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.

Phillies walk off winners thanks to a poor decision by Marcell Ozuna

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The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.

In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.

On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.

Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.