Thursday, October 4, 2012

MLB Wild Card Play In Picks: Embrace The Silly

This year's baseball playoffs are going to be upon us in, as I write this, 27 hours... which is to say, hardly enough time to even begin to think about putting down a bet, but that's fine, really. Baseball doesn't lend itself to betting, because the act of quality is getting there, not winning. Consider the Kirk Gibson Dodgers, the Kirby Puckett Twins, both of those Marlins teams, or any number of wild-card winners; it's nearly Stanley Cup-ish in its perverse desire to reward randomness. The best A's teams of this century were all one and done, while the worst (the Milton Bradley / Frank Thomas bailing wire and grime team from 2006) was the only one to win a series.

Now, MLB has tried to make that less likely this year with a play-in game that has, miraculously, not turned into a multi-day clusterfrank. So on Friday in Texas and Atlanta, the Cards and Braves will square off, while the Orioles and Rangers will dance in Texas. The survivors will get the Nationals and Yankees, respectively, who have to be considered the favorites to get to the World Series, if only because they'll be taking on less travel and a more ragged Round One (or is it Two?) opponent.

So all I can do, for the moment, is predict what's in front of me, then get to the next matchup after the Friday games. Let's have at it.

Cardinals at BRAVES

I really want to take the Cards here. They've got the rings on their fingers from last year that says they are not to be trifled with, and Kyle Lohse is one of the better under the radar starters in the National League. They also have a mashing offense and a power bullpen, and will be going to the worst fan base in baseball -- seriously, it's a 5pm game, there's no chance that Brave Fan fills more than half of the stadium for first pitch -- to try to steal this single game. There's really all kinds of reasons to like them.

But then there's Kris Medlen, who might have been the best pitcher in baseball for the second half of the year, and the back end of the Atlanta bullpen might not take a back seat to anyone in baseball. The Braves don't have a breathtaking offense, but they will get enough to win for Medlen. And while there's something to be said for the idea that the Cardinals are going to play a good and relaxed game of baseball for the first time in a month after somehow not choking up the wild card, I can't ignore the bad ball that gave them all of that unwanted drama in the first place. And if they hadn't the good sense to schedule the Astros late in the year, maybe they don't hold the lead after all.

ORIOLES at Rangers

At this time, no one knows who the Orioles will start in Game One. Seemingly, the choice is between the unknown and possibly injured stuff of rookie Steve Johnson or the veteran uselessness of Joe Saunders. If I'm managing Baltimore, there's no way that I trust Saunders to do anything other than get rocked in Arlington, but maybe O's manager Buck Showalter is just going to use him as a beard by announcing him for the first inning to get Rangers manager Ron Washington to put in all of his right-handed hitters, then switch to Johnson after the first pitch. This would all seem insane to anyone who hasn't watched the Orioles get to the post-season for the first time in this century without any real starters, but... well, that's kind of the way Charm City has rolled this year. If you can figure them out, you are smarter than, well, everyone. If they wind up throwing Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman or Jim Palmer or Mike Mussina in this spot, well, whatever. Anything's possible.

As for Texas, they limp back to Texas after getting swept by Oakland for the money playoff position, and playing just disinterested and desultory baseball for much of that. They've handled the O's this year, winning 5 of 7 games with an absurd 32 run differential, and they have Yu Darvish, who went 16-9 this year with a 3.90 ETA and a .220 opposing batting average. When he's on, he's unfair, but when he's not, he beats himself. And in his last 8 starts, he's made it to the seventh inning or beyond without giving up more than 3 earned runs.

So the Rangers have home field, an ace with plus-plus stuff, and an opponent with a chorus line of pitchers who they've beaten like a speed bag. So the pick is... the Orioles, because the Crazy Train isn't stopping this soon, and the Rangers just don't seem interested, and in particular, OF Josh Hamilton and 2B Ian Kinsler, don't seem all that interested in playing more baseball. And so what if that makes no sense? It's Baltimore, folks. Sense hasn't visited for a good long while.

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