Orioles vs. Rangers, 2012 A.L. Wild Card Playoff: Orioles underdogs in Arlington

Greg Fiume - Getty Images

Joe Saunders and Yu Darvish will start Friday at Rangers Ballpark, with both looking to advance their teams to the ALDS.

It looks like one of the most uneven matchups in recent time, but the Baltimore Orioles have been in this position before.

Their rise to contention this season, ending more than a decade of futility at Camden Yards, left many baseball observers puzzled. They are used to high-stakes gambles.

And that's how the decision made by Buck Showalter regarding the starter for Friday's one-game A.L. Wild Card playoff looks like. Joe Saunders, a veteran of eight Major League seasons, will face a threatening Texas Rangers lineup.

The choice was the product of using practically all of the team's pitching resources for a crucial final series of the regular season. Steve Johnson was also considered, but because his knee probably isn't in its best condition, Showalter decided to go with Saunders.

Saunders, the 31-year-old lefty, has a 3-3 record, with a 3.63 ERA and 23 strikeouts in seven appearances with Baltimore. Hardly show-stopping material, for sure.

Even more alarming is Saunders' 0-6 record with a 9.38 ERA at Rangers Ballpark, where the game will take place. He hasn't pitched there since 2010.

On the other hand, the Rangers are pulling no stops, putting their ace on the mound: Yu Darvish.

The 26-year-old native of Japan is 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA, leading the Rangers in strikeouts with 221, and holding opponents to a .220 batting average; fresh from an All-Star Game appearance in his rookie year in the Majors.

Darvish is no stranger to pressure situations. He has played for Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and the 2007 Asian Baseball Championship, and he also has playoff appearances with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan.

The defending league champions must beat the Orioles after losing nine of their past 13 games, including three straight to the A's in Oakland. So instead of a champagne spray, they must face one of the most surprising teams of the year in order to advance to the Division Series.

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