As the postseason opens with its first-ever wild-card games, Alex Remington takes a look at the statistics that might make a difference in each do-or-die contest. Next up: The American League game featuring the Baltimore Orioles visiting the Texas Rangers. First pitch is scheduled for 8:37 p.m. ET with the game broadcast on TBS.
71 The average number of wins for the Baltimore Orioles since 1997, their last playoff appearance, to 2011. Back then, the 98-win Orioles were led by Davey Johnson (current manager of the Nationals) Cal Ripken, Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro, B.J. Surhoff and Mike Mussina. These days, their leaders have been Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis and Wei-Yin Chen. To put it mildly, it's been a team affair. But you don't win 93 games by accident, especially not in the AL East.
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221 Strikeouts by Yu Darvish, fifth-most in the American League and third-most among playoff pitchers, behind the Tigers' Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. In most years, Darvish would be a good Rookie of the Year candidate, but this is not most years, considering that 21-year-old rookie Mike Trout was the best all-around player in the American League. As befits his wild-man image, Darvish was indeed wild, walking more than 10 percent of the batters that he faced, but he was also frequently dominant, touching 96 with his fastball, and he finished the season with a bang: In his last eight starts, he was 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 67 strikeouts against just 15 walks in 57 1/3 innings.
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1 The number of times in history that a team from Baltimore has been in the playoffs at the same time as a team from Washington. And yes, that one time is this 2012 season. In fairness, while Baltimore and Washington have both hosted professional baseball teams dating back to the 1870s, there actually has only been a team in both cities at the same time in 28 seasons: 1901-1902, 1954-1971, and 2005-2012. There was no team in Baltimore for most of the first half of the 20th century, and none in Washington for most of the second half of the century. Now they both have a good team, and the mid-Atlantic is proving itself to be one of the strongest baseball regions in the country.
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67 percent The Rangers' stolen base percentage, tied with the Orioles for the third-worst in baseball. In the Orioles' defense, they've attempted many fewer steals than have the Rangers. Four Texas players have four players with double-digit steals, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Craig Gentry and David Murphy, and they are a combined 65 for 96. They need to start handing out fines. Killing baserunners at that rate is simply unacceptable. The Orioles only have two players with double-digit steals, Nate McLouth and Adam Jones, who are a combined 28 for 36. That's just fine, as long as everyone else agrees never to attempt another steal.
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.671 The Orioles' team OPS in the first inning, second-worst in baseball. Meanwhile, their pitchers are allowing opponents to hit for a .790 OPS in the first inning, which is fifth-worst in baseball. As befits their strange, wonderful season, the Orioles put themselves in a hole from the start of the game, and then they manage to climb out of it.
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3 The number of years that it had been been since Joe Nathan was last a shutdown closer. Nathan went to Minnesota in San Francisco's disastrous A.J. Pierzynski trade, and spent seven years in the Twin Cities, amassing 260 saves with a 2.16 ERA. But he missed all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery and struggled after his return in 2011, losing his closer's job for a period in the middle of the year. This year, his first with the Rangers, he kept it all season, and posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career with 6.0. Last season, the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon for four years/$50 million, the Marlins signed Heath Bell for three years/$27 million, and the Rangers signed Nathan for two years/$14.75 million. That is looking like the best move of the bunch.
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.655 The Orioles' winning percentage in August, September and October, when the team went 38-20, leapfrogging the Tampa Bay Rays and nearly stealing the division from the Yankees. On Aug. 3, the Orioles dropped a game to the Rays and were 55-51, in third place, 7.5 games behind the Yankees. A month later, on Sept. 4, they were tied for the division lead. And they did it with pitching. They had a 3.45 team ERA over that period, compared to a 4.15 ERA beforehand. Some of that might be luck, but they also revamped their rotation, replacing Brian Matusz with Chris Tillman and Tommy Hunter with Joe Saunders; Hunter and Matusz have been much better in the bullpen and the rotation has been much better without them.
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4.29 The Rangers' ERA in the second half, by far the worst among playoff teams. (The Yankees, at 3.98, are second-worst.) The Rangers were in first place from April 9 until the very last day of the season, when they were overtaken by the Athletics. It's not that they played horribly down the stretch — they were 34-26 with a 4.25 team ERA after Aug. 1 — but the amazing Athletics were simply better, 38-21 with a 3.54 ERA in that same period. Darvish has been great of late and Matt Harrison and pre-injury Colby Lewis were solid, but this team misses C.J. Wilson, and they really could use Alexi Ogando back in the rotation. They're not a bad pitching team like the Rangers teams of old. But it's no longer a strength.
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.739 The OPS that Manny Machado posted in 51 games after being called up. Machado was probably the second-best 19-year-old rookie in all of baseball this year, and there's no shame in that, considering that he was being overshadowed by Bryce Harper, possibly the most hyped position prospect of his generation. Machado and Harper are the only 19-year-olds in the past 15 years to play at least 50 games with an OPS over .720. He held his own at the plate and solidified the team's defense, and the team is 33-18 since his callup. They almost certainly wouldn't have made the playoffs without him.
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808 The number of runs scored by the Rangers, most in baseball. By many measures — extra-base hits, slugging, OPS — the Rangers offense is second to the Yankees in its potency. But the Rangers scored more runs than anyone this year. Their pitching staff is a little shaky, but their offense can hang crooked numbers on anyone. They've used that offense to get to the World Series the past two years in a row, and there's no reason to think the third time won't be the charm.
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