After finally breaking out offensively last weekend against the Boston Red Sox, the O’s bats looked to be riding a wave of momentum into the season’s final series in Tampa Bay.
Unfortunately, as the old adage goes, “good pitching beats good hitting.” The Rays, possessors of baseball’s best pitching staff, were in no mood to do anything to disprove that saying.
Tampa starters completely silenced the Baltimore offense, allowing just two runs on five hits in 21.1 innings pitched over the three games. That the O’s were able to salvage even one game of the three-game set is a minor miracle, though it didn’t really matter in the end.
Because the Birds lost two of three, they squandered away the chance to host the wild card play-in game in Baltimore. Instead, they will travel to Arlington to face the Rangers at 8:37 PM on Friday for the right to continue their season.
The Rangers are fresh off one of the largest collapses in MLB history, having lead the AL West by as many as 13 games earlier this year – and five games with nine to play – only to get swept in the final series by the Oakland Athletics and be relegated to the wild card.
While the Rangers look like a wounded animal right now – they played horribly in the most important game of their season yesterday, making costly bumbling errors and getting dominated 12-5 – there is, of course, another old saying regarded wounded animals.
They’re the most dangerous kind.
Complicating matters is that the Rangers will be able to trot out their ace, rookie Yu Darvish, on Friday, while the O’s starting pitching situation is quite a bit more muddy.
Darvish, the 26-year old from Japan, is 16-9 this year with a 3.90 ERA and 221 Ks in 191.1 IP. While the O’s rookie Asian pitcher, Wei-Yin Chen, has faded down the stretch, Darvish has only seemed to get stronger – he has pitched at least 6.2 innings while allowing three or fewer ER in each of his last eight starts dating back to August 12. He had allowed just a single earned run in three consecutive starts before giving up three on Sunday against the Angels.
The Rangers are 7-3 in Darvish’s last 10 starts.
On the other hand, the O’s best healthy starters – Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman – pitched Tuesday and Wednesday and are not available at all on Friday. Chen is out of the question.
It’s Joe Saunders’s “turn” in the rotation – but Saunders is 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA against the Rangers in Arlington in his career.
Rookie Steve Johnson has pitched well, and is rested, but tweaked his knee during his last start on Saturday – though an MRI this week revealed no damage, and Johnson took a bullpen session and felt good.
While it has been said that Jason Hammel would be available no sooner than Saturday, with the game starting at 8:37 ET on Friday, that seems like close enough to Saturday to me to give Jason the ball in a pinch.
Yes, this qualifies as a pinch!
According to the Sun’s Eduardo Encina, Buck could “pull out all the stops” on Friday.
All signs point to Showalter turning to rookie right-hander Steve Johnson to start Friday’s game. Reading the tea leaves, Showalter pretty much said it because of the importance he placed on Johnson’s ‘pen session before Wednesday’s game.
Expect Showalter to use every matchup to his advantage. He’s used his bullpen to perfection all season long and don’t expect otherwise Friday, even if is means a short leash for Johnson and leaning on the bullpen most of the way. He can reset his postseason roster again before the ALDS, so Showalter can load up his roster with relievers.
Darvish scares me not only because he is a quality pitcher, but because this is the first time the O’s have ever seen him. As any O’s fan that watches every game like I do knows, the Birds have a habit of making even scrubs that they have never seen before look like top-of-the-rotation aces.
On top of that, the Rangers have absolutely owned the O’s for as long as any of us can remember. They took the season series 5-2 this year, taking three of four in Baltimore in May, and two of three in Arlington in August.
Still, that was a different Rangers team – one that was arguably the best squad in baseball. This is a Texas squad that has lost three in a row and nine of thirteen down the stretch in a pennant race.
While I would absolutely hate our chances in any kind of three or five-game series against Texas – in a single game, anything can happen.
All the pressure is on the Rangers. They’re the two-time defending American League champs who are desperate to take the next step and finally win a World Series. The O’s are just the plucky underdogs who were supposed to lose 100 games.
Though I want to win this game with every fiber of my being – and get the chance to take down the Yankees in the ALDS – the fact remains that the O’s are playing with house money at this point.
It’s one game.
Go win one game.