 and has allowed two runs or fewer in all but one of those starts. He did not face the Cardinals in any of those starts although he did pitch three games against them out of the bullpen.
The Cardinals will counter with Kyle Lohse who had an impressive season of his own finishing with a 16-3 record and posting a 2.86 ERA in his 33 starts. He only faced the Braves one time this season all the way back on May 30 when Atlanta tagged him for five runs in five innings in a game they eventually won 10-7. Lohse didn’t exactly sprint to the finish, but didn’t stumble to the tape either although he did allow two or more runs in five of his six September starts.
The two teams haven’t met since that May 30 game, but the Braves took five of six meetings this season. Recent form would also seem to favor the Braves who went 19-8 in September while St. Louis went 15-12. Both teams were 7-3 over their last 10 to close the season.
It should be a great game, but I’ll take the Braves at home to win 5-2.
Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers
The Rangers collapse appears to have come early this season as they stumbled to the finish losing 9 of their last 13 and allowing the A’s to sweep their way into the ALDS already and forcing the Rangers to play Baltimore for their ticket to the next round.
The Rangers will give the ball to rookie Yu Darvish who will make his first career appearance against the O’s. Darvish finished his first season in the US with a 16-9 record and a 3.90 ERA. He won his last four decisions and allowed three runs or less in his last eight starts while pitching into the seventh in each game. The Japanese import was especially comfortable at home with a 10-2 record and a 3.88 ERA.
The Orioles will face Yu for the first time and will call on their mid-season acquisition Joe Saunders who went 3-3 since being acquired from Arizona. Saunders didn’t face the Rangers in his seven AL starts although he should be somewhat familiar with them from his time with the Angels early in his career.
Texas took five of the seven meetings during the season including Josh Hamilton’s four home run game and three of four in Baltimore early this season.
The historical numbers would indicate Texas is the favorite and the betting line shows that as well, but I think the Orioles will get the win here. The Rangers have fallen apart lately, and the O’s seem to have all the momentum as they continue their “dream season” and the Buck truck rolls through the Wild Card playoff. I’ll take the O’s to win 8-3.
Regardless of which teams win, big props to Bud Selig and Major League Baseball for a great way to start the Playoffs with a pair of high-drama, single-elimination games. There’s some very compelling baseball sure to take place in Atlanta and Arlington today, and I’ll be among the many locked in to what’s happening on every pitch.