Major League Baseball Wildcard Preview
After 162 games, the fun really starts today in Major League Baseball. This afternoon marks the beginning of the baseball postseason and features a pair of Wild Card match-ups. When commissioner Bud Selig added a second wild card team to each league, he hoped it would deliver some added excitement to the playoffs. Lucky for Bud, his plan worked. Here is a quick primer for today's games:
3:07pm NL Wild Card: St. Louis @ Atlanta
The defending World Series champs, the St. Louis Cardinals were able to secure the final wild card spot and return to the postseason without slugger Albert Pujols. However, they face a stiff challenge this afternoon in the Atlanta Braves, a young team that finished second to the Washington Nationals in the NL East. The Braves will start right-handed pitcher Kris Medlen, who is a year removed from Tommy John surgery and began the season in the Atlanta bullpen. When the Braves pitching was not producing, the team chose to stretch Medlen out and convert him to a starter. Despite being just 5'10 with a fastball that doesn't normally top 90 miles per hour, Medlen has been money for the Braves since joining the starting rotation. He's 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA and has been the team's best pitcher over the past two months. As a matter of fact, the Braves haven't lost a Medlen start in more than two years. For the Cardinals, Kyle Lohse gets the opportunity to keep their title defense alive. Lohse, no slouch himself, went 16-3 this season with a 2.86 ERA. He did give up 7 earned runs in his last two starts and might have trouble with the Braves lineup (he gave up 5 runs in 5 innings in his only start against Atlanta). I like Medlen to continue his improbable streak and the Braves will get enough hits off Lohse to advance to the NLDS.
6:37pm AL Wild Card: Baltimore @ Texas
What the hell happened to the Texas Rangers? For most of the season, they were hands down the best team in baseball. Then a funny thing happened. The Oakland A's got ridiculously hot and at the same time the Rangers went into the tank, losing 9 of 13 games. The A's came back to win the division on the last day of the season and Texas was stuck hosting Baltimore in the one-game wild card battle. The Orioles are the AL East equivalent of the A's, a team with zero expectations at the start of the season that played over their heads for six months and secured a spot in the playoffs. The O's are a fun to watch and manager Buck Showalter has successfully conveyed his no fear approach into this young team. Veteran Joe Saunders starts for Baltimore this evening, and has not pitched badly for the O's since coming over from Arizona in a late-season trade. I've never been a huge fan of Saunders, especially since he has a career postseason ERA of 6.00 in four career starts. However, he is opposed by Yu Darvish, the 24-year old rookie from Japan who has been up and down this season. Yu has been filthy in September and might be the perfect player to pitch in this one-game playoff. As much as I love the story in Baltimore, I think the team's lack of big game experience will finally doom them tonight. With the Rangers power lineup and playoff tested squad, I look for a high scoring game that will ultimately favor the boys from Texas.