Friday, October 5, 2012

Welcome to Octoberfest, USA Style

Well 162 games are now in the books and things finally start to get serious! Baseball needed every single day of games, to figure out those worthy to play in the post-season in 2012 but then again that’s what the model is designed to do. So with qualifying now out of the way, five squads remain alive in each league with the dream of hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy at October’s end but only one franchise, city and group of fans get to watch the fantasy come true. It all starts with solid preliminary bouts in Atlanta and Arlington. The National League the wild-card match-up on Friday is a damn good one! The defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals head to the A-T-L to face a Braves squad that’s been chomping at the bit for two years to play this game. Remember, The Braves endured that monumental collapse last season and missed the playoffs on the final day of regular season play, while the Red Birds reaped the benefits of Atlanta’s misfortune to take their spot as the wild-card team, which led to an eventual crown. But this is a new day in Atlanta and the Braves have proved they are a different team from last season. Part of the reason has been the pitching of tomorrow’s starter Kris Medlen. The right-hander has been dominating since joining the rotation. He’s started just 12 games finishing 10-1 overall with the Braves winning the last ten games he’s started. With an ERA of just 1.57 he’s been the hottest pitcher in the big leagues over the second half of the season. St. Louis hitters are just 4-25 in the small amount of match-ups to sample. This comes out to an average of just .160 with no walks. For the most part the Cardinal hitters haven’t seen him with last year’s World Series MVP David Freese only facing him once. As a matter of fact, the only Red Birds hitter that has seen much of Medlen is Carlos Beltran and he is 0 for 6 in their match-ups. Medlin is also 4-1 at Turner Field this season in 76 and 2/3rds innings pitched. He did not start against St. Louis but did make three relief appearances, giving up six hits and three earned runs in just 5 and 2/3rds frames. The Cards counter with the reliable Kyle Lohse. There are many more at-bats to look at in the Lohse versus the Braves hitters and the numbers are not as impressive as Medlen’s. Overall Atlanta has a career batting average of .320 against the right-hander. Chipper Jones completely owns him in 20 career plate appearances! Jones is batting .462 with a pair of doubles, a homer, five runs batted in and six walks in the match-up. Martin Prado hits .429 against Lohse and even the struggling Dan Uggla bats .333 with 5 RBI in 15 career at-bats. Lohse however has been a stand-out for the Red Birds on the road going 8-2 overall with a 3.41 earned run average in 103 innings pitched. But in his one meeting with the Bravos this season, he surrendered nine hits and five earned runs in just five frames of work. Atlanta won five of the six meetings this season between the two clubs, but the margin of victory was only a total of eight runs, so these squads have played each other tight throughout the month of May when both three game series took place. Overall in this one game play-in you have to like Atlanta. Medlen is baseball’s best starting pitcher at the moment and the Braves bullpen with Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel arguably is the game’s most nasty group of relievers. If St. Louis doesn’t get to the young guy early who is making his first post-season start, their chances go way down in a hurry. Remember the Cardinals despite owning the experience factor, just crept in to the second wild-card spot on the seasons second to last day but hey, last year they waited until the very last game. The American League wild-card match-up is one of two teams that have vastly different talent levels but as teams and have been playing on different levels as well. Buck Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles might be as much of a surprise to the post-season as the Oakland Athletics, who just swept the Texas Rangers in three game series to capture the A.L. West title and send the O’s to Arlington to face the two-time defending American League Champs on Friday. Despite dropping 7 of their last nine games to blow a five-game lead and lose the division, the Rangers still send a solid Yu Darvish to the hill. The right-hander is a strikeout master that averages ten k’s per night and the free swinging O’s succumb to the strikeout. Baltimore racked up the third most strikeouts in the American League this season. Darvish is 4-0 with a 1.85 earned run average in six starts since being taken out of the rotation in late August for a ten day rest and then re-instated. He’s never faced the Baltimore line-up this season, that is arguably the scrappiest in the majors this season with Adam Jones (32 homers, 82 RBI), Matt Wieters (23 homers, 83 RBI) and Chris Davis (33 homers, 85 RBI). The Orioles are also the masters of the one-run game and extra innings contest as well. The O’s finished the season at 29-9 in one-run games! Only the 1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms and 1883 Cleveland Blues have ever been better in games decided by a single run in baseball history! In extra innings, The Birds are even better. Baltimore posted a 16-2 record overall in games that were played over nine innings and also won their final 16 for a 16-game win streak in those contest! Texas will try to counter The Orioles amazing ability to preserver with experience and star power. O’s starter Joe Saunders will have his work cut out for him against a Rangers line-up that feasted on Baltimore pitching this season, winning five out of seven games overall. They hit .317 overall with the high point coming on May 8th in Baltimore when Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton belted four home runs at Camden Yards. Third baseman Adrian Beltre also hit four home runs overall versus the O’s while shortstop Elvis Andrus hit .313 only to be pushed by David Murphy’s gaudy numbers of .450 and an on base percentage of .522 with six runs scored. However there is the momentum factor in play. You can’t ignore what just happened on the West Coast to the Rangers. If Sanders can keep his club close, (don’t expect him to shut Texas down) Baltimore has a shot. Expect a high scoring game with the Orioles finding a way to win like they have so many times this season. You have to figure the Rangers have had their shot, playing in the last two World Series. But with the way they’ve played down the stretch it certainly looks like their reign of the American League is over and upstart Baltimore has all the intangibles to pull off the one-game upset.

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