By: Nicholas Mukhar
The threat of tiebreaker games blowing up baseball’s playoff picture loomed large on the final day of the regular season. Several teams in each league were still alive for Wild Card spots, and even a three-team deadlock was still in play.
But by the time the dust settled and all Sunday scores went final, the teams with win-and-your-in opportunities had all taken care of business.
The Giants swept LA and clinched the National League’s final Wild Card spot. The Blue Jays and Orioles each secured Wild Card berths with victories that also eliminated the Detroit Tigers. And by virtue of those Toronto and Baltimore wins, the Cleveland Indians avoided a makeup game they would have had to play with Detroit in the event of a three-team Wild Card tie.
So no extra innings necessary after all. The NL and AL brackets are set, and we’re now left with the normal amount of MLB playoff drama, excitement and unpredictability that we’ve waited for since April. It all starts with the Wild Card Playoffs on Tuesday and Wednesday night. So will it be Toronto or Baltimore slugging their way to the ALDS to face the Texas Rangers? Which National League ace will prevail in New York and meet the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS? Here’s a preview of this year’s two Wild Card match-ups.
American League Wild Card Game: Baltimore Orioles vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Many are looking forward to a slugfest between two power-hitting clubs in the American League. The Toronto Blue Jays, who finished 4th in homeruns with 221, will host the Baltimore Orioles, who slugged an MLB-best 253 homers.
The long ball has no doubt been a key to success for both clubs, but they also have some quality arms to go along with those power bats. The Orioles roll into Toronto with the AL’s best bullpen ERA. And the Blue Jays? Their pitching staff as a whole is #1 in the American League in ERA, opponent batting average, and WHIP. There’s a good chance that those pitching staffs will ultimately decide the winner between these two American League East rivals.
Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman has a career ERA over 5 against Baltimore, but the Jays have other quality starting pitchers to turn to if Stroman gets into early trouble. That’s not the case for the Orioles. They’ve had major question marks in their starting rotation this season and will have to patch together a string of relievers if Chris Tillman can’t deliver a quality start.
Toronto’s home field advantage is also a significant factor here. The Rogers Centre has been a house of horrors for Tillman, where he has a 7.01 career ERA in 13 career starts. If the Jays get to him early and put Baltimore in a hole, this may get out of hand.
Blue Jays: 8
National League Wild Card Game: San Francisco Giants vs. New York Mets
True to form, the Giants flipped a switch during the final week of the season and did just enough to clinch the second Wild Card spot in the National League. Despite San Francisco’s historic collapse following the All-Star Break, they once again appear to be getting hot at just the right time. They’ve won 7 of their last 10, and they outscored their opponents 26-6 during a 4-game win streak to end the season.
The Giants’ reward for punching their ticket to the postseason? A cross-country flight to the Big Apple for a one-game playoff against the defending NL Champion Mets. With Baseball’s best record since Aug. 20, New York has been on fire ever since a healthy Yoenis Cespedes returned to the middle of their lineup. They’ll go with ace Noah Syndergaard on Wednesday night, who allowed just 2 hits over 8 shutout innings against San Francisco in late August.
It’s a tough task for the Giants to go on the road and beat one of the premiere arms in the game. But am I ready to bet against Madison Bumgarner, coming off another spectacular season of his own, in a one-game playoff?
Especially not with Bumgarner’s perfect 5-0 career record vs. the Mets, and his legendary 2014 postseason still fresh in my mind. In one of the better pitching matchups we’ll see this postseason, the Giants offense that has come alive over the last week will do just enough to back Bumgarner. As long as they can refrain from dipping into that bullpen too early, San Francisco should again find a way to survive and advance.