Orioles vs. Rangers: A look at the match-up and the season series (MASN coverage note)

Don't panic, O's fans, but the Orioles' stats against Texas are just not good this year. Keep in mind they got blown out a few times to skew those stats, but the facts are the Orioles went 2-5 against the Rangers this year and were outscored 56-24. The Rangers had games of 10, 12 and 14 runs in the season series.

They took three of four in a series in early May in Baltimore. On May 8, Josh Hamilton went 5-for-5 with four homers, eight RBIs and an American League-record 18 total bases. He homered six times in that series. But when Texas took two of three at home from Aug. 20-22, he was just 2-for-11 with no homers or RBIs.

The Orioles have a team ERA of 7.23 and gave up 16 homers in 61 innings this year to the Rangers. O's hitters batted just .200 with 10 homers in the seven games.

How some O's hitters did this year vs. the Rangers:

Chris Davis: 2-for-17/0/0 and nine strikeouts
J.J. Hardy: 8-for-23/2/3
Adam Jones: 5-for-25/1/2
Manny Machado: 2-for-9/0/1
Nate McLouth: 3-for-11/1/2
Mark Reynolds: 3-for-21/0/0
Matt Wieters: 2-for-24/0/0

The Rangers had a team ERA of 2.90 in the season series and a team average of .317 with 17 doubles, a triple and 16 homers along with an OPS of .941.

Yes, these numbers are impressive for the Rangers. But what is also important is how well each team is playing at the time of the games. The Orioles played well late in the year, the last three games in Tampa notwithstanding.

Texas lost a five-game AL West lead with nine to play in losing the division to Oakland. The Rangers went 2-7 down the stretch and are 43-40 since June 30. Their offense has produced just a .232 team batting average since Sept. 1.

It's now a one-game season and anything can happen. One bad hop, one wild pitch, one wind-blown homer, one key error could send either team home with a loss Friday night. That figures to make it thrilling and incredibly nerve-wracking all at once for the fans of both teams.

Joe Saunders is 3-7 with a 6.48 ERA over 11 career starts vs. Texas. He is 0-6 with an ERA 9.38 at The Ballpark in Arlington in six career starts. Those are terrible numbers, but before you figure there's no way he can pitch this game, consider that he has not started against the Rangers since 2010.

Also, he had three terrible starts versus the Rangers in 2009, when he went 0-3 with a 16.88 ERA and gave up a stunning total of nine homers over 10 2/3 innings. Take away those three outings and he is 3-4 with a 4.15 ERA in his career against Texas. If Saunders doesn't get that start, the Orioles may go with Steve Johnson against the Rangers.

The Orioles, meanwhile, have to get by Yu Darvish. The right-hander, after pitching to an ERA of 5.49 over nine July and August starts, went 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA in five September starts with a .160 batting average against.

So all the Orioles have to do is beat a hot pitcher, working for a team that basically pushed them around the field this year, to advance. And, yes, do it on the road.

The Orioles' challenge awaits.

What do you think?: Are the Orioles facing a more beatable Texas team Friday after their struggles down the stretch? Do you put much stock in the O's-Rangers season series stats now? Who should start on the mound Friday for the O's?

Here are some links to stories worth reading:

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports looks at the Rangers' recent struggles.

On May 8, Josh Hamilton hit four homers against the Orioles.

Ron Washington talks about Yu Darvish and his strong finish to the year.

In May at Camden Yards, the Rangers presented several Orioles with their 2011 AL championship rings for their time last year with Texas.

Airing on MASN: "O's Xtra: Playoff Preview," hosted by Tom Davis and Rick Dempsey, will air tonight at 7 p.m. on MASN HD, with a rebroadcast at 10 p.m.

* Tomorrow, an expanded hour-long edition of "O's Xtra" will air beginning at 7 p.m. on MASN HD before the game broadcast on TBS. After the game, at approximately 11:30 p.m., an expanded hour-long postgame edition of "O's Xtra" will air.

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