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Orioles-Blue Jays wild card game preview: One game to rule them all

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The Orioles and Blue Jays face off tonight in a one-game elimination to see who can advance to the ALDS.

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Tonight at 8 p.m. the Orioles and Blue Jays face off in a one-game elimination round, with the winner heading to Texas to take on the Rangers in the ALDS. One game playoffs are cruel and unfair, but it’s all the Orioles have so let’s all cross our fingers and put our hope in the Birds that today isn’t their last game of the season.

The Toronto Blue Jays and the Orioles have had very similar seasons, right down to their identical 89-73 records. They both spent time in first place, looking to be on the top of the world, and they’ve both tanked games they shouldn’t have. They even played each other very evenly; the only reason this game is in Toronto and not Baltimore is because the Jays edged the O’s 10-9 in the season series.

So what kind of team is the Blue Jays? They like to hit home runs, for one. Like the Orioles, they have six players with 20+ home runs on the season, and the team as a whole they have hit 221 good for fourth in the majors (although they are 32 behind the Orioles, who rank first).

The Blue Jays have been much better at getting on base than the Orioles this season, led by Josh Donaldson and his .404 OBP. The Orioles as a team come in at .317, 13 points lower than the Jays.

Despite having an above average offensive team, they struggled to score runs throughout the month of September and into October. The 106 runs they scored since September 1st ranks them in dead last in the majors during that time period. In their last series of the season against the Red Sox, the Jays scored just nine runs over three games.

It bodes well that the Jays have had trouble scoring runs, but when you look at their lineup it’s easy to imagine them turning it around on a moment’s notice. So I’m not really that comforted.

Blue Jays Lineup

Starting lineups haven’t been released as of this writing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have an idea of who is going to be in the lineup. Let’s do a brief rundown.

Russell Martin - C
Edwin Encarnacion - 1B/DH
Devon Travis - 2B
Troy Tulowitzki - SS
Josh Donaldson - 3B
Ezekiel Carrera - LF
Kevin Pillar - CF
Jose Bautista - RF/DH

Those are probably the locks for the lineup, though Michael Saunders, Melvin Upton, and Justin Smoak could also make appearances.

The big bats are of course Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion. Those three combined for 101 home runs in the regular season and all are very good at getting on base. Bautista only played in 116 game due to injury, but that appears to be behind him.

Pitching Match Up

Buck Showalter has elected to go with the Oriole veteran Chris Tillman as the starter in this game. It was between Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez and Showalter went with the steady tenure over the recent success of Jimenez. It’s hard to argue with that, even if I did think Ubaldo should get a shot.

Should Tillman get into trouble early, both Jimenez and starter Dylan Bundy will be waiting in the bullpen to take over. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Throughout his career the Blue Jays have had Tillman’s number. In 24 career starts, Tillman has a 5.44 ERA against the Jays. They have slugged over .500 against him with an .848 OPS. That’s troublesome. The good news is that this season has been quite a bit better. In four starts in 2016 Tillman has an ERA of 3.63, though the Blue Jays have still hit him pretty well: .250/.333/.475.

For the Blue Jays, they have elected to start Marcus Stroman. Stroman can be a tough pitcher, but he has been their second worst starter this year (their worst, R.A. Dickey, was replaced by Francisco Liriano). Stroman put up a 4.37 ERA for the season but he has more than a few solid outings, mostly coming in the second half.

The Orioles have faced Stroman four time this year, most recently last week when the O’s got to him for four runs in seven innings. The Orioles won three of the four games in which Stroman started against them this year, so he was probably the best option for the O’s to face.

Of the pitchers who were available, the worst option was Liriano, so let’s thank the baseball gods that John Gibbons decided to go with Stroman instead. The bad news is that the lefty Liriano will be in the bullpen, just waiting to destroy the lineup if need be.

A Tale of Two Bullpens

If the Orioles can get into the Blue Jays’ bullpen, that’s when the fun could start. On the flip side of the coin, if the Jays don’t have a lead when the game gets handed over to the O’s bullpen, they will probably be in trouble.

The Orioles’ bullpen put up 3.40 ERA during the regular season, third best in the American League. In contrast, the 4.11 ERA by the Blue Jays was 12th out of 15. The Jays especially had trouble in September, when one of their go-to relievers, Jason Grilli, fell apart to the tune of a 9.64 ERA. The Jays blew seven saves in the month, most in the league.

Closer Robero Osuna has been solid through the year but hit some bumps towards the end, blowing three saves (although the Jays came back to win one). Throughout the season Osuna blew six saves, which of course is six more than O’s closer Zach Britton.

One game to rule them all

Saying “X game(s) to rule them all” is of course Mark Brown’s choice of pop culture appropriation for these end of the season games, but is it more appropriate anywhere than it is in the wild card game?

Both of these teams are good. Both of these teams outplayed a lot of other teams to get here. And at the end of the day, only one of these teams will be moving on to the rest of the playoffs. It’s tense and scary because if your team or even a few players on your team has an off day, or if a few baseballs fall in by luck, that could change everything. Then everything that these teams has worked for is over in a matter of hours.

Let’s hope that happens to the Blue Jays, okay?