10/04/12 1:24 PM ET
Five keys for Orioles in the postseason
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
"We have no choice: you don't hit and you go home," center fielder Adam Jones said of the one-game playoff. "It's win or go home. It's not a maybe thing. It's win [or] go home. Both teams know that."
The Orioles and Rangers finished the 2012 season with identical 93-69 records. Baltimore went 1-2 in Texas and lost the season series, 5-2.
If the O's are going to avoid being one-and-done in the postseason and continue what has been a magical run, they are going to have to continue the things that got them here: stout relief pitching, a much-improved defense and some timely hitting. Baltimore will also have to find a way to continue to stay loose, a task easier said than done for a relatively young and inexperienced team in a one-game playoff.
"I'm looking at [the glass] half-full," manager Buck Showalter said of the challenge that lies ahead. "We've got an opportunity, and it's there for us in nine innings."
How do the Orioles keep this going in the playoffs? Here are five keys for postseason success:
Bullies in the bullpen
The Orioles were 74-0 when leading after seven innings this season, and they will need that to continue if they are going to make a deep playoff run. The O's -- who have pitched the most innings in the Majors -- have had their bullpen pick up the fourth-most innings in baseball, and they are the only postseason team listed in the top six. Baltimore relievers combined to throw 33 innings more than the next AL playoff contender -- the AL West-winning A's -- and have been able to avoid injuries or lulls in performance.
Led by closer Jim Johnson, who led the Majors with 51 saves, Showalter went to great lengths to spread the workload around and keep each reliever's outings and appearances in check. The result is a deep relief corps that includes former Rangers Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day, converted lefty Brian Matusz and veteran Luis Ayala.
Playing with house money
How does Showalter keep this team relaxed, yet focused for the franchise's biggest game in a decade-and-a-half? A strong candidate for the AL Manager of the Year Award, there's no doubt the former Rangers skipper will have his team ready to play Friday night in Arlington. The players have bought into Showalter's approach since he took over in August 2010. They have excelled in pressure situations, going 29-9 in one-run games and winning their final 16 extra-inning game.
Still, playoff baseball has an entirely different feel, and it will be interesting to see how the young club reacts. Look for veteran Jim Thome to play a big part in keeping things under control. First baseman Mark Reynolds echoed Showalter's sentiment earlier this season that the Orioles are playing with "house money" and they will strive to leave all their cards on the table and -- once again -- defy outside expectations.
Yes, the rest of the starting rotation is crucial to a successful playoff run for the Orioles. But having the 30-year-old Jason Hammel back would be a significant boost for a rotation that has been pieced together all season.
Hammel threw 73 pitches on Monday -- with pitching coach Rick Adair in attendance -- at the club's spring facility in Sarasota, Fla., and he would be eligible to start Sunday if the O's advance. The Orioles' best starter despite battling right knee issues all season, Hammel went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA and was a Final Vote candidate for the AL All-Star team.
If there is one thing Showalter preached this season, it was that every successful team must play well on the road. His club was certainly listening. The O's went an AL-best 46-35 away from Camden Yards, a morale booster that they will need for October. As the second Wild Card team, Baltimore will not have the luxury of home-field advantage and will have to carry over that road success in order to advance.
Baltimore hit 214 home runs this season, second most in the league behind the Yankees. Whether the O's like it or not, they tend to live and die by the long ball. The Orioles, who set a franchise record in home runs at Camden Yards this season, scored 28 of their last 35 runs on homers and are led by Chris Davis (33) and Adam Jones (32).
Davis -- a former Ranger -- has homers in six of his last seven games, while 16 of Jones' blasts gave the Orioles the lead and another three tied the score. With Baltimore's starting pitching being murky at best, the O's offense has to be in top form.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.