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The Yankees can't control the outcome, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't root for the Orioles.
We know the Yankees will start their postseason run at some time on Sunday.
We just don't know who they'll be playing against and we won't know until the Rangers and Orioles finish their game on Friday night. For the first time, baseball has two Wild Card teams and the winner will advance to the playoffs proper while the loser will get to experience the quick turnaround from the thrill of making the playoffs to the agony of the offseason.
Naturally, that leaves us wondering if there's a better outcome for the Yankees. The nature of playoff baseball and the fact that both of these teams finished with better records than the AL Central winner likely means that such a stamp can't help but be inaccurate, but we're looking for one anyway.
If this were the old setup, we'd say the Rangers were the best choice. Making the playoffs eliminates them from consideration as one of the great collapses in baseball history, but the fact that they blew a four-game lead over Oakland with six to play (and a 13-game lead at about the halfway point) means that they are entering the postseason facing a flood of questions about what went wrong for them this season.
Ignoring those questions and preparing for a short playoff series would be a daunting task for the Rangers, so they should actually be thankful for the existence of this glorified play-in game. It gives them a chance to get a win and change the story heading into the start of a playoff series that they'll be opening with two home games thanks to another shift in the playoff process.
The Orioles, on the other hand, are riding the wave of an unexpected playoff berth and beating the Rangers on Friday would send them home to a frenzied crowd that last saw a playoff game when Monica Lewinsky was unknown to everyone but her immediate family. Throw in the Buck Showalter revenge potential and it's a situation rife with hazards for the Yankees.
It's still the better one, though. Once you cut through all of the intangible issues of mindsets and momentum, you're left with the tangibles of the talent on the two teams.
Even if their season has been a disappointment in regard to expectations, the Rangers are a better team than the Orioles. They scored almost 100 more runs than Baltimore while allowing two more, they have a better starting rotation without giving too much ground in the bullpen and they are better defensively than the Orioles.
On paper, you could make a pretty compelling argument -- one we don't agree with -- that the Rangers are a better team than the Yankees as well. That argument is much harder to make about the Orioles, whose biggest strength this season has been their statistically unsustainable record in extra inning and one-run games.
That's the kind of thing that announcers will trumpet as being something special about the Orioles and it might last through October, but its a pretty thin line of reasoning to take in terms of picking them as a big winner. Talent wins out in the end more often than not, but the Yankees should be hoping that it fails to turn the trick on Friday.