AL Wild Card Game Preview: Can the Rangers snap out of it?

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The Matchup: Baltimore Orioles (93-69) at Texas Rangers (93-69)

The Time: Friday, 8:37 PM Eastern

The Starting Pitchers:  Joe Saunders (3-3, 3.63 ERA) vs. Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA)

The Breakdown:  Watching the Rangers melt down these past couple of weeks — especially in game 162 vs. the A’s on Wednesday — one is tempted to say that they have zero momentum — maybe negative momentum — heading into the playoffs and are sitting ducks.

Of course, if one were to say that, one would be ignoring the fact that (a) there is no correlation between how a team finishes and how they perform in the playoffs; and (b) momentum, as the old saying goes, is your next day’s starting pitcher.  And the Rangers have the way better next day’s starting pitcher.

Yu Darvish hit a rough patch in the middle of the season, but after making some mid-season adjustments he went 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 67/15 K/BB ratio in 57 innings over his final eight starts. The Orioles have not faced him at all this year and his is not the most conventional stuff in the world. I really think he’s going to present some problems for the men in orange.

Saunders, meanwhile, is no one’s definition of a shutdown ace. While he pitched well since joining the Orioles in August — a 3.63 ERA and 23/8 K/BB ratio in 45 innings — he is a lefty, the Rangers are righty heavy and they have beat him up like he owed them money the times they’ve faced him.  The Orioles bullpen has been the team’s strength this year, but they’re gonna need to be ready early in this one, methinks.

The Prediction: The Orioles are a great story and, if you don’t have a rooting interest in these AL playoffs, it’s hard not to root for them.  But a one-and-done game against a tough pitcher on the road in the first playoff series most of these guys have ever seen? Eh, not liking their chances.  Rangers 6, Orioles 3.

Report: Phillies interested in Manny Machado; Orioles have done homework on Phillies’ minor league system

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Orioles third baseman Manny Machado will become a free agent after the 2018 season and there hasn’t been much in the way of progress on a contract extension between the two sides. It seems as if Machado will test the open market next offseason.

The Phillies, currently with relatively minuscule obligations for the 2018 season and beyond, are expected to be big players for Machado, as well as other potential free agents like Bryce Harper. In fact, the Phillies may not even want to wait until next offseason, as Roch Kubatko of MASN reports that the club has expressed interest in Machado to the Orioles. In return, the O’s have been doing their homework on the Phillies’ minor league system.

Kubatko notes that the Orioles like, in particular, Phillies prospects Sixto Sanchez and Scott Kingery. The Phillies may be hesitant to part with either considering they can get Machado for a lot of cash but no prospects next winter. MLB Pipeline rates Sanchez as the Phillies’ best pitching prospect and the second-best prospect overall in the system. Kingery is third overall and the top infielder. While the Phillies’ system is among the best in baseball, its notable weakness is pitching, so parting with Sanchez — who throws in the upper 90’s and can hit triple digits — would be a big ask. Kingery is seen as the club’s next second baseman of the future, so much so that the Phillies are shopping Cesar Hernandez at the Winter Meetings.

As usual with rumors during the Winter Meetings, there may be some smoke but no actual fire here. The Orioles are likely to get continued interest in Machado from many teams between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. They are simply doing their due diligence by seeing what the Phillies and others have to offer for Machado.