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Wild Card Action

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Friday is the first elimination day of the MLB playoffs as two teams will be sent home after 163 games. Two of the clubs participating are one year removed from playing in Game 7 of the World Series as the Cardinals and Rangers are scratching and clawing just to advance to the League Championship Series. St. Louis heads to Atlanta, while Baltimore makes the trip to Texas for the night-cap. We'll start at Turner Field with the Braves looking to wipe out the defending champs.

Cardinals at Braves - 5:07 PM EST

St. Louis knocked out Atlanta in last September's Wild Card race, erasing a 10 ½-game deficit en route to a title. Now, the Braves have an opportunity to exact revenge with the hottest pitcher in baseball taking the mound, as Atlanta is riding a 23-game winning streak when Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) starts dating back to 2010. The Braves have compiled a 12-0 record in Medlen's starts this season, including seven victories coming at Turner Field.

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The Braves finished the season at 94-68, four games behind the Nationals inside the NL East. If Atlanta can pull off a win on Friday, Fredi Gonzalez's squad will face Washington in the NLDS. However, the Braves need to get past a Cardinals' team that clinched a playoff berth on Tuesday night after the Dodgers lost to the Giants. St. Louis owns the worst record of any postseason club at 88-74, but the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006 with just 83 victories, while claiming the title last season with 90 wins, which were the fewest among playoff teams.

The Redbirds are without Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols for this championship chase, as St. Louis will depend on right-hander Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA) for a trip to the NLDS against Washington. Lohse was perfect in April, but the Cardinals won just two of his final five starts of the season. The Braves battered Lohse in his only start against Atlanta in late May, scoring five runs in five innings, while picking up eight hits in a 10-7 victory by the Braves. In three playoff starts last season, Lohse allowed 11 earned runs in 12.2 innings, as the only win came in Game 3 of the World Series against Texas in which the Cards scored 16 runs to get the right-hander off the hook.

The Braves captured the season series by beating the Cardinals in five of six meetings, while all six games finished 'over' the total. Atlanta scored five runs or more in each victory, as the lone Cardinals' win came in the opener of a late May series at Turner Field, an 8-2 triumph as +120 underdogs.

Orioles at Rangers - 8:37 PM EST

There was no chance Texas would be a Wild Card team when it led Oakland by 13 games in the AL West in late June. But a monumental meltdown by the two-time defending AL Champions has now put them in a do-or-die situation against the upstart Orioles, who are in the postseason for the first time since 1997.

The Rangers were one win away (twice) from taking the World Series crown last October, but lost the final two games to the Cardinals. The complacency set in for Ron Washington's club down the stretch, as Oakland beat Texas five times in the final week to grab the AL West title, while the Rangers now have to depend on rookie Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA). The right-hander is coming off eight consecutive quality starts, as the Rangers won six of those outings. Darvish finished the regular season at 10-2 in 14 home starts, while losing twice in the favorite role. The former Pacific League standout didn't face the Orioles this season, as the Rangers took five of seven meetings from Baltimore.

The Orioles will turn to recently acquired Joe Saunders (9-13, 4.07 ERA), who came over from Arizona in late August. The southpaw compiled a 3-3 record in seven starts with the O's, while allowing three earned runs in each of his last three trips to the mound. The Orioles and Diamondbacks combined to go 5-9 in his 14 starts this season as a road underdog, as Saunders looks for his first victory in Arlington in seven tries dating back to his days with the Angels.

The 'over' cashed five times between the Rangers and O's, but the 'under' went 2-1 in Arlington. One of the bigger stories this season came when these teams hooked up in early May at Camden Yards as Josh Hamilton knocked out four homers and drove in eight runs in a 10-3 Texas victory. Since sweeping the Rangers in Arlington back in July 2010, the Orioles are just 1-5 the last six visits to Texas.

You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at rogers@vegasinsider.com

Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.

  
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