Top-seeded Orioles make anticipated playoff return vs. Rangers

The Baltimore Orioles return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 when they host the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Saturday.

Baltimore won the American League East with 101 victories and is the top seed, earning a bye into the ALDS, while the Rangers (90-72) are coming off a two-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays in an American League wild-card series.

“I say as much as anything, it’s just a young, aggressive team, very talented ballclub,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said of the Orioles on Friday. “Starts with the great starting pitching they have. You don’t win a hundred games without having really good pitching, which they have.”

In the Orioles’ last playoff appearance, they lost a single wild-card game at Toronto, 5-2.

As of 5 p.m. ET on Friday, the Rangers had not announced a Game 1 starter, while right-hander Kyle Bradish (12-7, 2.83 ERA) will go for Baltimore.

Bradish has been on extended roll. He went 6-1 with a 2.09 ERA in 11 starts during August and September, striking out 73 batters while walking 17 in 64 2/3 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .178 batting average.

Including a brief two-inning effort on Sunday, he has thrown 16 consecutive scoreless innings in his past three starts.

“I think it’s very important to go out in any game and set the tone as a starting pitcher,” Bradish said. “Especially at home, being the first guy.”

Bradish is 0-0 with a 1.35 ERA in three career games against the Rangers, including a start on April 3 of this season when he was hit on the foot by a line drive. He left the game after 1 2/3 innings and missed two starts.

After losing the AL West division title on the final day of the regular season, the Rangers quickly recovered and swept the Rays, 4-0 and 7-1 in a best-of-three wild-card series.

Rookie Evan Carter, 21, went 3-for-4 with three extra-base hits — including a home run — and three walks against Tampa Bay, and Corey Seager went 4-for-8 with three doubles as Texas won a postseason series for the first time since 2011.

“It’s been a very mature approach at the plate for such a young hitter,” Rangers teammate Marcus Semien said of Carter. “I remember when I was his age, still in the minor leagues, I was still trying to figure things out.”

The Rangers’ offense led the American League in multiple categories during the regular season, including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, walks and runs.

“Yeah, that’s one of the best offenses in baseball, if not the best offense in baseball, and extremely dangerous,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said Friday. “Athletic, power, a ton of power. Corey Seager, seen him a ton. I’ve been on teams where he really hurt us. Just a really special hitter and a really great player. They have a ton of switch hitters in their lineup. They’re really balanced.”

Baltimore’s offense cooled a bit over the final week of the season as it scored 14 runs in six games. Cedric Mullins is 3-for-37 in his last 11 games with an at-bat, Ryan O’Hearn is hitless in his last 23 at-bats and Austin Hays is 3-for-27.

Orioles pitchers finished fifth in the American League with a 3.89 ERA while the Rangers were 10th at 4.28. Baltimore will be without closer Felix Bautista but still should have the edge in the bullpen, where its relievers pitched to a 3.55 ERA while Texas finished at 4.77.

The teams split the six regular-season games, with Baltimore taking two of three in Texas April 3-5 and Texas returning the favor in Baltimore May 26-28.