Tuesday’s wild card matchup preview

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With the AL wild card all knotted up and still just one game separating the Braves and Cardinals in the NL, here’s what we have to look forward to on Tuesday night.

AL wild card

Boston – Erik Bedard (5-9, 3.50 ERA)
Baltimore – Zach Britton (11-10, 4.44 ERA)

New York – Bartolo Colon (8-10, 4.02 ERA)
Tampa Bay – Jeremy Hellickson (13-10, 2.90 ERA)

The Red Sox and Rays are all tied after Boston lost 6-3 and Tampa Bay won 5-2 tonight.

Bedard makes his second start since returning from knee and hip problems; he allowed four runs — one earned — in 2 2/3 innings against Baltimore last week. The Red Sox get to face a rookie they’ve handled very well so far; Britton is 1-1 with a 10.80 ERA and a 3/4 K/BB ratio in 6 2/3 innings in his two starts against the club. He has a 5.14 ERA in five September starts.

The Rays also have a favorable matchup, it would seem. Colon is winless since July and has a 6.64 ERA in four starts this month. He’s also 0-3 with a 6.60 ERA in three starts against Baltimore this year. Hellickson has a 2.28 ERA this month and a 2.50 ERA since the All-Star break. Plus, he faced the Yankees last week and allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

NL wild card

Philadelphia – Roy Oswalt (8-10, 3.86 ERA)
Atlanta – Derek Lowe (9-16, 4.92 ERA)

St. Louis – Jake Westbrook (12-9, 4.48 ERA)
Houston – Henry Sosa (3-5, 4.68 ERA)

Ideally, the Braves would wrap this one up Tuesday so that they wouldn’t have to send ace Tim Hudson to the mound on Wednesday.  For it to happen, Lowe will have to snap a skid that has seen him lose four straight.  His quality start last week against the Marlins (3 ER in 6 1/3 IP) was his first since Aug. 31. Oswalt was shaky in his last start, giving up six runs in 7 2/3 innings against the Nationals.  He’ll likely only throw five or six innings in this one. Oswalt is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts against the Braves this year, while Lowe is 1-3 with a 4.13 ERA in four starts versus the Phillies.

Of course, with a one-game lead, the Braves would need a win and a Cardinals loss to clinch. Westbrook will have something to say about that. He’s beaten the Astros both times he’s faced them this year, and he has a 2.61 ERA in four starts this month. Sosa will be making his first start against St. Louis since debuting last month. A product of the Jeff Keppinger deal, he’s turned in quality starts five of his last six times out. However, he’s also given up five homers in his last three starts.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.