While the National League postseason picture – despite September runs by the Phillies, then the Brewers, then the Dodgers – held true to expected form, the American League wildcard race was indeed wild.
The long-anticipated showdown in Atlanta between the Cardinals and the Braves gave both teams the opportunity to set their respective starters.
Atlanta is going with the hot hand. Two years ago, Kris Medlen was an up-and-coming pitcher, enjoying a fine first half before Tommy John surgery derailed his 2010 season. In 2011, Medien made a late-season return as a reliever for two appearances. In spring training 2012, Medlen was fifth on the rookie starter depth chart, behind Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino. To think that Medlen eclipsed not only that group, but also established veterans Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens is nothing short of mind-boggling.
The Braves have won 26 of Medlen’s 30 career starts, including the last 23 in a row – a major league record. Medlen went 9-0 as a starter this season (with the Braves winning all 12 of his starts), with a 0.97 ERA, a 0.80 WHIP and 89 strikeouts in 82-2/3 innings.
On the other side, there’s former Phillie Kyle “Career Year” Lohse. As if his 14-8/3.40/1.17 season last year wasn’t enough, Lohse earned a career-high 16 victories against only 3 losses in 2012, with a 2.86 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 143 strikeouts – all career bests.
St. Louis stole Atlanta’s ticket to the NLDS in 2011, and used it to gain entry to a World Series championship.
Will the same thing happen again, or will the Braves exact revenge and move on to DC to open the NLDS with their division rival, the Nationals?
The answer, to me, rests in Kyle Lohse’s postseason history.
Phillies fans not only remember Lohse’s ill-fated relief appearance for the Phils in 2007, they also remember Lohse getting hammered by the Phils in Game 1 of the 2011 NLDS and being chased in the 6th inning.
Overall, Lohse is 0-4 with a 5.54 ERA in his career in the postseason. Ouch.
In addition, lefties hit .253 against Lohse in 2012, compared with .226 for righties. Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann (who will be a reserve behind David Ross to start the game) will all be happy to know that.
Even worse, Lohse’s career road ERA of 4.91 is almost a full run higher than his 3.98 career home ERA. While the overall numbers in 2012 were better, the splits still revealed that same on-run difference (3.41 road to 2.33 home).
Outlook: It would not surprise me to see Lohse retire the first 9 Braves hitters in order. But the second time through and the third time through the heart of the order should spell doom for Lohse, just as it always seems to in the postseason. Figure the Braves to be comfortably ahead, 5-1 by the sixth inning.
Final score: Braves 5, Cardinals 3. WP-Medlen, LP-Lohse, S-Kimbrel
The AL matchup is more about two teams that didn’t expect to be there. We’ve known for a little while that the AL wildcard showdown would almost certainly be between the East and West runners-up. That makes it something of a consolation prize, and yet also a second chance.
The problem psychologically for Texas is that they were supposed to win the AL West. They led the division for all but 3 days of the 2012 season – the second day, the third day and the one that counts – the final day. Their sweep at the hands of Oakland capped off a tailspin that saw Texas lose 7 of its last 9 games, coughing up a 5-game lead in the process.
The Rangers send co-ace Yu Darvish to the mound. While Matt Harrison‘s 18-11/3.29/1.26 season earned him all-star accolades, Darvish – in his first season over from Japan – was no slouch at 16-9/3.90/1.28, with a whopping 221 strikeouts in 191-1/3 innings.
On paper, when you also factor in a lineup that includes sluggers Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, table-setters like Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler, and is rounded out by Mitch Moreland, David Murphy and Michael Young, you wonder how the Orioles can compete.
Then you look at their starter – Joe Saunders – who has pitched a grand total of 7 times as an Oriole, after coming over in trade from Arizona, and you scratch your head even more. Saunders was 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in those 7 starts, but also owns an 0-1 mark in 4 postseason starts, with a hideous 6.00 ERA and a gruesome 1.94 WHIP.
Add in that 4 Orioles regulars hit .249 or worse and 7 struck out over 100 times, and it just looks like there’s no way Baltimore can win this game.
Which is exactly why they will.
Like the question of whether if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see/hear it, did it really fall – the Orioles’ unexpectedly magnificent season doesn’t really start until they bring the postseason to their fans. They are on a mission to do just that and host the hated Yankees in ALDS Game 1. You may see it as thinking too far ahead, but I think it’s a huge motivator.
Meanwhile, how many times can the Rangers get close and fail? Two consecutive World Series losses. A season-ending collapse that saw them go from best record in the AL to this game they don’t think they should be in. Does resiliency have its limits?
Outlook: Darvish may strike out a lot of guys, but he sure walks a lot of them, too (89 to be exact). I will pencil Darvish down for 6 walks in 5 jittery innings in his MLB postseason debut. Saunders has lousy numbers, but notice how he got 3 no-decisions in those 4 postseason starts.
The game will be deadlocked at 5-5 when both of these starters depart in the middle innings. That’s where Baltimore’s bullpen supremacy shines and they shut the door. Nate McLouth hits a 3-run homer in the 7th inning off Robbie Ross that barely clears the fence, and Ron Washington is questioned for not going to Mike Adams or Alexi Ogando, instead leaving the pivotal 7th to Roy Oswalt and Ross.
Final score: Orioles 8, Rangers 5. WP-Ayala, LP-Oswalt, S-Johnson