Tonight, the Orioles take on the Rangers in Arlington for their first playoff game since 1997. Buck announced his starter half way through the day on Thursday, as Joe Saunders takes the mound, in a win or go home matchup versus a team that has back-to-back World Series appearances.
This is all information that everyone from Southern, PA. to the Eastern Shore already know. But most do not know what kind of record the Orioles starter has going into this game at Rangers Ballpark. Though he has not pitched in Texas this season for Baltimore, he did spend the beginning of his career with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Southern California, West Coast, Wichita (sorry went off on a tangent there). Six times Saunders has headed to Arlington with the ball in his hand, his record: 0-6, 9.38 ERA.
Now the options are limited for this game and Saunders does have the most (aka the only) playoff experience of any starting pitcher on the roster, but this could one of the few mistakes Buck has made all season (and it could be a huge one). The Orioles really can only look to a couple pitchers for this game, as Chen pitched Monday and has struggled the last month. Gonzalez has come up big in big games all season, but pitched Tuesday and they haven’t thrown him out there on short rest at all in his rookie campaign. Tillman is out, pitching Wednesday night (where he did not look good at all) and Hammel is just coming off the DL, so Buck cannot risk his season on a balky knee.
So the Orioles are left with Joe Saunders or Steve Johnson; not the best way to go into what could be the last game of the season. Most would look at Saunders stats noted earlier and think Johnson was the no-brainer, but he has knee issues himself and is another guy they limited all season long as a rookie. But there is one more idea, a rare occurrence in MLB, but does happen several times each season; a bullpen game.
Everyone knows the bullpen has been not only the most consistent, but strongest part of this roster, virtually dominant all season. With the amount of young arms they have moved from starters, these kids can throw their arms out for two innings in the most important game for Baltimore in a decade and a half. Hunter has reached 100mph on the gun since moving to the bullpen, while Arrieta and Matusz have been definitively better not starting games and Johnson may be able to go if only asked to hold down the first inning or two. Add on guys like Patton, O’Day and Ayala, who have been nothing short of spectacular all season, and the bullpen has the best chance to win this game.
If those seven pitchers get through seven, with the lead or keeping it close, Bird land will be in good shape for some Orioles Magic. With the back end solidified by Jim Johnson, who in all reality could give Buck two innings if needed, a close game is a win for the O’s (especially if you look at the statistics or have just paid attention to this team this year). For those worried about wearing everyone out, any pitcher out their will only go once in three days, as the first game of the divisional round will not be until Sunday.
So only time will tell whether Buck has made the only major mistake of the season but this could be costly one.