It has been an up-and-down season for the Texas Rangers, who had a 56.8% chance to win the AL West as of August 15th before rattling off 16 losses in 20 games. On September 26th, they had an 89.1% chance to win the AL West. They lost 3-of-4 in Seattle in the final weekend to relinquish the division title, but they made quick work of the 98-win Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card series, sweeping them in two games by a combined score of 11-1.
Now, they travel to Baltimore to take on the Orioles, who won the AL East for the first time since 2014 behind incredible performances from young stars Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman. They’re finally seeing the fruits of their rebuild, but they seem like the 2015 Cubs or Astros. Like those teams, they clearly have enough talent to be a contender for years, but they are a year ahead of their true contention World Series window.
Is the Bye an Advantage?
Last year, two of the four teams who had a first round bye bowed out in the division series, including both of the National League’s top seeds. The Los Angeles Dodgers were eliminated in four games by the San Diego Padres, while the Atlanta Braves were also knocked out in four by the Philadelphia Phillies. In the American League, the Houston Astros swept the Seattle Mariners, but the Yankees struggled with the Guardians.
Game 1: Kyle Bradish vs Dane Dunning
The biggest advantage of having the first-round bye is the ability to set up your starting rotation. While Kyle Bradish will get the ball for Brandon Hyde, Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi are out of the equation for Bruce Bochy. Instead, he’ll turn to Andrew Heaney, who has a 4.15 ERA in 147.1 across 28 starts and 6 relief appearances on the year.
Bradish relies heavily on his breaking balls, and rightfully so. He throws his slider 31.2% of the time and generated a +14 RV and 36.4% whiff rate with the pitch. He also throws his curveball 17.3% of the time and had a +15 RV and 35.6% whiff rate.
This Rangers lineup is a bad matchup for Bradish, as Corey Seager is the best breaking ball hitter in the league, while Marcus Semien and Adolis Garcia also crush right-handed breaking balls. Among hitters who saw at least 200 right-handed breaking balls in 2023, Seager’s .463 wOBA and 1.101 OPS against them were the best marks in baseball. Against those pitches, Garcia (.366 wOBA) and Semien (.343) were also dominant.
It’s not like you can just attack the Rangers with fastballs. They saw the most fastballs in the league, because they ranked 4th in the league in wOBA (.311) and 3rd in SLG (.423) against non-fastballs. But they crush those too. Against fastballs and sinkers between 94 and 96 MPH, where Bradish sits, the Rangers slugged .467 (4th in MLB) and had a .357 wOBA (3rd). Bradish’s four-seamer is his worst pitch (-8 RV), but he still throws it 22.4% of the time.
Expect the Rangers to ambush those fastballs, while their lineup can also hit his top-tier breaking balls. Even against RH sliders with more than 12 inches of horizontal break like Bradish’s, Seager (.894 wOBA), Jonah Heim (.789), Evan Carter (1.002) and Robbie Grossman (.386) raked. For reference, the league average against those pitches was just .280. And against RH curveballs with over 50 inches of drop, like Bradish’s, Seager (.504 wOBA), Garcia (.501), Josh Jung (.419), and Semien (.381) all found success. The league average wOBA against those pitches was just .283.
Heaney made two starts against the Orioles in 2023 and had drastically different results. In his first appearance of the season on April 4th, the Orioles lit up Heaney for seven earned runs while he recorded just eight outs. On May 27th, however, Heaney got his revenge. In seven innings, he allowed just four hits and one earned run. In the rubber match between Heaney and the Orioles, remember Texas has a shallow bullpen.
It’s not unlikely that we see another starter out of Bochy’s bullpen in Game 1, as Dane Dunning has yet to appear in the postseason. Jon Gray could be another option, but he is dealing with shoulder tightness and his status is unclear. But Bochy may be saving Dunning for a potential do-or-die Game 4, as Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi won’t be ready for Game 4.
On the surface level, this pitching matchup heavily favors Baltimore. But after a deeper dive into their pitch arsenals and the matchups, game one could go either way. The Rangers’ bats are hot, though, and they won’t have to shake off any rust like the Orioles, who will have had five days off in between Game 162 on Sunday and their playoff opener on Saturday.
The Orioles have a much better bullpen than Texas. Yennier Cano (72.2 IP, 2.11 ERA), Danny Coulombe (51.1 IP, 2.81 ERA), Cionel Perez (53.1 IP, 3.54 ERA), and Jacob Webb (22.0 IP, 3.27 ERA) are all reliable options for manager Brandon Hyde, but their superstar closer Felix Bautista will be out. For Texas, the bullpen seriously lacks depth. Bruce Bochy only seems to trust Aroldis Chapman and Jose LeClerc, and Chapman can’t throw two days in a row. Expect the Rangers to try to get as much length as possible from their starters, and even use some starters out of the bullpen if necessary.
Game 2: Grayson Rodriguez vs Jordan Montgomery
The Rangers’ starter for Game 2 is TBA, but Jordan Montgomery pitched on Tuesday which means he should be good to go on Sunday on four-days (regular) rest. Brandon Hyde has already announced that his rookie starter Grayson Rodriguez will get the ball. While this Texas lineup is a bad matchup for Bradish, they are an absolute nightmare for Grayson Rodriguez.
Rodriguez throws his high-velocity fastball nearly half of the time, and the Rangers’ top bats are some of the best in baseball against 95+ MPH fastballs. As a team, they had a .332 wOBA (3rd in MLB) and .341 xwOBA (4th) against 95+ MPH fastballs, and those numbers don’t see much of a drop-off when limited to only fastballs above 97 MPH (.311 wOBA, .305 xwOBA). Against 95+ MPH pitches, The worst part of this matchup for Rodriguez is that his fastball is actually his worst pitch. Although he throws it at a 49.6% clip, he has a -7 RV with the pitch.
Rodriguez’s strengths are his curveball and changeup. We’ve already established that the Rangers crush RH curveballs, but what about changeups? Against right-handed changeups, Seager has a .375 wOBA, while Semien (.354) and Heim (.385) also handle those pitches. As a team, they have a .326 wOBA, which ranks 4th in baseball and is far better than the league average of .287.
Game 3: John Means vs Nathan Eovaldi
While neither of these starters have been announced, John Means and Nathan Eovaldi are my early assumptions for the starters of Game 3. The Orioles could look to Dean Kremer instead. Eovaldi is a surefire pick, unless Texas has a 2-0 lead heading back to Arlington and decides to give their veteran some extra rest. Eovaldi is the best matchup for this Baltimore lineup, but there are reasons to optimistic for Texas.
Eovaldi is a five-pitch pitcher, but he relies most on his four-seamer (37.2% usage), splitter (27.6%), and cutter (17.6%) to work through lineups. This Orioles lineup has a history of success against Eovaldi, as Gunnar Henderson (.568 xwOBA) and Adley Rutschman (.453) have crushed him, while Austin Hays (.327) and Ryan Mountcastle (.374) have also had success. Eovaldi never faced the Orioles this year, but he has had prior success, including a complete game shutout and another start of seven shutout innings in 2023.
John Means only made four starts in 2023 as he missed most of the year recovering from a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery back in April 2022. In those four starts, Means had a 2.66 ERA, but a 5.24 FIP. It’s hard to judge the southpaw based on just 23.2 innings, and he was the Orioles’ ace when he went down in 2022. In 28 starts across 2021 and 2022, Means had a 3.61 ERA and 4.49 FIP. But the Rangers have had previous success against him, as Marcus Semien (.386 xwOBA), Adolis Garcia (.833 OPS) have good numbers against him.
Game 4: Dean Kremer vs Dane Dunning
Game 5: Kyle Bradish vs Jordan Montgomery
In a do-or-die situation, these starters are hard to predict. If it’s 2-1 Texas, we could easily see Brandon Hyde pivot to Kyle Bradish on short rest in Game 4. If it gets to Game 5, Montgomery would be ready to go on normal rest, setting up a potential matchup of the teams’ aces. In Game 4, Bochy would likely pick between Dane Dunning, Jon Gray, or Andrew Heaney (depending on his Game 1 workload).
If it is Dunning, his fastballs had a combined run value of +20, placing him in the 99th percentile in 2023. His sinker and cutter make up 53.1% of his pitch mix and had a +17 RV and +6 RV respectively. Against sinkers and cutters, the Orioles were slightly above league average in results and slightly below average in quality of contact. The league had a .342 wOBA and .348 xwOBA against those pitches, while the Orioles had a .346 wOBA and .347 xwOBA.
On the flip side, Dane Dunning’s heavy sinker-cutter usage plays against the Orioles’ strengths, and he has shut down this lineup in the past. In their careers against Dunning, Adley Rutschman (.219 xwOBA), Ryan O’Hearn (.032), Austin Hays (.071), and Adam Frazier (.594 OPS) have all struggled. Cedric Mullins II (.390 xwOBA) and Anthony Santander (.423), however, have done damage in the past
Another question mark in play is the health of Max Scherzer, who is trying to make a comeback from an injury that was reportedly season-ending. If he’s put on the Division Series roster, we could see him make a start, or maybe more likely a bullpen appearance in the later stages of this series.
MLB Playoff Betting: Take Texas to Advance (+100 on BetMGM)
You could even play the series spread here and take Texas -1.5 games at +180, but I’ll play it safe with just the Rangers to advance. Texas matches up well with the Baltimore pitching staff, while Texas’ top two starters shut down the Rays in the Wild Card. The explosive Rangers’ offense will be too much for Baltimore, as they won’t be able to keep up offensively. I expect the Texas Rangers to steal one in Baltimore and close it out in Arlington.
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