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.

Twins designate Phil Hughes for assignment

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
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Phil Hughes was officially designated for assignment by the Twins on Tuesday, the culmination of multiple injury-plagued seasons and poor performance.

Things couldn’t have started out much better for Hughes in Minnesota. The former Yankees hurler joined the Twins on a three-year, $24 million contract in December of 2013 and reeled off a 3.52 ERA over 32 starts during his first season with the club. He set the MLB record (which still stands, by the way) for single season strikeout-to-walk ratio and even received some downballot Cy Young Award consideration. The big year resulted in the two sides ripping up their previous agreement with a new five-year, $58 million deal, but it was all downhill after that.

Hughes took a step back with a 4.40 ERA in 2015 and struggled with a 5.95 ERA over 11 starts and one relief appearance in 2016 before undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. He wasn’t any better upon his return last year, putting up a 5.87 ERA in nine starts and five relief appearances. Hughes missed time with a biceps issue and required a thoracic outlet revision surgery in August. He began this year on the disabled list with an oblique injury, only to put up a 6.75 ERA over two starts and five relief appearances before the Twins decided to turn the page this week.

Hughes is still owed the remainder of his $13.2 million salary for this year and another $13.2 million next year. The deal didn’t work out as anyone would have hoped, but unfortunately this is another case of health just not cooperating.