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.

Sean Manaea thought he was throwing a one hitter

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Tossing a no-hitter doesn’t just require physical excellence; it’s a mental feat, too. Which is why it may have helped that Athletics hurler Sean Manaea didn’t realize his no-hitter was intact until the eighth inning of Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Red Sox.

While the first few innings passed uneventfully, Sandy Leon managed to reach base in the fifth inning after skying a ball to shallow center field. It wasn’t a clean hit, of course — shortstop Marcus Semien dropped the ball on the catch and was promptly charged with an error to preserve Manaea’s no-hit bid.

That was news to Manaea, who told reporters that he didn’t realize he still had a no-hitter going until he saw the scoreboard in the eighth inning. “Until the eighth, I thought it just like was a one-hitter,” he said. “I looked up in the eighth and saw there were still zeros and was like, whoa, weird.” The delay of that realization may have calmed his nerves as he continued to blank the best team in baseball, eventually capping his 108-pitch, 10-strikeout effort in the ninth.

A few fun facts about the feat:

  • Manaea’s no-hitter was the 12th of its kind in franchise history, dating back to Weldon Henley’s no-no against the St. Louis Browns in 1905.
  • The most recent pitcher to do so for the A’s was fellow left-hander Dallas Braden, who completed the club’s second-ever perfect game against the Rays in 2010. Surprisingly, Manaea managed to make even more efficient use of his pitch count than Braden did during his perfecto; he fired just 108 pitches against the Red Sox, a hair under the 109 pitches used by Braden against the Rays.
  • Manaea himself, however, is just the seventh Athletics pitcher (and third lefty) to toss a no-hitter. Legendary southpaw Vida Blue pitched two no-nos for the team, including a combined no-hitter that also featured Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers against the 1975 California Angels.
  • Until Saturday, the Red Sox had the second-longest streak without being no-hit in the majors, at 3,987 games… a record that was only eclipsed by the A’s own streak.
  • With a 17-2 record and .895 winning percentage, the Red Sox were the most successful team to be no-hit in major-league history. Prior to Saturday’s loss, they averaged 6.4 runs per game and had yet to be shut out by any team in 2018.
  • Since 1908, 46 no-hitters have been pitched against AL East teams: four against the Blue Jays, five against the Rays, eight against the Yankees, 13 against the Red Sox and 16 against the Orioles. Mariners lefty Chris Bosio was the last pitcher to no-hit the Red Sox, a feat he accomplished almost exactly 25 years ago on April 22, 1993.