MLB Play In’s – Are They Good For The MLB?

Koppetts Town Staff

Micah - For the unique and first-ever one game playoffs, Ray, Brandon and I (Micah) wanted to do a massive collaboration on such pivotal games.  The playoffs are set, with the Yankees, Tigers, Athletics, Orioles, and Rangers making the playoffs in the AL, and the Nationals, Reds, Giants, Braves, and Cardinals making it in the NL.  All three of our teams (Nats, O’s, and Braves) made it so we are all personally invested and, there is a whopping 30% chance one of our teams wins it all!  Tomorrow night, the Braves/ Cards and Orioles/Rangers play the one-game, winner takes all playoff game.  The stakes are incredibly high and, for fans of these teams, they are more high leverage than the first couple games in any of the other playoff series.  The NL game is at 5 o’clock while the AL game is on at 8:30 on TBS.   I know it’s the Orioles’ slogan, but BUCKle up, reader, these two games are gonna be intense.  Enjoy the read!

Brandon - So what will you get when you read this MLB play-in piece? With Ray, you will get his full on bias opinion on the Orioles chances (or lack thereof) against the Rangers. Micah will then provide you with all you need to know regarding the Braves vs. Cards game with stats out the wazoo! Finally (and let’s be honest, we all decided to save the best for last), I will share with you how much fun it is to watch these play in games as a fan whose team isn’t involved (or has already clinched the NL East). With all these three angles coming at you head on like a bull to a velvet carpet, you will have all you need to know regarding the weekend’s play in games. Do yourself a favor, read this, print it out, and keep it with you this weekend as you watch the games this weekend. You will find that most of what we have said will in fact come to fruition, and you will be the one ahead of the curve.

Ray - Tomorrow starts a new tradition in Major League Baseball. This offseason, Major League Baseball decided that the “play-in” game that baseball has seen over the past couple of seasons due to ties in a few of the divisional races has been so exciting, that they had to implement a second wild card team to make this happen annually. New in 2012, both wild card teams will play each other in an exciting, nerve-racking one game playoff to decide who advances to the divisional round of the postseason. This year, in the American League, Ray’s Baltimore Orioles finished two games behind the dreaded New York Yankees, while the Texas Rangers went cold at the worst time and blew away their division chances to the up and coming Oakland Athletics. These two teams will duke it out in a winner-take all fashion tomorrow evening.

Although this seems like a great time to be a fan of one of these four teams, that is not really the case. Yes, I am very happy that my Orioles have finally snapped their fourteen season losing streak and have reached the playoffs for the first time since I was two years old. That being said, this is a very hectic time. Your favorite team hadn’t announced who was starting the almighty wild card game until about an hour ago, and you find out it is indeed Joe Saunders. Saunders is 0-6 with a putrid 9.38 era in his career at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Yes, you read that correctly, a 9.38 era.#

So, why start Joe Saunders you ask? For one, he is the only starting pitcher on the Orioles roster who has any postseason experience which is key. Secondly, because this is such a huge game, Buck Showalter will throw the kitchen sink at the Rangers. Whether that’s keeping Saunders in for three innings and then throwing another starter like Steve Johnson or even Zach Britton into the game, anything to do keep this potent Ranger lineup in check. This would be easier said than done considering the O’s won only two of seven games played against Texas this season, giving up 56 runs in those seven games, an average of runs per game.

The first key in this one game playoff game is for Joe Saunders to throw strikes early and get ahead of these Texas sluggers.The Rangers lead the league in runs scored (808) and third in the league in batting average (.273) With this, comes getting Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus, the top of their order, out. That way, in case Josh Hamilton (43 home runs) or Adrian Beltre (36 home runs) belts one to Dallas, it would only be a solo shot and the Orioles will still be in the game. If Saunders can command his pitches early and often, Baltimore can stay in the game and hopefully turn the game over to their dynamite bullpen which is one of the few advantages they have over Texas.

The second key in the game will be getting to Texas’ starting pitcher, Yu Darvish early. Darvish got off to a smokin’ hot start with six wins in his first eight big league starts including a stifling 2.60 ERA. Darvish has cooled off since but still posted a 16-9 record and a 3.90 era in the regular season. The Orioles don’t have to put up a five-spot in the first inning to do this (though I would certainly take that). If Baltimore’s hitters can work the count early and make Darvish throw a lot of pitches, they can hopefully get him out of the game earlier and make their bullpen beat them. If Darvish goes deep into the ballgame the Orioles could be in some serious trouble.

My third and final key to the game comes down to experience. This Texas Rangers team the Orioles are facing have been to the World Series the past two seasons. So to say they have some playoff experience would be quite an understatement. Not to mention they’re hungry to get back to the World Series and take it home this time. On the other hand, this Baltimore Orioles team has little to no playoff experience. When the lights come on tomorrow night, the Orioles could very well be shell-shocked and not get into the flow of the game till the middle innings when their magical ride could be over. I believe Buck will have his team ready to go tomorrow night and will have a mindset that they can in fact when the game and move on in the playoffs to the New York Yankees.

The Orioles are very capable of winning this game. The amount of crazy wins this team has pulled out this season has been nothing short of miraculous.  As a fan, I want nothing more for this team to advance and have the Yankees travel to Baltimore on Sunday and play in Birdland. But, objectively, I do not think this will be the case. Texas simply has too much fire power offensively and much more postseason experience that the Orioles will not be able to match up with. I see Saunders scuffling in Arlington early, and the Oriole’s bats not being able to surmount a comeback against Darvish. Rangers-6, Orioles-4 is my prediction for the game.  Unfortunately, this would mean an ending to an amazing, even magical, year of baseball in Baltimore. Fortunately, I don’t decide the games, and the Birds still have an opportunity to shock the world! Now, let’s back these players win or lose tomorrow night. Buckle up Baltimore!

Micah - This may be a little backwards, but let me start off by saying that I think the Braves should win this game, though I am scared spitless at the thought of my dreams being unraveled by an inferior, less-deserving team. Not to knock the Cards, but the Braves were a full 6 games better this season, and it’s slightly annoying that the Cards are on a level playing field with them and have an equal chance to continue. That being said, the playoff game is what it is and should be some  exciting baseball.

Let’s start with the starters; St. Louis send Kyle Lohse to the Hill and the Braves counter with Kris Medlen.  Pitching is crucial in these one game playoffs and even more cause for teams to shore up a staff ace.  Teams with one really good starter are more favored in these games, so a team whose strength is depth is slightly at a disadvantage here.  Before the season, i would have classified both the Braves and Cardinals as teams with good depth though no #1 ace, however, the rise of Kris Medlen and the startling success of Kyle Lohse give both teams a legit starter.  I’ve already written a good deal about Medlen and his historic run this season, but I’ll give a quick recap.  The Braves have won the past 23 games started by Medlen, the owner of a 1.57 ERA and 3.9 WAR in 138 regular season innings.  Yeah, thats right, 1.57!  It gets better, as a starter, his ERA is at 0.97, his WHIP is at 0.8, he is striking out a batter per inning,and his average game score over 12 starts is 70.1!  For reference, a game score over 50 is about average, 70.1 for one start is a heck of an outing.  Kris made 3 relief appearances against the Cards, giving up 3 runs in 5.2 IP.  This is neither encouraging or discouraging for either team.  Lohse is no slouch either as he has a 16-3 record, 2.86 ERA, and a respectable 3.6 K/BB ratio in 212 regular season innings.  In his one start against the Braves this year, he gave up 5 runs in 5 innings of work.  While that is pretty terrible, it does not factor into the upcoming game much because, in addition to being several months ago, all pitchers have bad starts every once in a while, and Lohse has been effective against the Braves in previous seasons.  It must be, however, encouraging for the Braves that they gave Lohse his worst outing of the season.  The nod here most definitely goes to Medlen and the Braves, but Lohse could very well pitch the better game and, like Medlen, has a knack for winning ball games.

If It comes down to the bullpen in this game, the Braves have on of the best in the Majors, highlighted by Cy Young candidate and closer, Craig Kimbrel; while the Cardinals have one of the worst bullpens in the league.  As far as closers are concerned, Jason Motte is no match for Kimbrel, but the supporting pitchers on both teams are about the same level.  Atlanta has reliable setup men in Jonny Venters, Eric O’flaherty, and Luis Avilan quietly put up a nice season.  Mitchell Boggs and Edward Mujica have been getting it done for the Cards in the 7th and 8th innings.  If, for some cruel reason, the game goes into extra innings, the Braves have a slight advantage because the Cards have few reliable relief pitchers beyond the three mentioned above and Shelby Miller won’t be available.  The Braves have Christian Martine and Cory Gearrin ready to rock if their depth is needed in an extended game.

Finally, to the batting lineups; the Cards certainly have the advantage here with a 107 wRC+ compared to the Braves 92 wRC+.  That 15% is pretty significant over a season, but for one game, anything could happen.  The Cards have been undeniably better than the Braves when it comes to smashing the cover off baseballs, they scored 65 more runs and hit .271 compared to the Braves BA of .247.  They’ve been the most potent offense in the league and it will be key for them to hit, hit, hit!  The Braves will have to keep this offense to as few runs as possible.  The Braves offense is not so bad in and of itself, it just doesn’t stack up to the Cardinals’.  Key players for the Braves are going to be Heyward, Prado, and Bourn.  Bourn and Prado NEED to set the table for the big bats in order (Heyward, Chipper, Uggla, Freeman) for this game to be won.  David Ross is getting the start over McCann and I can’t really complain.  Ross is by far and away the best backup catcher in the sport and has been for years now.  I think the Braves will either break out and score 7+ runs or score 3 or fewer runs.  Pitching, due to the volatility of their offense, is the Braves primary advantage and key to winning, no matter what offense shows up tomorrow night.  The  Cardinals spectacular offense is paced by Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, and Carlos Beltran.  Jon Jay, Allen Craig, and David Freese are also key pieces in this potent lineup.  I think the Cards will either be stifled by Medlen or bust out and score 5+.  Offense is really the only advantage held by the Cards and they better wreak havoc at the plate tomorrow if they want to win.

Fielding goes, hands down, in the advantage of the Braves.  They have the highest UZR in baseball at 51.5 while the Cardinals are at a lowly -18.5 UZR.  This is a HUGE advantage for the Bravos, especially in a pitcher friendly Turner Field and its spacious confines, which reminds me; the Braves final advantage is the home field advantage.  Anyway, If a ball is in the air and not over the fences, there is no OF in baseball I’d rather have than Bourn/Heyward/Prado.  They are a huge reason the Braves made the playoffs and should be a valuable asset in the playoffs, especially with a staff filled with fly ball pitchers.  Andrelton Simmons is also worthy of praise for his defense, and may be the best defensive SS in the Bigs.  Defense is a pretty hefty advantage for the Braves and the home field advantage is a nice perk too.

Not only do I want the Braves to win, I also think they will win and can back it up.  However, the Cards are a respectable adversary and these one games playoffs favor the team with the best game, not necessarily the best team.  I certainly hope the best team gets what they deserve, but they have their work cut out for them.  My odds for the game are 60% chance Braves win, 40% for a Cards victory.  Who do you think will win?  Give us your two cents in the comments, (actually, if you want to literally give us 2 cents, don’t be afraid to click the video ads in our articles and/or tell your friends about us!).  But really, we want your thoughts.  Let’s go Bravos!

Brandon - Should I be feeling like a spoiled only – child on the eve of Christmas morning? Yes, I think I deserve too. The city of Washington D.C. has been in such a sporting funk in the last 20 years that I am full on embracing this moment that the Washington Nationals have accomplished. Being a fan of Washington D.C. sports teams, I was born with a skeptical mindset when it came to success for my teams. How do I know that this success will continue into next year? How can I be certain that ‘the stars will all align’ for a second year in a row? Can I counting on the Phillies and Marlins being that bad next year (Well, okay, the Marlins are the only exception I guess)? Let’s face it, I still remember when the Skins drafted Jason Campbell advertising him as, “The Future of Our Franchise.” We all know how that turned out … But something is different for this Washington Nationals franchise, and it starts at the top. The Lerners (Majority owners of the Nats) have orchestrated what has become a “dream team” and a “dream season” that was frankly, a year premature. As soon as the Lerners hired Mike Rizzo to be their GM, they set the foundation for a future playoff team.

But let’s not forget people!!! The Nationals endured arguably the worst six years of “new team” growing pains in the history of the MLB. In 2005, the inaugural first season, the Nationals finished the regular season at 81 – 81. After getting over their honeymoon year, reality set in, and it set in hard. In 2006, the Nationals finished the season with a record of 71 – 91; ten more losses than the previous year, and subsequently ten fewer wins as opposed to their honeymoon year. But the Nats would have some semblance of an “improvement” the following 2007 season. Finishing their 2007 season at 73 – 89, the Nationals finished better than 5th for the first time in their history, they finished 4th. These next two seasons are ones that I would really like to forget, and frankly, I hate the fact that this stat hasn’t been deleted from the Nats official Wikipedia page. I mean, if one guy can release a bunch of high-profile government files, why can’t one delete a couple of years off the face of Wiki – history (I gotta stop giving myself these ideas)? In 2008, the Nationals finished at 59 – 102, their worst record in their history. Hey, but if Al Gore can blame the President’s lackluster debate performance on Denver’s altitude, can I blame the Nationals 2008 season on altitude? No? Okay fine. If there is any silver lining in the Nationals first six seasons, it’s that they were consistent … consistently HORRIBLE! But what we all didn’t know was that during those 50 win seasons, Mike Rizzo was gidding from ear to ear about the fact that he would have two number one picks in two consecutive years. The end of the 2009 season proved to be the storm before the calm (or is it the calm before the storm? Either way, things stopped sucking for the Nats). In 2010, the Nationals finished at 69 – 93, ten wins more than the previous season. Not that much of an improvement, but an improvement nonetheless. 2011 proved to be the year to defy all years for the Nats. The Nationals finished one game behind .500, 80 – 81, finishing 3rd for the first time in their short history, thus setting the stage for the 2012 season. I’m not going to go into too much detail regarding the Nationals magical 2012 campaign, except for the fact that they finished 98 – 64, clinching the NL East for the first time in franchise history. Due to the fact that they won the division and don’t have to participate in the dreaded play – in games, I will be having one of the best weekends of baseball in a long time (that is until the Nats win the World Series, that will be an epic weekend).

You see, Ray and Micah will be agonizing over each and every pitch, strike, ball, swing, and crack of the bat, heck I would be too! What’s interesting though is that Ray and Micah are on the opposite sides of the play – in spectrum. Ray and his O’s are in the “Man are we just glad to be here or what?!” mode. They don’t have a problem playing in these ‘winner take all’ games to decide who gets to the playoffs because frankly, they shouldn’t be in this situation in the first place! (refer to Micah regarding the O’s run differential). Micah on the other hand is ticked at this whole extra wild card play – in-game system that has been implemented this year. Honestly, he has every right to be. Like he mentioned in his above piece, the Braves finished a full 6 games above the Cardinals at the end of the season. But despite having a six game lead over them, they are forced to play the pesky Cards in a virtual game seven to decide a team’s playoff life. The agony is that the Braves are clearly the better team going into this one game playoff, but that doesn’t matter in this system! The Cards won the whole thing last year, they know what it takes to come from behind, defy the odds, and defeat the heavily favored. Here’s how I think both games will go down:

Baltimore vs. Texas – When picking NFL games, I like to go by this one cardinal rule, “If Brandon Weeden is Starting QB for the Browns, Always take the Opposing Team”. So, naturally, I’m going to apply this same principle to Orioles starting pitcher Joe Saunders. Unlike Saunders, I prefer my starting pitchers with ERA’s under the number of minimum innings in a given game. Going up against Saunders and the O’s is Yu Darvish. Darvish’s stuff is filthy. In fact, he has been criticised for having too much movement on his pitches that he can’t control them at all. When Darvish is on his game, all his pitches move like mad. If Darvish can be in command of his movement, it will be a long day for the O’s batters. On the flip side, the Rangers batters must be happier than Josh Beckett with a bucket of chicken and a six-pack of beer during a late season playoff push! Will we see another 4+ homer game from Josh Hamilton? Possibly. I believe Hamilton will be ticked that he couldn’t manage to spoil Cabrera’s triple crown hopes and will take his anger out on Saunders … Sorry Ray, click it or ticket, Rangers win 10 – 4.

Braves vs. Cardinals – Two words. Kris Medlen. When’s the last time Medlen lost??? Little league? And even then!!! Who is to say that he didn’t have a winning streak back then!? Can he keep the good times rolling? Yes he can. You see, when players behind a pitcher know that this pitcher will keep them in the game throughout, and they know that they haven’t lost in 23+ games when this pitcher has started, they will play their tails off for him. For this reason alone, I don’t even care about who the Cardinals are pulling out to oppose Medlen (its Kyle Lohse for those scoring at home). Even if the Cards still had Pujols, I would take the Braves over the Cards! I’m all in on Medlen!!! Hopefully he doesn’t screw me over. Braves 3 – 2 in 11.
Micah - I know we are putting a lot of hype on tomorrow’s games, but they really are THAT BIG of a deal.  2 teams’ seasons will end tomorrow.  Be sure to tune in to the games, and check to see if our analysis was correct.  For you fans with your team participating tomorrow, we are all right there with you in the anxiety of it all, hang in there!  Also, please give us feedback on the collaboration and how you like it compared to solo pieces.  As always, thanks for reading!

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