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View from the other side: Wild Card Q&A with Bluebird Banter

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A wild card battle between the Orioles and Blue Jays awaits tonight, so we checked in with the Jays blog to get their perspective.

Several Orioles celebrate after clinching a postseason berth.
Hopefully, the Orioles are doing this again tonight.
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a story behind every baseball team, and while we’re all quite familiar with the Orioles and how they ended up here by now, the Blue Jays are a bit more of a mystery. Out of sight, out of mind. Most of the time things are happening to them and we aren’t looking.

With the O’s set to play these Jays in the wild card game tonight, I checked in with my counterpart at Bluebird Banter, Tom Dakers, to get a little insight about the Jays from a Jays fan perspective. Thanks to Tom for taking the time to answer some questions.

Mark: A number of Orioles fans, myself included, were dreading the possibility of Francisco Liriano starting the game. Were you surprised when Marcus Stroman was named the starter? What do you think was the reasoning?

Tom: A little surprised.

Liriano has been terrific, as a Jay. I guess the question is “is this the real Francisco Liriano?” Or, is the real one the one that was terrible for the Pirates.?

And then you have Stroman who was our Opening Day starter. The guy who had a bad stretch in the middle of the season, but has turned things around again. He had a 3.68 ERA in the second half of the season.

But, even with the small sample size of great pitching, I expected the Jays to start Liriano.

Part of the reasoning seems to be that Liriano has pitched in relief a bit this season and the fact that most of our better late inning relievers are right-handed, so if Stroman goes 5 innings, Liriano could come in, pitch 2 or 3 innings and maybe get the Showalter to use a couple of right-handed pinch hitters, hopefully making it easier for the guys at the back end of the pen.

Mark: September/October looks to have been a bit of a rough patch for your squad. What happened to cause a .236/.334/.358 batting line? Do you think that problem sorted itself out before the postseason?

Tom: I think a lot of it is the accumulated aches and pains of a long season. Josh Donaldson is dealing with hip problem that, I think, would have him on the DL if it was earlier in the season. Jose Bautista has had leg and shoulder issues.

Russell Martin has been dealing with leg problems and the usual bumps and bruises that you get from catching 130+ games. Devon Travis has been on and off the DL and missed a couple of games with a shoulder problem.

Mark: Just from a bit of browsing at Bluebird Banter, I've gotten the sense from your commenters that there's some frustration with manager John Gibbons. Is that widely shared, or are those just a bunch of senseless complainers?

Tom: You know what it’s like when a team doesn’t perform up to expectations, everything a manager does is put under a microscope.

Gibby tends to believe in ‘defined roles’ in the bullpen, which works fine as long as the pitchers in the roles do the job. Most of us would rather he forget about defined roles and use the best pitcher available in the highest leverage spots, but that isn’t about to happen.

And, even though we know that lineup construction doesn’t make all that much difference, there are many days where you look at the lineup and wonder about the thought process involved in putting it together. He does seem to overvalue small sample successes against a starting pitcher. If a batter is 3 for 7 against that days’ starter, he could be the leadoff hitter.

Mark: How worried about your relief corps are you headed into the postseason? I'm wondering if the people who contributed to the unit's 4.11 ERA will be gone and forgotten from postseason rosters or if anyone who's struggled might be summoned in a key moment.

Tom: The worst offenders are gone, Drew Storen and Jesse Chavez were about as bad as two relievers could be. They seemed to have made an art form out of allowing inherited runners to score and giving up home runs at the worst possible moments.

The bullpen improved with the arrival of Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit. Unfortunately, now Benoit is hurt, and Grilli had a terrible September. That’s had the effect of screwing up Gibby’s nice orderly bullpen. There has been a fair amount of flailing around, trying to come up with a way to patch together a working bullpen.

Mark: I've heard we won't see him in this game, but what is it like having a 20-game winner on your favorite team? The Orioles haven't had one since 1984. Just looking at them as a group, the Jays rotation seems like it was pretty dang good. Are you happy with how they did?

Tom: Happ was terrific, a totally different pitcher than the one that drove us crazy in his first stint with the team. That Happ seemed to pitch his way to a full count (very slowly) on each batter. This time, he’s been great. It’s helped that he’s the one started that the team will support with some runs.

The starters, as a group, have been so much better than I expected. I figured we’d be lucky to have an average rotation, but that would be offset by a great office. Instead we’ve had a terrific rotation, weighed down by an inconsistent offense. I’ve changed my mind, pretty much weekly, on which starter I liked the best.

Aaron Sanchez has the best ERA in the league. Marco Estrada seems to be pitching a 1 or 2 hitter every time out. All Happ does is win. Stroman had a bit of a slump in the middle of the season, but, excluding that, has been as good as anyone.

Mark: What round would the Jays have to reach for you to look back on this year and think, "You know what? This was a good year." Also, are you tempted at all by the oddsmakers setting the Jays at 10/1 to win it all?

Tom: Yeah, I’d consider putting down a few bucks. With our starting pitching, I think there is a chance they’ll surprise.

Honestly, this season has been such a roller coaster, I have no idea what they might do in the playoffs. We seem to get a couple of weeks of decent baseball and then they will forget how to score for a month. I guess, if they get to the League Championship Series I’ll consider it a success.

**

Thanks again to Tom. May the best bird-themed team win. That’s the Orioles, by the way.