Thursday, October 4, 2012

2012 MLB Wild Card Game preview

By Rick Morris
In this, the first year of the MLB expansion to two wild card teams per league, the Friday doubleheader promises tremendous action.  In the National League, the two teams battling for the sole wild card spot a year ago in Atlanta and St. Louis will do battle in the play-in game that the old system did not allow.  In the American League, the best-balanced team, Texas, will have to host the ultimate upstart underdogs in Baltimore because the Rangers choked so badly to the AL’s other huge underdog in Oakland this week.
Baltimore at Texas: Neither team has a classic ace, which makes the Joe Saunders vs. Yu Darvish matchup a bit more understandable.  Yu has been a lot stronger down the stretch, though.  Both teams boast excellent bullpens, but it’s the difference in the starting lineups that is supremely pronounced.  The Ranger crew is loaded like few others in the game, anchored by such stars as Josh Hamilton (maybe the best hitter in the game when healthy) and Adrian Beltre (almost at that level).  Baltimore, meanwhile, is as Ragamuffin in their lineup as they are in their rotation, with megastar Adam Jones and career-year Chris Davis the exception to the rule.  Buck Showalter should be the Manager of the Millennium for navigating this crew to the postseason.  Just a few days ago, this squad was looking at hosting this game against fellow underdog Oakland.  Now, they must travel to the Metroplex to face the two-time defending pennant winners and probably the most talented team in the league top-to-bottom, albeit one that is coming off a terrible stretch in recent days.  Chances are that the vastly-superior Rangers will pull out of it with the help of the home crowd. PICK: Texas.
St. Louis at Atlanta: In a sense, it’s fitting that these teams inaugurate the new wild card era, because they exemplified like few other teams the 1995-2011 era in which the Division Series led off the playoffs.  They’ve been staples of October in the past two decades and, as mentioned above, Atlanta’s collapse a year ago paved the way for the Cards to punk them for the wild card and, improbably, traverse all the way to a World Series title.  A year later, the Cardinals are in their first postseason anyone can remember without Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa and the Braves are getting ready to say goodbye to Chipper Jones whenever their postseason journey ends.  But the real transformation over that period of time comes in an examination of the top of the rotations.  In 2011, ace Adam Wainwright was not available for St. Louis due to injury, but Chris Carpenter was.  This year, Wainwright is back, but not an ace, Carpenter has just come back from his own long injury hiatus and Kyle Lohse is improbably having an “ace” season.  He’ll face a dominant force who the Braves have wisely (unlike the Nationals, right Stephen Strasburg?) brought along slowly in Kris Medlen.  As a matter of fact, Medlen is the only legitimate ace toeing the rubber in either wild card game Friday.  Both lineups have holes in them, but Atlanta has more hitters with holes in their swings.  Both bullpens are pretty sweet, so the team that jumps out to a lead will probably be able to hold it.  Thanks to Medlen, that will probably be the Braves.  PICK: Atlanta.
Texas over New York Yankees in 5
Detroit over Oakland in 4
Washington over Atlanta in 4
Cincinnati over San Francisco in 5
Texas over Detroit in 5
Washington over Cincinnati in 6
Texas over Washington in 7

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