With the Orioles being tied with Oakland and Detroit for the second wild card spot in the American League, tonight begins what is essentially a 38-game season. Whichever of these three teams wins the most games - with Los Angeles and even Seattle (?) being on the periphery - will get that playoff spot. It doesn't matter who is pitching, who is hurt day-to-day, or anything. Win games or no one in Baltimore will be worrying about how much money playoff tickets are going to cost.
Jose Bautista is returning from the disabled list for the Blue Jays for this game. The Orioles are also going to be bolstered by a player coming back from the DL. It's just that player for the O's is Ryan Flaherty. He is starting at second base tonight. This is a little unequal, but nobody said life is fair.
Zach Britton gets the challenge of facing Bautista and the Jays. Let's not forget about Edwin Encarnacion. I was being serious there in that last sentence; it was not my usual mocking of a player with excessive praise. Encarnacion is a thing this year. He has 33 home runs and is batting .290/.385/.566. That's a higher OBP than anyone on the O's by 25 points (Markakis has a .360) and a higher SLG than anyone on the O's by 58 points (Jones with a .508). Not bad for the guy with the nickname "E5" - Orioles fans wish our own fielding-challenged third basemen could hit like that this year.
O's hitters will face Carlos Villanueva. He seems to be in the Jays rotation because everyone else has gotten hurt. He has made 9 starts this year and has a 3.02 ERA as a starter. That doesn't suck. He strikes out over a batter per inning, and strangely enough has a better walk rate as a starter than a reliever. Batters are .219/.303/.369 off Villanueva on the year. That's a .672 OPS, and is the same OPS as Xavier Avery had in his 24 big league games. If you want to be depressed - which you probably don't, so I'm sorry, but it's a fact worth pointing out - that's 28 more points of OPS than J.J. Hardy currently has. Ouch, man.
For all that they have Bautista and Encarnacion, you look at the Jays lineup and you think, "Yeah, there's a reason these guys are 56-68." Although you look at the Orioles lineup and think, "How the hell are these guys 67-57?" It's imperative that they avoid a let-down game tonight, so hopefully we will see a strong outing from Britton, and maybe even the hitters will demonstrate the slightest awareness of the strike zone as they bat against Villanueva. That would really be something.
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES||TORONTO BLUE JAYS|
|Nick Markakis - RF||Rajai Davis - LF|
|J.J. Hardy - SS||Colby Rasmus - CF|
|Nate McLouth - LF||Jose Bautista - RF|
|Adam Jones - CF||Edwin Encarnacion - 1B|
|Matt Wieters - C||Kelly Johnson - 2B|
|Chris Davis - DH||Moises Sierra - DH|
|Mark Reynolds - 1B||Mike McCoy - 3B|
|Ryan Flaherty - 2B||Jeff Mathis - C|
|Manny Machado - 3B||Adeiny Hechavarria - SS|