Brandon Hyde has a habit. After the Orioles play, the Baltimore manager will allow his heart rate to decrease by watching other games from around Major League Baseball.

That serves a dual purpose. Hyde also gathers a scouting report of the league while he winds down from the stress of his own team’s game. And in the final month of the regular season, Hyde watched games raptly for another reason: He hoped losses elsewhere would bolster the Orioles’ path toward the American League East crown and the top seed entering the postseason.

Baltimore is now in that position, receiving a bye through the wild card round. They have a matchup booked beginning Oct. 7 in the American League Division Series against either the Tampa Bay Rays or the Texas Rangers — and Hyde will surely be watching their series closely yet again, gaining any intel on who the Orioles will face as he does.

The Orioles know both teams — and one better than the other. They just faced the Rays in a critical September four-game series.

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This head-to-head matchup between the fourth and fifth seeds in the postseason should be interesting viewing for Orioles fans, too, as they discover who Baltimore will meet in its first playoff journey since 2016.

When do they play?

Texas and Tampa Bay begin a best-of-three series Tuesday at 3:08 p.m. on ABC, with the second game Wednesday at the same time and on the same network. Should all four first-round matchups require three games to determine the series winner, the Thursday game time would remain the same.

The listings become more complicated once other series finish. If the Rays and Rangers are the lone Thursday offering, first pitch would come on ESPN at 7:08 p.m.

If the Miami-Philadelphia series and Arizona-Milwaukee series both end after two games, Texas and Tampa Bay would move to that 7:08 p.m. ESPN slot. Otherwise, any other two-game Thursday situation keeps Texas and Tampa Bay on ABC at 3:08 p.m.

And if there are three games occurring Thursday, Texas and Tampa Bay moves to 8:08 p.m. on ESPN only if the Marlins and Phillies series concludes early.

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What’s Baltimore’s head-to-head record?

The Orioles racked up 101 wins, their most since 1979, so it’s little surprise they played well against their American League East foes. Baltimore won the season series against all four divisional opponents, including its 8-5 record this year against Tampa Bay.

The most recent series in September gives a glimpse at what an October matchup might feel like, with two one-run games in a split four-game set. After losing the opening two games, Baltimore and Tampa Bay were tied atop the division, but the Orioles won the final two offerings — including a walk-off in the 11th inning on the day they clinched a trip to the postseason.

The Orioles split their season series with the Rangers at three games apiece, winning two of three from Texas early in April before dropping two of three at Camden Yards in May. They haven’t met over the final four months of the season, in which plenty of changes occurred for both teams.

In the time since their last meeting, Baltimore has lost closer Félix Bautista, enjoyed the return of left-hander John Means and has seen right-hander Grayson Rodriguez blossom since his first career start came in Texas.

What are the Rangers’ strengths and weaknesses?

Adam Frazier #12 of the Baltimore Orioles scores a run in the second inning as Mitch Garver #18 of the Texas Rangers cannot make the play at Globe Life Field on April 4, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

For all the strength of the Rangers’ offense, their pitching staff is rather middle-of-the-road.

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According to FanGraphs, Texas’ pitching staff’s 15.2 wins above replacement ranks 13th in the majors. Meanwhile, its 32.9 offensive wins above replacement is fourth in baseball, with a .263 team average and 845 RBIs — two of the highest totals around.

The Rangers have their own young catching star in Jonah Heim, who joined Adley Rutschman as a first-time All-Star. Around him, there’s no shortage of stars in the lineup, including shortstop Corey Seager and his 1.013 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Nine players have hit 14 or more homers this year, with Seager’s 33 and Marcus Semien’s 29 leading the way. And they have four regular starters with an OPS of .800 or above.

And unlike Tampa Bay, Texas’ order enters the postseason nearly fully healthy.

The Rangers’ pitching staff, however, is far from full. Texas attempted to bolster its staff at the deadline by swooping in for right-hander Max Scherzer, but Scherzer hasn’t pitched since early September due to a teres major muscle strain in his right shoulder. Scherzer is pushing to return, but the timeline is uncertain.

Texas’ major offseason acquisition, right-hander Jacob deGrom, is out for the year after undergoing his second Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in June. And right-hander Jon Gray just landed on the injured list with lower forearm tightness, leaving his postseason availability unclear.

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Those absences leave Texas’ pitching staff even shakier than it was, although some combination of Dane Dunning, Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi will start in the wild card round.

What are the Rays’ strengths and weaknesses?

Baltimore Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson (2) slides safely to third base in the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Camden Yards on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

The Rays (99-63) may be the fourth seed in the postseason, but they hold the second-best record in the American League behind the Orioles. They do nearly everything well, with their pitching staff (20.6) and lineup (33.1) ranked second and third in baseball, respectively, in isolated wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs.

Tampa Bay’s rotation for the wild card round likely begins with Tyler Glasnow, who has struck out 162 batters in 120 innings this year. His 3.53 ERA doesn’t qualify for the American League leaderboard because of Glasnow’s low innings usage, but it would be top 10.

Following Glasnow is Zach Eflin and his 3.50 ERA and AL-best 16 wins. Eflin’s 1.024 WHIP is the second-best of qualified pitchers in the American League. And should Game 3 be necessary, trade-deadline acquisition Aaron Civale is ready. Civale, who joined from the Cleveland Guardians, hasn’t pitched to the level he did with Cleveland. Since joining, Civale holds a 5.36 ERA for Tampa Bay compared to his 2.34 ERA in Cleveland.

The Rays suffered a difficult loss in August, when left-handed ace Shane McClanahan injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. An injury to right-handed reliever Jason Adam (oblique) leaves his availability for the postseason questionable.

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Tampa Bay’s bullpen is still one of the best in the league. They have a 3.83 relief ERA and closer Pete Fairbanks has 25 saves and a 2.58 ERA.

The Rays’ lineup also has key absences. Infielder Wander Franco, the former No. 1 prospect, is on administrative leave while authorities investigate an alleged relationship between the 22-year-old and a minor. Outfielder Randy Arozarena should be available for the postseason, but he dealt with quad tightness at the end of September. Slugger Luke Raley is on the injured list with a cervical strain. Second baseman Brandon Lowe will likely miss the potential series against Baltimore because of a right patella fracture, although the Rays could see outfielder Jose Siri return after a hand injury.

That leaves Tampa Bay banged-up heading into the wild card.

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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