Orioles at Rangers – American League Wildcard Free Pick

Baltimore Orioles +177 at Texas Rangers -185 (Total: 9)

Joe Saunders vs. Yu Darvish

The Orioles are playing with house money, but don’t tell Buck Shoewalter and his Orioles they have nothing to lose.  While the nation doubted their playoff veracity to the very end, his ballclub continued to believe they were every bit as good as the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox (Red Sox??  Those guys are pathetic) and earned their way to the postseason for the first time in a decade and a half.

Their reward?  An opening round one-game do-or-die showdown with the two-time defending American League Champs, Texas Rangers.  Aside from just the name recognition, the Rangers have a few other things going for them tonight as well.  For starters, the starters.  As in, starting pitching.  The Rangers send Yu Darvish and his electric arsenal of pitches to face off against journeyman Joe Saunders.  It seems like a pretty huge advantage for the Rangers.  But is it?  Let’s dig into the numbers a bit and find a winning edge.

Yu Darvish came to the US with a ton of fanfare, and has had a decent season to back it up.  But his 16-9 record glosses over a rather pedestrian ERA (3.91) and WHIP (1.28).  He has been good, but by no means dominant.  He will meet Joe Saunders tonight, who enters with just a 3-3 record but actually possesses a lower ERA (3.61) and identical WHIP to Darvish.  Darvish does tend to fare well against who have never faced him before, like the Orioles tonight; going 10-3 in his initial introductions.  However, I’m not sure that stat alone is enough to convince me that at -185 price is justified.

The stats all lean Texas’s way – I mean hasn’t that been the story for Baltimore all year long?  The Rangers have an average more than twenty points higher.  Their team ERA is over 4.00.  They’ve lost 10 of 12 head-up to the Rangers.  And on and on and on.

But the Orioles aren’t about stats.  There is some unexplainable mojo working.  Mojo we are all quick to dismiss, but 162 games is a pretty big sample size.  They just find a way to keep winning when they aren’t supposed to have a chance to do so.  I think Saunders will do just enough today for that to happen; for them to find a way to win.  The Rangers are fresh off an epic collapse, not just in the season but in the very final game of the season as well.   Dropped pop-ups, terrible clutch at-bats – they are playing like a team gripping the bat handle WAY too hard.  It’s as if they are playing with the weight of the pressure to “not fail” instead of the joy they exuded the previous two seasons.

It defies all stats, but I’m taking the HUGE underdog tonight to steal the AL Wildcard.  Texas is better.  Texas should win.  But this season hasn’t been about “should” and “better”.  It’s been about some Baltimore magic.  I’m betting on one more dose (and think +177 makes it a prudent gamble).

Free Pick:  Baltimore Orioles to WIN +177

Chris Scheeren / Author