While the Orioles enjoyed a well-earned bye that saw them through to the Division Series for the first time since 2014, the Texas Rangers made quick work of the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card round, outscoring them 11-1 in a two-game sweep. The playoff spotlight now shifts to Baltimore, where a best-of-five set begins on Saturday afternoon.
The O’s and Rangers have played six times this year, splitting the season series three games each. In early April, the Orioles went down into the heart of Texas and took two out of three. In late May it was the Rangers that snagged the series at Camden Yards.
This Rangers squad was playing some of its best baseball when these teams last met. They concluded May with a 35-20 record, and then went on to win five in a row to begin June, pushing their AL West lead to five games. But from June 7 through the end of the season they slumped, finishing the season at 50-52 over the final four months. That cost them the AL West title and forced them into that Wild Card round earlier this week.
Injuries have been a big problem, particularly for the pitching staff. Jacob deGrom has been out since April and ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery. Jake Odorizzi missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. Max Scherzer has been out since mid September and is doubtful for this series. Jon Gray has been experiencing forearm tightness that put him on the IL late in the year, but he might have a shot to pitch in this series. You get the idea. It’s not good.
That has put extra pressure on a bullpen that had an ERA of 5.08 in September and had to handle a pretty big workload (122.1 innings.). That said, they got the job done against Tampa. Granted, they only threw 4.2 total innings, two of which were covered by José Leclerc, their top high-leverage arm. A key to this series could be the Orioles working counts against the Rangers starters to truly test the depth of that relief group.
No such doubt exists for the offense. Texas can bang. Among all MLB teams they ranked third in runs scored, third in home runs (233), third in slugging (.452), fourth in wRC+ (114), and second in hard hit rate (36.7%) along with some other favorable numbers.
Corey Seager is the dude in the lineup. He led the team’s qualified hitters with a .645 slugging, .390 on-base percentage, and 169 wRC+. He might be the AL MVP when it’s all said and done.
But it’s not just Seager. Marcus Semien has been super productive (.276/.348/.478). Evan Carter has only 23 big league games under his belt, but appears to be a stud with his 180 wRC+ in the regular season plus three more hits, including a homer, and three walks in the Wild Card round. In total, 11 different players on the Rangers roster had above-average wRC+ this year.
As I type this through orange-tinted glasses it feel as though that the Orioles are a more well-rounded team, but the Rangers have a clear advantage in offensive firepower. The Orioles reinvigorated rotation and Félix Bautista-less bullpen will need to do what they can to keep them in check.
Game 1: Saturday, October 7th, 1:03 ET in Baltimore, FS1
Projected starters: RHP Kyle Bradish (168.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, 3.27 FIP) vs. RHP Dane Dunning (172.2 IP, 3.70 ERA, 4.27 FIP)
The ALDS rosters have not been set yet, and neither team has announced starting pitching matchups. All theoretical pitching matchups have been pulled from FanGraphs’ projection of the series. That said, this face-off does feel right.
Bradish finished his stellar year with 16 scoreless innings over his final three starts. He held opponents to a .102 batting average in that time. But you don’t need to pull small sample sizes to make him look good. Since the start of May he has a 2.51 ERA, 3.13 FIP, and a .203 batting average against. That includes a win over these Rangers, when he allowed just one run over 6.2 innings in late May.
Dunning started the season in Texas’ bullpen, but injuries forced him into a starter’s role. The 28-year-old has been solid, although his overall numbers are buoyed somewhat by what he did in the first half of the year. Since July he has a 4.58 ERA and 4.71 FIP, serving up a .784 OPS against. The only time he faced these Orioles was in April, when he threw four scoreless innings of relief.
Game 2: Sunday, October 8th, 4:07 ET in Baltimore, FS1
Projected starters: LHP John Means (23.2 IP, 2.66 ERA, 5.24 FIP) vs. LHP Jordan Montgomery (188.2 IP, 3.20 ERA, 3.56 FIP)
If Hyde does go with Means here, it will be a somewhat controversial pick. The lefty has made only four starts since returning from Tommy John surgery. The top line ERA is good, but it’s helped by an unsustainable .130 BABIP and a teeny tiny 3.80 K/9. Encouraging these Rangers to put the ball in play feels dicey. But he started to miss bats with more regularity in his final two starts of the season (eight total strikeouts over 13.2 innings), so perhaps he is rounding back into form.
Montgomery has been stellar in a Rangers uniform. He owns a 2.79 ERA since being traded from the Cardinals this summer. He took the hill in game one of the Wild Card series and shut the Rays down, tossing seven scoreless and striking out five.
Game 3: Tuesday, October 10th, 8:03 ET in Texas, FOX
Projected starters: RHP Grayson Rodriguez (122 IP, 4.35 ERA, 3.93 FIP) vs. RHP Nathan Eovaldi (144.0 IP, 3.63 ERA, 3.88 FIP)
Rodriguez has been incredible since his return from Triple-A in mid July. Over the 13 starts he has made in that time he has a 2.58 ERA/2.76 FIP and a .590 OPS against. The 23-year-old still has that premium velocity, but he’s controlling it, limiting walks, and keeping the ball in the park. He feels like the game two starter, but giving him the ball in his home state in the same ballpark he made his debut just a few months ago would be a neat storyline all its own.
A forearm strain cost Eovaldi the entire month of August, and then he had a dreadful September (9.30 ERA/7.88 FIP, seven home runs, 20.1 innings). But he looked great in the series-clincher over Tampa. There is plenty of playoff experience for him to lean on after his years in Boston, where he appeared in 11 different postseason games across two different October runs.
Game 4 (if necessary): Wednesday, October 11th, TBD in Texas, FOX/FS1
Projected starters: RHP Dean Kremer (172.2 IP, 4.12 ERA, 4.51 FIP) vs. LHP Andrew Heaney (147.1 IP, 4.15 ERA, 4.66 FIP)
This is where the guessing really starts on pitching matchups. Technically there are three candidates for the Orioles in Kremer, Kyle Gibson, and Jack Flaherty. It is assumed that Flaherty will be in the bullpen (if he makes the roster at all). Kremer and Gibson had similar seasons, but ultimately Kremer was better late in the year. And if you are going to put one into a relief role Gibson likely makes the most sense considering he just did that for the Phillies last year.
Heaney had been pitching out of the bullpen for Texas in September. But they gave him a start in the final week of the season, and he looked good (4.1 scoreless innings). Gray or Scherzer would be the preferred options here, but it’s unclear if either will be ready to go.
Game 5 (if necessary): Friday, October 13th, TBD in Baltimore, FOX/FS1
Projected starters: Bradish vs. Montgomery
Everything is on the table if the series gets to this point. It’s win or go home, so there’s no point in leaving something in reserve. Bradish would be on one extra day of rest and Montgomery would be on normal rest, so this starting matchup makes sense. But the leash will be extremely short across the board. The winner gets a spot in the ALCS that starts on Sunday, October 15.
What outcome do you expect in this ALDS?
This poll is closed
Orioles in 3
Orioles in 4
Orioles in 5
Rangers in 3
Rangers in 4
Rangers in 5