The Texas Rangers will head to Baltimore to face the Orioles on Saturday at 1:00 ET. It will be the first playoff game in Baltimore since 2014, which is also the last time the Orioles won the division. They hit rock bottom in 2021, losing 110 games. However, they finished with a winning record last year and had the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award, Adley Rutschman. This year they won 101 games, the AL East, and have the likely ROY winner, Gunnar Henderson. There is a lot to be excited about in Charm City as they head into the American League Divisional Round.
AL Divisional Round: #5 Texas Rangers vs. #1 Baltimore Orioles
The Rangers took a different path this season as they made it more difficult on themselves by surrendering the AL West crown on the last day of the regular season. It didn't matter as Texas dispatched the punchless Tampa Bay Rays in two easy games, outscoring them 11-1. Will the Orioles show a little rust after five days off or will they come out ready to take on the dangerous Rangers lineup?
The O's have gotten contributions from everyone in their lineup. The aforementioned Henderson and Anthony Santander tied for the team lead in home runs with 28. But Baltimore had six other guys with 13+ and three of those players didn't even get into 120 games. The offseason pickup of Ryan O'Hearn and the late May acquisition of Aaron Hicks have both proved to be savvy moves. The two have combined for 21 home runs, 11 stolen bases, and an .803 OPS over 604 plate appearances.
While the Rangers limped to the finish line of the season, they seemed to have gotten their swag back in the playoffs and the 21-year-old Evan Carter has rejuvenated this squad. The outfielder, who made his debut just about a month ago, went 3-for-4 with a homer, a stolen base, and three walks. Josh Jung contributed three hits, Corey Seager had four, including three doubles, and Leody Tavares had three hits of his own and swiped a couple of bags. This is going to be a tough group to hold down.
Baltimore's rotation looked like it may be a weak spot on the team at the beginning of the year. Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish got smacked around in April to the tune of a 6.50 ERA while allowing 59 hits in just 44.1 innings. Grayson Rodriguez suffered through some growing pains except against the Detroit Tigers. John Means was not coming back until September. Fast forward to now and it looks like a strength for the Orioles. Bradish finished with a 2.83 ERA and has a current 16-inning scoreless streak going. Kremer has a 3.25 ERA since the All-Star break. Rodriguez has settled in and Means looked fine in his four-game tune-up for the postseason.
The Rangers have had their share of bad luck this season in the rotation. Jacob deGrom going down early and then losing Max Scherzer for the playoffs stung a bit. However, Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi looked comfortable picking up the mantle of the top two starters. Andrew Heaney goes in Game One against the Orioles. It is a little surprising after Heaney had been relegated to the bullpen down the stretch. He may be on a short leash as Baltimore hits lefties pretty well. Dane Dunning could be in the game after the first time through the lineup.
The Orioles lost Felix Bautista at the end of August and the big right-hander will have Tommy John Surgery. Yennier Cano stepped in to save a few games and lefties Cionel Perez and Danny Coulombe have been solid all year. DL Hall was called up in August and aside from a blip against the Rays has pitched well in a bullpen role. He has struck out seven in his last 7.1 innings while walking none.
The Rangers relievers had no problem taking care of Tampa Bay. Aroldis Chapman, Josh Sborz, and Jose Leclerc allowed no runs and struck out five in 4.1 innings. Texas's pen had been in flux a bit heading into the playoffs, but they seem to have righted the ship. We may get a chance to see how the others in the bullpen will react to pitching in the postseason, so the jury is still out on Texas's relievers as they had one of the worst pens in the league.
Baltimore won a ton of games late with some clutch hitting. Their relievers actually tied the Rays for most wins with 44. We see how that worked out for Tampa. While there are questions about Rangers starters aside from Monty and Eovaldi, the Orioles have a few young arms that are in uncharted territory as far as innings. The magical season ends for Baltimore, and Texas takes this in four.
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