AL WC Game Preview

Joe Clark, Sports Writer


On Tuesday night in Toronto, the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles will look to keep their seasons alive in the winner takes all AL Wild Card game. The two AL East foes played each other 19 times in the regular season, with Toronto winning the season series 10-9. Both teams were plagued by pitching woes the whole season, and while the Blue Jays and their 89-73 record largely met expectations, the Orioles with an identical record easily beat many preseason predictions (including my own) to get to where they are now. Both teams boast potent lineups, with the Jays featuring Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, and Josh Donaldson, while the Orioles feature Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Mark Trumbo.

While pitching is both team’s biggest weakness, the Blue Jays have a significantly stronger rotation which features two AL Cy Young candidates in Aaron Sanchez, who broke out this year after bouncing between the Jays rotation and bullpen last season, and JA Happ, whom the team signed after a second half in Pittsburgh last season where he was 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA, while boasting a K/9 of 9.8. Joining those two in Toronto’s postseason rotation will be Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman, who will take the hill tonight. Stroman struggled somewhat this season, as his ERA, WHIP, H/9, HR/9, and BB/9 went up, while his SO/9 went down from his rookie season. On the plus side, he pitched over 200 innings after missing almost all of last season thanks to a Torn ACL.

The Orioles also feature two Cy Young candidates in tonight’s starter Chris Tillman and closer Zach Britton, who I would vote for if I had a say. While a reliever winning the Cy Young isn’t common, the AL lacks a true frontrunner, and Britton’s absurd 0.54 ERA is the product of the fact that he’s allowed 4 ER all season. For comparison, the least amount of ER surrendered Mariano Rivera in a season where he played at least 60 games is 11 in 2008, and Rivera is the greatest closer that ever lived. Outside of those two though, the O’s have Kevin Gausman, who quietly had a very productive season, and nothing else to speak of. After Gausman, Tillman, and Britton, the Orioles pitcher who has been the most impressive is set up man Brad Brach. While having a shutdown bullpen is nice, it won’t help the Orioles that they won’t be able to win more than two games in a series with a win Tuesday, as their 3-5 starters all had an ERA over 5.20. Yovani Gallardo (who used to be one of the better pitchers in baseball and once formed a formidable 1-2 punch with CC Sabathia for a Brewers team that made the playoffs in 2008), who will be the O’s #3 starter, has struggled to a 5.42 ERA in 118 injury plagued IP. The Orioles may have the bats to hang with any team in baseball, but their rotation will ensure an early playoff exit.

This game will come down to if Marcus Stroman can pitch well enough to let the Blue Jays put some runs on the board early. If the Orioles have the lead going into the 8th inning, the game is all but over, but if the Jays can jump on Tillman early, they’ll be on their way to Texas. I see the latter happening, and the Blue Jays winning this one 7-4.