UPDATE: Sure enough, the Orioles just announced that they’re going with Saunders over Johnson against the Rangers. Showalter indicated that Johnson’s knee injury played a factor in the decision.
Yu Darvish will start the Wild Card playoff game for the Rangers, but the Orioles remain undecided on who they’ll have on the mound. Or at least manager Buck Showalter hasn’t made his choice public yet.
It will either be left-hander Joe Saunders, who was acquired from the Diamondbacks on August 26, or right-hander Steve Johnson, a 25-year-old rookie who made just four regular season starts.
Based on experience and track record Saunders would be the obvious pick and he’s pitched pretty well since joining the Orioles with a 3.63 ERA and 23/8 K/BB ratio in 45 innings. On the other hand the Rangers are a very right-handed heavy lineup aside from Josh Hamilton and led the league in OPS versus left-handed pitching. Not surprisingly Saunders has pretty brutal career numbers versus Texas.
Johnson was excellent in 38 innings split between the rotation and bullpen, posting a 2.11 ERA and 46/18 K/BB ratio, but he’s been dealing with some knee problems and … well, trusting an unheralded rookie with four career starts in the team’s first playoff game in 15 years would certainly be a gutsy call by Showalter.
The Orioles singlehandedly kept the rumor mill churning this weekend. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that the club is interested in making a play for free agent right-hander Lance Lynn, adding him to a list of potential candidates that also includes free agent righty Alex Cobb. The two are expected to command similar contracts in free agency, but Morosi notes that the Orioles may prefer Cobb based on his familiarity with the AL East.
Lynn, 30, is two years removed from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Despite missing the 2016 season, he bounced back with a respectable 11-8 record in 33 starts and complemented his efforts with a 3.43 ERA, 3.8 BB/9 and 7.4 SO/9 over 186 1/3 innings for the 2017 Cardinals. He lost several days with a blister on his pitching hand in early September, but managed to avoid any major injuries and can reasonably be expected to shoulder another heavy workload in 2018.
Lynn may not be the Orioles’ first choice to beef up their starting rotation, but there’s no doubt that he’ll be in high demand as one of very few viable starters on the market this winter. The veteran righty rejected his one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals on Thursday and will likely be seeking a multi-year contract, one that Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch estimates around five years and $100+ million. If the Orioles are willing to bite that bullet, they’ll still need to compensate the Cardinals with their third pick in next year’s draft.