Here are my MLB Wild Card play-in picks:
StL @ Atl – (Lohse 16-3, 2.86 vs. Medlen 10-1, 1.57)
The first ever single-game postseason “series” should be a good one. The Cards are the reigning champions, having sneaked into the playoffs last year thanks in part to an epic Braves collapse. They lose LaRussa, Pujols, Berkman, and Carpenter, and yet remain a tough team to beat, mainly due to a high powered offense that can out-score anyone. They will need their stars to shine tonight (Molina, Holliday, Craig, Beltran, Freese) to give Lohse some support in, what should be, a low scoring game.
Runs have been at a premium for teams facing Medlen. He has been amazing in limited appearance, and has the look of a long-term ace. However, he lacks post-season experience, and the Cards must capitalize on his early nerves. Veteran hitters like Ross, Chipper, Uggla, and Prado will be the backbone of this team in this game, and HR-hitting youngsters like Freeman and Heyward must show their muscle as well.
In what might be Chipper Jones’ last game as an Atlanta Brave, look for the home-town crowd to be loud and impacting. The Cards will need a quick lead in order to quiet things down, or they could be in for a long night. Should either team have a small lead in the 9th, don’t look for any last inning heroics, as closers Motte and Kimbrel are both lights out. If Lohse holds steady and Medlen makes some early mistakes, the Cardinals can hold on for another surprising finish to a mediocre season.
Bal @ Tex – (Saunders 9-13, 4.07 vs. Darvish 16-9, 3.90)
Two teams could not be less similar. The Orioles are the perennial whipping boy of the AL East, a group of misfits that never rise to the the level of the Yankees and Red Sox. This year is different. They’ve put together pieces that, combined, make a legitimate roster. Young players like McLouth, Machado, and Wieters are primed to make names for themselves, and veterans like Thome, Jones, and Reynolds are ready to take this wild ride all the way to the World Series.
The Rangers are as elite as any team in baseball. With a roster stacked from top to bottom with proven talent (Andrus, Kinsler, Young, Napoli, Cruz, Beltre, Hamilton) they are virtually unbeatable when firing on all cylinders. The losers of the last two World Series, this is a team and a home-field crowd that expects to win. If they can get going early, there is no stopping this offense or this shut-down bullpen.
In a match-up of two confident and capable teams, the final outcome might be decided by pitching, rather than hitting. Both Saunders and Darvish are new to their respective teams, and both have done well. Saunders’ numbers are poor, but most of them came with a weak Arizona team, while Darvish’s numbers are good but not great. If both pitchers get touched for a few runs, and the closers Johnson and Nathan do as well as they have all season, then the game could come down to one costly mistake that ends one team’s post-season dreams.