When you look at who would be a tougher American League Division Series opponent for the Yankees, you first have to answer one essential question.
Do you believe in magic, or history?
Buck Showalter's Baltimore Orioles are built on magic, which allows them to defy logic with the help of an exceptional bullpen. Their run differential for the entire season was plus-7.
There were six nonplayoff teams who scored better in that category, including the Tampa Bay Rays, who won three fewer games than Baltimore. They were plus-120.
The Rangers are the two-time defending AL champions. If you had said two weeks ago that the Yankees might face them in the first round, it would have been looked upon as bad news.
Perspective is an interesting thing. If Texas had wrapped up home field and faced the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, who would be the favorite? No doubt, the Rangers.
Now, Texas is stumbling into the postseason and might be a shot team.
However, in this new format, one win can change everything. If the Rangers are the Yankees' opponent, it means they beat the Orioles' magic in a one-game playoff and will feel pretty good about themselves again with the first two games of a best-of-five ALDS in Arlington.
On the season, the Yankees split 18 games with the Orioles and went 4-3 against the Rangers. On Sunday they will start their ALDS in Arlington or Baltimore; which would be better? Let's match it up.
There is only one lineup in the American League that scored more runs than the Yankees this season -- the Rangers. Texas put up 808 to the Yankees' 804. The Orioles were below the league average, scoring just 4.40 runs per game, which was more than half a run less than the Yankees.
In all of baseball, the Orioles had the 23rd on-base percentage. They did slug pretty well, but weren't in the top 10. They were No. 11.
The closest player that either club has to the red-hot Robinson Cano is Josh Hamilton. Hamilton might not hustle all the time, but in a short series his scary talent could take over and make the Yankees go home quickly.
The Orioles' final-game lineup featured no hitters who ended the year batting even .290. Adam Jones finished at .287; besides him, all the other current starters (Nick Markakis is still out) were batting .270 or worse.
The Rangers' lineup, despite some down years, is still intimidating. It scored even more than the Yankees'.
So magic or talent? Which do you believe in?
The best starter for the Orioles is Wei-Yin Chen and he has not won since the middle of August. In his final eight starts, Chen had a 5.01 ERA. In three starts against the Yankees, including his major league debut, he had a 5.25 ERA. Baltimore has no shutdown starter. The fact that the Orioles had to fight until the end and now must play in a wild card might not matter that much, because they have no Justin Verlander that you want to avoid anyway.
The Rangers' best starter is Matt Harrison and he would be lined up perfectly to go in Game 1 of the ALDS. He last started on Tuesday, so he would be ready Sunday to face CC Sabathia. Harrison lost to the Yankees earlier this season, but allowed only one run in 6 1/3 innings.
With Yu Darvish starting on Friday, the Rangers won't be able to bring him back until the series got to New York. Their secondary starters aren't very good.
Where the Orioles are excellent and the Rangers are pretty good is at the end of games. Baltimore closer Jim Johnson is superb, while Texas' Joe Nathan had a tremendous bounce-back year. The problem is that Nathan never could finish the job for the Twins against the Yankees.
So who would you rather face? Baseball is different from a sport like football. In football, you could have a defense that couldn't stop the run so you wouldn't want to play the team with the top running back. Baseball is not as simple.
Personally, I do believe in the Orioles' magic. Buck Showalter can work a game better than Ron Washington. Baltimore was 29-9 in one-run games; Texas was 24-22. Managing matters, especially in the playoffs.
I believe the Yankees will beat either of the teams. With the Rangers fading and Washington managing, the Bombers would be better off playing them. To twist one of the Yankees announcers' favorite phrases, "You can't predict magic, Suzyn."