There wasn’t a whole lot of drama surrounding the National League playoff race. It had been long assumed that the Atlanta Braves wouldn’t catch Washington in the NL East and would take the top wild-card spot. The St. Louis Cardinals made it a little interesting at the end as they didn’t clinch until the penultimate night of the season, but there never was a ton of doubt that St. Louis would get in.
It makes for a nice story for Friday’s game because Atlanta, which hosts due to a better overall record, had an epic collapse last September to cough up the wild-card spot to St. Louis, which went on a surprising run to the World Series title. The Cards-Braves winner will host Washington in Game 1 of the NLDS on Sunday. Remember, this year only the higher-seeded team gets the first two games of the Division Series at home with the better-seeded team hosting the final three games if necessary. MLB added the second wild card in the spring and didn’t have enough time to adjust schedules and, thus, wiped out a travel day in the Division Series. That necessitated the wild-card team getting the first two at home instead of the usual 2-2-1 format.
Atlanta was 5-1 vs. St. Louis this season, but they haven’t played since the end of May. This could be the final game of future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones’ career with the Atlanta third baseman set to retire at the end of the season. There is one lineup move to be aware of: the Braves will start David Ross over Brian McCann at catcher. Ross is the No. 2 catcher – McCann is pretty beaten up and having a down season -- but a better defender and has been behind the plate for four of Game 1 starter Kris Medlen's last eight starts.
Meanwhile, the American League one-game playoff on Friday night is a total stunner. The Baltimore Orioles are a great story, with their first winning season and playoff berth in 15 years. They were higher than 100-1 at some books to win the AL East, and they almost pulled it off. Baltimore’s wins total for 2012 was projected somewhere in the mid-70s.
I have no idea what the Texas Rangers are doing playing for their lives. The two-time AL Champs controlled the West Division all season and were the World Series favorites for almost all of 2012. But the Rangers lost seven of their final nine games, capped by a three-game sweep at the hands of Oakland that gave the A’s the AL West title – they didn’t lead the division by themselves before Game 162 and were 13 games out at one point – and sent Texas into the winner-take-all vs. Baltimore. It was only the second three-game sweep of the Rangers this season. About the only bright spot is Friday’s game is in Arlington. The O’s-Rangers winner will face the Yankees in the Division Series.
Texas won five of seven vs. the Orioles this season and was 3-1 at home. The teams last played Aug. 22, a game you might remember because Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre homered in his first three at-bats but grounded out in the sixth and eighth innings in trying to become the 17th major-leaguer with four dingers in a game. Teammate Josh Hamilton was No. 16 back on May 8 when he did it, ironically, against Baltimore (at Camden Yards). Incidentally, this could be the free-agent-to-be Hamilton’s final game as a Ranger.
Here are the current Bovada odds for these four teams to win their respective pennants (certainly the two winners will be underdogs in their Division Series matchups): Braves 13/2, Cardinals 7/1 (longest NL shot), Rangers 13/4 (dropped from tops in AL to third) and Orioles 7/1 (longest AL shot).
Friday’s Wild-Card Probable Starting Pitchers
Cardinals RHP Kyle Lohse (16-2, 2.86) vs. Braves RHP Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57): Lohse has emerged as the unlikely ace of the Cardinals and could make himself free-agent millions with a big postseason as well. One of Lohse’s worst games this season came May 30 in Atlanta when he allowed five runs in five innings. But May was easily Lohse’s worst month as he was a 1-1 and 5.08 ERA that month but 11-2 the rest of the season.
What can you say about Medlen? He’s arguably the pitching story of the season. He was a touted prospect back in 2010 but eventually underwent Tommy John surgery that cost him the rest of the year and almost all of 2011. He began this season in the bullpen so the team could limit his innings, a la the Nats and Stephen Strasburg. Since Medlen joined the rotation on July 31, he is 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts. Atlanta has won a major-league record 23 straight games when Medlen has started dating to 2010. He had three relief appearances in May vs. St. Louis.
Orioles TBA vs. Rangers RHP Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90): As of this writing Baltimore manager Buck Showalter hasn’t decided between rookie right-hander Steve Johnson and lefty Joe Saunders, who was acquired after the non-waiver trade deadline from Arizona. It is technically Saunders’ spot in the rotation, but most reports believe it will be Johnson. He threw a light bullpen session on Wednesday to test his sore left knee and was called ready. He is 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 12 games (four starts) and has never faced the Rangers as a starter. Saunders has a 6.48 ERA in 11 career starts against Texas, including a 9.38 ERA in six games in Arlington. Plus, the Rangers lineup is very right-handed, so it’s thought that was be the deciding factor for Showalter to pick Johnson.
Darvish would be a top candidate for AL Rookie of the Year if not for Mike Trout. The Japanese star won his final four decisions and hasn’t lost in six starts since Aug. 17. Overall, he has had eight straight quality starts with a 2.35 ERA and opposing batters hitting just .176 in that stretch. Darvish hasn’t faced the O’s this season, and that seems to bode well: He is 10-3 with a 3.12 ERA against teams he's pitched against for the first time this season (95 innings pitched).
Friday’s Wild-Card Betting Odds and Trends
On 5Dimes, Atlanta is a -163 favorite (St. Louis +153) with the total at 6.5. The Cards were 37-42-2 “over/under” in road games this year and Atlanta was 33-45-3 at home.
The Cardinals are 6-1 in their last seven games as an underdog of +151 to +200. They are 4-0 in their past four when Lohse starts as an underdog in that range. But overall, St. Louis is 0-4 in Lohse’s past four starts as a dog. Atlanta is 9-1 in its past 10 as a home favorite. The Braves are just 1-5 in their past six playoff games. The under is 5-1-1 in Medlen’s past seven home starts. The under is 6-1 in the Cardinals’ past seven road games vs. a right-handed starter.
There is no line as of this writing on the AL game because of the uncertain Orioles starter. I don’t think it will matter much as the Rangers probably will be approximately -175 with the total around 8. Baltimore was 31-48-2 over/under on the road while Texas was 38-40-3 at home.
The Orioles are 10-2 in their past 12 game vs. right-handed starters. They are also 10-2 in their past 12 games after scoring two runs of less in the previous game. Texas has won six of its past seven home playoff games. The Rangers are 5-1 in Darvish’s past six starts. The over is 5-0 in the Rangers’ past five home games. Dating to last season, the Orioles have won just two of their past 12 vs. Texas.
Friday’s Wild-Card Betting Predictions
Should be an exciting day of baseball, exactly what Bud Selig was looking for when he instituted the second wild card. You have to think karma has to catch up to Medlen at some point, but Lohse hasn’t been good in his playoff career. Have to go Atlanta there.
As for the Birds, their 46 road wins were the most in the AL, but they just don’t match up at all with Texas. I expect the Rangers to explode in this game after getting a cold slap in the face from Oakland. It really doesn’t matter who Baltimore starts as Showalter will use the bullpen freely. Have to go Texas.
Take the under in both games – all four bullpens will be emptied if need be with the winner getting Saturday off before starting the Division Series.
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