In about 12 hours, the Yankees will finally know who they will be playing in the ALDS. The Orioles and Rangers will square off in the first ever AL Wildcard Play-In game later tonight, the winner of whom will welcome the Bombers to their stadium for Game One on Sunday while the loser goes home for the season. It’s a harsh new playoff system, and frankly it’s not all that fair that the Yankees will have to open the series on the road despite finishing with the best record in the league. Thankfully that will change next year.
Anyway, the Orioles remained in the AL East hunt right until Game 162, though the Rangers were considered the best team in baseball for a large part of the season. They are the two-time defending AL champs, of course. There are reasons to want to play and avoid both teams, but the road to the World Series is never easy. The Yankees will have to play a quality opponent in the ALDS regardless, and each offers unique strengths and weaknesses.
Baltimore Orioles (head-to-head record: 9-9, -2 run differential)
Buck Showalter’s Orioles gave the Yankees a fight all season, including winning six of nine at Yankee Stadium. They hit the second most homers (214) and stole the fewest bases (58) in baseball this season, and their bullpen was one of the game’s most effective units (3.00 ERA and 3.68 FIP). Baltimore’s starters are relatively nondescript, but they do feature two southpaws in Wei-Yin Chen and Joe Saunders. The Yankees struggled against lefties this season (110 wRC+), at least relative to what they’ve done the last few years. Saunders is starting the play-in game tonight and Jason Hammel (3.43 ERA and 3.29 FIP) will return to the rotation to start Game One of the ALDS if they beat Texas. Showalter is also as good as it gets in terms of his in-game moves as well, consistently putting his players in the best possible position to succeed.
Texas Rangers (head-to-head record: 4-3, +3 run differential)
The Rangers are a lot like the Orioles and Yankees in that they hit a ton of homers (200), but they also led the AL with a .273 AVG and stole a healthy 91 bases. Their offense is very right-handed, with Josh Hamilton and David Murphy representing their two best lefty threats. The bullpen (3.42 ERA and 3.67 FIP) is strong but lacking setup man extraordinaire Mike Adams, who is out with a shoulder problem. That’s an enormous blow, it would be like taking David Robertson away from the Yankees. Matt Harrison and Derek Holland given them a pair of left-handed starters (Harrison is lined up to start a potential Game One of the ALDS), though they will burn Yu Darvish in the play-in game tonight. He was arguably the best pitcher in the game the last month of the season (2.21 ERA and 1.89 FIP). Ron Washington is generally considered a weak strategic manager, which is worth mentioning.
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Texas carries a bit more of an aura given their success the last two years, but the Orioles have proven doubters wrong all season and have shown they will not go away quietly. Anyone can beat anyone in a best-of-five series in this league, but that doesn’t mean favorable matchups don’t exist. I just have no idea who I would rather see the Yankees play in the ALDS.