Playoff roster for October 5 vs. the Texas Rangers, per ESPN.com
STARTING PITCHERS (1):
Joe Saunders (LHP) - Welp, it's a one-game play-in, and the O's are starting Joe Saunders. The left-hander was a great addition for a club looking to solidify the back-end of its rotation in a pennant race. He's a terrible choice to start a playoff game, and a really terrible choice to start a playoff game against a primarily right-handed team. How bad? He basically turns every right-handed hitter in the lineup into Albert Pujols. No, that's not an exaggeration - righties have .349 OBP/.500 SLG/.359 wOBA. And only two of Texas' expected starters in the lineup don't bat right-handed. Maybe three. But at least six of those batters will be right-handed.
It's not like Buck Showalter had good options - Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen had to be used to get to this game (and none are on the Wild Card roster to make room for an expanded bullpen and an expanded bench). I hope Buck seriously considers having Brian Matusz warm up with Saunders pre-game. He may need him quickly. Or Tommy Hunter. Or Steve Johnson. One of those guys should be up and ready to pitch by the 4th inning at the latest.
But you know what? Joe Saunders has a lower ERA this year than Yu Darvish. Oh, it's true, it's damn true. I doubt Saunders will be in the game long enough to let the Rangers put it out of reach, and there's a pretty good chance Saunders gets the job done one time through the lineup. And that may be all the O's need.
RELIEF PITCHERS (10):
Here's on area of advantage the Orioles may use to keep this game competitive. I hate to be a fatalist, but if Joe Saunders makes it through 5 innings with fewer than 4 runs scored, I‘ll buy the first beer of every CCer I meet at OPaCY next year every game (*Note - offer only good at Pickles, not inside stadium).
Jake Arrieta (RHP) - The righty came back from Norfolk as a middle man out of the bullpen, and has met with some success. His ERA as a reliever is 6.75, and there's some circumstances that made that number worse than it could have been, but if you've got a 6.75 ERA, you usually earned it. Opponent's batting average against (BAA) is .208, yet OBP is .283 and he's given up 3 HR in just 13.1 IP. Here's hoping we don't see Jake unless the game's already in hand for the Orioles.
Luis Ayala (RHP) - Ayala has appeared 66 times for the O's in 2012, and his 1.267 WHIP isn't the best on the staff, and he's been less than effective in September. His BAA is .298, and opponents have a .752 OPS. Again, here's another reliever Buck will most likely not use in a game the O's are within a run either way.
Zach Britton (LHP) - Zach ran into some rough water starting toward the end of the year, and has become the latest Troy Patton Milk Carton Cover Model in the O's bullpen. His appearance Wednesday was his first since a Sept. 15 start that itself lasted just 4.0 IP with 5 runs scored. He may be good to get a lefty out, but there's just not that many lefties in the TEX lineup. If we see him, expect it to be in the 5th or 6th to get a lefty out and leave Brian Matusz and Troy Patton as options later in the game in a higher leverage situation.
Tommy Hunter (RHP) - Hunter found new life on his fastball in his return to the bullpen. While he's not matched the magical 101 mph he registered on the Fenway Park radar gun a few weeks back, he's been quietly lights out in September. Since moving to the ‘pen from his last spot start, he's had a 0.71 ERA with 12 Ks and just 2 BBs. Now, he's done that with a BAA of .255, but it's been paper cuts - opponents are slugging just .298 against him in that time. Hunter may be the first arm out of the bullpen should Saunders falter, or maybe even if he doesn't.
Jim Johnson (RHP) - The American League leader for saves (a team record 51) is the man Orioles fans hope to see throw the last pitch of the game. He has fewer strikeouts (41) than saves, and has given up home runs at a rate you'd like to see lower than it is (7.2 HR/9), but the results of a Jim Johnson appearance are rarely in doubt. Of the 71 times he's appeared, he's walked away as the losing pitcher just twice and has blown just two save chances. If Jim Johnson is getting a third-out grounder with that nasty sinker, the O's live to play in Baltimore on Sunday.
Steve Johnson (RHP) - The other option for tonight's start was passed over to concerns about his knee, but it wasn't enough to keep him completely off the roster. Look for Johnson to possibly be used as a long man (with Tommy Hunter as the other choice) and try and keep the TEX right-handed batters at bay for an inning or two. Righties are batting just .179 against him (although curiously, lefties are even worse at .169) and he's touched 92 on the radar gun this year to complement that sick, sick, sick 69 mph curve. Again, if Buck wants to make this a bullpen game against a righty lineup, Steve Johnson is going to pitch.
Brian Matusz (LHP) - The Rangers feature just two starters who hit primarily left-handed, so while Matusz has been death to lefties, he may not see much time. Used as a reliever since his recall at the end of August, Matusz has been a revelation. His ERA is just 1.35, he hasn't allowed an inherited runner to score despite inheriting 14 runners, and his BAA is a minuscule .114. Buck may well, buck convention and use Matusz for an entire inning, even against righties with the way he's pitched out of the bullpen.
Darren O'Day (RHP) - In a perfect world, we see Darren O'Day start the 8th inning of a game the Orioles are winning. His down-under motion has confused many a hitter this year, as both right-handed and left-handed hitters has a BAA of less than .210 against him (.200 for RHB, .207 for LHB). Lefties have touched him up for a bit more power, but he's been more effective away from Camden Yards, with a WHIP of just 0.90 away from Baltimore.
Troy Patton (LHP) - The former mystery man has been around plenty this year, with 54 appearances. Since August 1, he hasn't allowed an earned run, his BAA is a microscopic .107 and he hasn't allowed more than a single. His five-week break due to his ankle injury should mean he's fresh, and he picked up where he left off in those four late-season appearances, with a BAA of .167 and a 68% strike rate.
Pedro Strop (RHP) - Oh, Pedro, it was a great summer, wasn't it? From Opening Day until Aug. 31, your ERA of 1.86 and BAA of .194 were a thing of beauty. Since then? A 6.48 ERA, a .333 BAA and 80% of inherited runners have scored. It's not me, Pedro, it's you, and I don't want you pitching anymore this year.
Robert Andino (RH) - I will be shocked if Andino starts. He's just .208/.277/.301/.578 against RHP this year, and the obvious platoon play is to start Flaherty and bring in Andino against a lefty. Problem is, his numbers aren't that much better against lefties: .216/.295/.312/.607 for the year. We love the attitude, the 2011 Game 162 heroics, and he's Adam Jones' BFF on the team apparently, but I just don't see what Andino brings to the table in this game.
Ryan Flaherty (LH) - And here's the other problem - it's not like Flaherty is any better than Andino. He's .213/.258/.355/.613 versus right-handed hitting this year, his first in the majors. I can't imagine how bad his ABs will look against Darvish. Should the Rangers go to a lefty reliever, Flaherty has some value, with a .250/.250/.417/.667 slash line against lefties. That's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it's better than his numbers against righties or Andino's numbers against either. Somebody's got to play 2B, and it will probably be Flaherty.
J.J. Hardy (RH) - The slash line for the season ain't pretty (.238/.282/.389/.671) but it's looked a lot better since Sept. 1 - .269/.305/.403/.708. The power numbers are down from last year, but over the last month, he's gotten hits and gotten on base at just about the same rate as last year's full season.
Manny Machado (RH) - He's a rookie at a new position and putting up a .262/.294/.445/.739 line. I'll take it. He's provided defense at a corner infield spot, and he's learning to take a walk. The kid's a keeper, and I hope this isn't the last we see of him playing meaningful games in October for the Orioles.
Omar Quintanilla (LH) - Perhaps Buck wants another lefty off the bench, and that's why he decided to keep Quintanilla on the roster. I wouldn't expect to see him in the game unless something goes really wrong given that both Andino and Flaherty are better options.
Mark Reynolds (RH) - Since Aug. 1, Mark Reynolds has been doing what Mark Reynolds does - strike out, walk and hit home runs. His BA is just .212 in that span, but he's on-base at a .306 clip and hit 9 HR while walking 15 times. He's slugging .778 against righties this year, and for the Orioles to win, you figure either Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis or both will have to send a ball over the wall.
Chris Davis (LH) - Chris Davis has hit for average and gotten on base at about the same rate he did last year, with a .270 BA and a .326 OBP. What's changed? How far those hits go. He's up 103 points in slugging this season, going from .398 to .501 with the increased playing time. He's been consistent against righties and lefties as well, with an OPS that about 40 points higher against righties than lefties (.836 vs .792). If Chris Davis comes out of this game, it's because the O's are making a defensive change to protect a lead, not because of platoon splits.
Endy Chavez (LH) - And if Endy gets into this game, it's to replace Chris Davis in right field for defense. He hasn't been good at the plate this year (.203/.236/.278/.515) but his glove already helped save one game this week. Look for Endy after Davis' last AB in around the 8th inning if the O's have the lead.
Lew Ford (RH) - I don't quite know why Lew Ford made the roster, but I suppose the other choices were worse. Then again, can you really get much worse than a slash line of .183/.256/.352/.609? Because if you can, I don't want that guy on the playoff roster, either.
Adam Jones (RH) - Adam's having a career year in just about everything (.287/.334/.505/.839) except OBP, and he missed by just a point there. Sure, he has just two more walks (34) than home runs (32), but that's always been part of the package. He hasn't faded down the stretch, either. Since Sept. 1, his numbers are just about his season totals, and in some cases, better: .295/.343/.504/.847.
Nate McLouth (LH) - If there's one player who saved the Orioles' season, well, it's probably Miguel Gonzalez. But he's not on the roster, so of the 25 that are, the next choice would be McLouth. He's at a career high for BA and near his career highs in everything else - .268/.342/.435/.777. When Nick Markakis went down, we hoped we'd find someone to give a little of Nick's offense. McLouth has filled that role admirably, while playing a good LF without the benefit of a plus-arm. I wouldn't mind Nate being up in a clutch situation, but I don't want him to have to throw a runner out at the plate to save the game, either.
Taylor Teagarden (RH) - All he does is win games when he hits. Seriously. He has just 9 hits all year, but two have won extra-inning games. As Steve Melewski noted two weeks ago, "Of his eight hits, four have come with runners in scoring position (he is 4-for-13) and he is 3-for-5 in extra innings with a double, homer and four RBIs." Unless Matt Wieters gets hurt or is lifted for a pinch-runner in a game that goes into extra innings, I don't see Teagarden in this game.
Matt Wieters (SH) - Matt's offensive numbers (.249/.329/.435/.764) are down in everything except home runs (23, a career high), but there's no doubt the O's don't win many games when Matt Wieters is having an off night. Most teams would kill for a catcher who 4th at his position in slugging, 5th in average, 5th in OPS and 4th in home runs.
DESIGNATED HITTER (1)
Jim Thome (LH) - Jim Jam mashes taters. Seriously, that's what he's been doing since 1991. And since he's come back from his neck injury, he's continued to do so. And he really does it against right-handed pitchers: .267/.365/.430/.795 with 5 HRs in 135 ABs against righties. If anyone might touch up Yu Darvish for some damage, it's Jim Thome.
Looking at the roster, the strength is going to be the bullpen. If Joe Saunders can get through even 3 innings with no or minimal damage, the Orioles have a real chance of winning this game. They just need to drive Yu Darvish out of the game before Texas takes a sizable lead, and the bullpen simply needs to do just what it's done all year. If this is a 1 or even 2 run game in the 6th, I like the O's chances.
PREDICTION: Orioles 7, Rangers 5 (11)