Let’s Get Wild! Orioles @ Blue Jays

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Oh baby, what a time to be back on an ENS keyboard!  The greatest month of sport is now upon us, and the timing of our return couldn’t be better.  A fantastic Ryder Cup just wrapped up on Sunday, the NFL is in full swing, the NHL and NBA seasons are mere days away, and most importantly, the MLB playoffs kick-off tonight with Canada’s Team in a do-or-die Wild Card game.  I’m here to get you primed for the big game, so let’s go!

What is it?  The Blue Jays host their first postseason wild card game against the Baltimore Orioles, with a date with the Texas Rangers on the line.

Where and when can I watch it? First pitch goes tonight at 6:07 pm MT at the (open-dome) Rogers Centre in Toronto, with the broadcast being carried on Sportsnet in Canada and TBS in the United States.

Who’s pitching? Marcus Stroman (9-10, 4.37) takes the mound for the Blue Birds against Baltimore’s Chris Tillman (16-6, 3.77).  Stroman had struggled in his four starts against the O’s this season, giving up 33 hits over 23 innings and posting an ugly ERA of 7.04, including four earned runs in seven innings last week.  He has rebounded after a slow start, but many Jays fans hoped lefty Francisco Liriano would toe the mound against the team with the worst batting average against southpaws in the American league.  Liriano (along with Marco Estrada) will be available out of the bullpen should Stroman falter early.

As for Tillman, the “ace” of the Orioles staff put together one of his better MLB seasons but has traditionally gotten hit hard by Blue Jays’ bats.  Over his 24 career appearances against Toronto, Tillman has posted a 5-10 record with a 5.44 ERA – including a ghastly 2-6 record and 7.01 ERA at Rogers Centre.  Luckily for the O’s, things seemed to have turned the corner this year as the lanky right-hander won both his starts in Toronto this year, registering an ERA of 2.38.  Dominican righty Ubaldo Jiminez has been the Orioles hottest pitcher over the past two months, and will be the bullpen safety net if the Jays can get to Tillman early.

Who’s in the starting lineup?

Not much has changed for either team since last week’s three game series in Toronto.  The O’s – much like the Jays – are loaded with power and feature the Amercian League Home Run leader Mark Trumbo, who was acquired during the offseason for a racist.  Of note is Baltimore’s decision to move Chris Davis down the lineup instead of behind Adam Jones, which helps to spread out some power.  It’s also a little bit surprising to see Hyun Soo Kim get the start over the lefty power-hitting Pedro Alvarez, but expect him to come off the bench in the late innings.  Toronto chose to start Ezequiel Carrera over the struggling Melvin Upton Jr., along with bumping Jose Bautista behind Edwin Encarnacion.  The Jays offence has been stagnant since August, so the Big 3 of Bautista Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson will need to step up in a big way.

What are some other story lines I should watch for?

Gibby’s Quick Trigger Finger

It might not take along for everyone’s favourite Canadian Baseball Team Manager to try and make his own impact on tonight’s game.  With two starters in his bullpen, John Gibbons won’t hesitate to make a pitching change at the first sign of trouble.  Stroman’s numbers against opposition hitters get exponentially worse after the 4th inning, so a quick hook might be in the cards.  Additionally, we all know Gibby loves mixing it up with the umpires, so there’s about a 100% chance he gets tossed if the Orioles grab a big lead.

“Crush Davis” vs Brett Cecil

The steroid-using Chris Davis has had no shortage of success over the course of his career at Rogers Centre, hitting 17 home runs in his 50 trips to the Six.  Look for lefty Brett Cecil to come in and face him on in the late innings.  Davis has only knocked in three singles in 25 career plate appearances against Cecil, striking out 11 times.

The Score After the 8th Inning

If the Blue Jays find themselves trailing after the 8th inning, feel free to turn off your TVs and drown your sorrows.  Orioles closer Zach Britton is coming off one of the greatest season by a reliever in MLB history, and is the favourite to win the American League Cy Young Award as the AL’s best pitcher.  Britton went 47-for-47 in save opportunities and only gave up four earned runs all year, pitching to a minuscule 0.47 ERA and registering and almost unheard of 80% ground ball rate.  He has a devastating 96-mph sinker that he’ll throw almost every time, and Blue Jays batters have hit a lowly .074 (2-for-27) against him this year.

Home Field Disadvantage?

Since the Wild Card format was changed four years ago, the home team has gone 2-6, with 2014 Kansas City Royals being the only AL-team to move on in front of their own fans.  The Jays are 46-35 at home this year and happen to have a dominant 38-14 record with the dome open, as it will be tonight.  They went 3-3 at home during last year’s playoffs, dropping the first two home games in their opening round series against Texas.  On the other hand, the Orioles have struggled on the road this year, going 39-42 with a 4-6 record in Toronto.

Darren O’Day vs Jose Bautista

There isn’t very much significance to this matchup, other than the fact that they really don’t like each other and O’Day isn’t afraid to throw at Joey’s head.  Mr. Bautista has also been known to come back with a little heat of his own:

 

(Not sure why buddy decided he needed “Headstrong” included in this video, but so be it. Playoffs baby!)

Prediction? Both of these teams are built nearly the same way, and most games between the two tend to come down to the final few outs.  Toronto won the season series 10-9, with 8 of the games being decided by one run.  You can add another one to that total tonight, as Bobby Osuna will go 1-2-3 in the final inning to cement a 5-4 win and Round 2 with this donkey:

 

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