by Vinny Varvaro
For most of the 2016 season, the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays looked like playoff teams. Baltimore lead the AL East as late as mid-August, while the Jays had the top spot for the final time on September 6, when they were tied with Boston. Tonight’s AL Wildcard matchup between division rivals will be for the right to play the Texas Rangers Thursday afternoon in one of the ALDS series.
The Orioles will send their best starter, Chris Tillman (16-6, 3.77), to the mound against Marcus Stroman (9-10, 4.37). The game that will be a showcase some of the American League’s best power hitters, so if you’re looking for sacrifice bunts and stolen bases, you’ll be tuning in to the wrong game.
Tillman is prone to throwing a lot of pitches in his starts, as he has only pitched into the eighth inning one time all season. Also, keep in mind he was on the DL for three weeks (shoulder) at the end of August through mid-September. This really isn’t an issue for O’s manager Buck Showalter since he has a formidable bullpen with the likes of Brad Brach (10-4, 2.05), Darren O’Day (3-1, 3.77) and Dylan Bundy (10-5, 4.02). These three just need to bridge Tillman to the AL’s best closer and one of the favorites for the Cy Young Award, Zach Britton (2-1, 0.54, 47 saves in 47 chances).
Marcus Stroman will get the start for the Blue Jays, which could be considered a surprise to some, given the other available option was newly acquired veteran lefty, Francisco Liriano. Manager John Gibbons went with Stroman who fared well in the 2015 post season for Toronto, so the 5’8′ 180 pound Stroman should be up to the task. Middle reliever Jason Grilli has not been sharp of late (0-1, 1 blown save and a 32.00 ERA in the last 3 appearances) so look for Liriano to possibly come out of the pen if Stroman gets in trouble early. Toronto closer Roberto Osuna (36 saves) has only two six-out appearances in 72 games pitched.
Now for the fun part of tonight’s game, the power by both teams at the plate.
There are six players on each side that have hit 20 or more home runs in 2016 with too many strike outs to count. The Orioles are lead by K-Machine, Kris Davis (219 Ks, 38 HR) and their best overall hitter, Manny Machado (.294, 37, 96). Toss in Mark Trumbo and his AL leading 47 homers and one can see how Baltimore ended up in tonight’s game.
Toronto’s free swingers are lead by Edwin Encarnacion and his 42 homers, while Jose Bautista’s injury riddled 2016 campaign finished with him healed and hitting for a better average from the middle of September until the clinching game. Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin add to Toronto’s playoff experience and oh by the way, last season’s Most Valuable Player, Josh Donaldson (.284, 37, 99) and you can see why the fans in Toronto love to fill the Rogers Centre.
Despite the decent pitching matchup, be prepared for a long game with many pitching changes due to an offensive showdown between two free swinging, power-hitting teams that forged a similar regular season path to arrive in today’s AL Wildcard game.
The Jays will prevail and outscore the Orioles early in a back and forth, highly entertaining score-fest that will see both teams plate at least 6 runs. East coasters, be prepared to stay awake late.