On Deck will be here all season to provide you with everything you need to know (and a few things you don't) about every Rangers series during the 2012 season. For the Wild Card game, we're going to concentrate on the Orioles since you've probably had enough discussion of how the Rangers drove themselves into this predicament already this week.
The Opponent: The battle between the Orioles and the A's for least likely playoff entrant is a spirited one, although the presumptions made about the team before the season really don't matter anymore. No one saw the Orioles coming, but they won behind a remarkable record in close games, a great bullpen and just enough offense to keep the team in the hunt for a division title until the final day of the season.
Past 2012 Meetings: The Rangers took five of the seven games, including Josh Hamilton's Roy Hobbs night of four home runs in May. The two teams last squared off near the end of August and there weren't any similar fireworks as Texas took two of three at home.
Pitching Matchups: Joe Saunders (3-3, 3.63 ERA) vs. Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90)
What's Hot: The Orioles were 16-2 in extra innings this year and 29-9 in one-run games thanks in large part to a bullpen that didn't go through the normal ebbs and flows normally experience by relievers around the major leagues. If you take out those one-run games, the Orioles were just a beat over .500 so it would behoove the Rangers not to let it stay tight until the end.
You never know which player will step up to come up with a big hit in a big spot, but the Rangers would do well to avoid letting Adam Jones or Matt Wieters be that player on Friday. There are other players with offensive charms here and there in Baltimore, but those two are the really dangerous ones and nullifying them will be a win for the Rangers.
Manny Machado's future is blindingly bright already, but a big game Friday in his national coming out party could lift him into the Trout-Strasburg-Harper neighborhood of drool-worthy young players. He closed the year with a strong month and might actually be the third best offensive player for the Oriole right now.
What's Not: Saunders definitely helped the Orioles get to this game with seven starts after coming over from the Diamondbacks in a late-August trade, but that doesn't change the fact that Baltimore's going with a fairly mediocre pitcher on Friday against a team that usually feasts on such pitchers.
It doesn't help Baltimore's cause that Saunders will be pitching in front of a fairly poor defensive team on Friday. An extra out here or there doesn't mean much over the course of 162 games, but it can be the kiss of death over the course of nine innings. Just ask Josh Hamilton.
The Orioles' chances on Friday would be a bit better if Nick Markakis was in the lineup, but a broken thumb is going to keep the outfielder out of action. His absence makes the lineup shorter, something that should work in the Rangers' favor.
Familiar Faces: Did anyone on the Orioles not play for the Rangers? Chris Davis, Endy Chavez, Darren O'Day, Pedro Strop, Tommy Hunter and Taylor Teagarden all traded in a big T on their hats for a cartoon bird. It says a lot about the quality and depth of the Rangers organization, although that won't be too reassuring should the Rangers lose on Friday.