As we all well know, the 2016 Orioles team ended their season against the Blue Jays in the Wild Card Game. The 2017 Orioles, who are, with a small number of exceptions, the same people as the 2016 team, will get their season started at home today against Toronto. Let’s hope it goes a little better this time around.
The two teams were rather evenly matched last year. They each won 89 games. The one playoff game between the two of them took into extra innings to settle. Here they are again.
The PECOTA projection system is notorious among Orioles fans for its low win projections for the Orioles. The Jays are thought to take a step back by that system, too, as they are pegged to go 81-81. Fangraphs is more optimistic, projecting an 87 win season for Toronto. A sizable percentage of ESPN’s panel of prognosticators picked the Jays to make it back into the playoffs.
What’s new with the Blue Jays
Toronto did not exactly approach their offseason with the same “Bring everybody back!” gusto that the Orioles did. That’s good news for Orioles fans who have had enough of possibly seeing Edwin Encarnacion let out his invisible parrot for a home run trot 19 times a year.
Others who departed include R.A. Dickey, Michael Saunders, and Brett Cecil. Will they be missed? Sure, maybe. Or maybe one of the Jays additions will make up for it. The Jays who will be trying to fill those guys’ shoes include Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, and Joe Smith.
The Jays also kept Jose Bautista around, to the chagrin of everyone, unless he stinks this year. We are probably not that lucky.
For this series, the Jays will be without their closer, Roberto Osuna, who begins the season on the 10-day disabled list.
Game 1: Monday, 3:05
Marco Estrada vs. Kevin Gausman
One mantle that Gausman inherited from Chris Tillman is that of the Opening Day starter. Another one he takes from Tillman is the, “If you take out his starts against the Blue Jays, his season numbers look better!” Gausman made three starts against the Jays last year, giving up 12 runs in 15.1 innings in three starts.
Breaking out of that mold in the opening game of the season would be a good way for Gausman to signal that he’s going good places this season.
Estrada saw the Orioles four times last season, holding them to a 3.00 ERA across those games. All four games were quality starts. Not that batter-pitcher data is of a large enough sample size to tell us much, but it’s interesting to know that new Oriole Welington Castillo has four home runs off Estrada in 24 plate appearances.
Some returning O’s haven’t looked so good against him. Manny Machado has a .611 OPS in 24 PA. Adam Jones is worse, with a .310 OPS in 17 PA. J.J. Hardy is down there with a .600 OPS in 15 PA. Seth Smith isn’t much better: .583 OPS in 15 PA.
There are only six Jays who have more than 10 appearances against Gausman. Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Ezequiel Carrera, and Darwin Barney all top a 1.000 OPS in that time. Here’s hoping he can reverse that while keeping Bautista (.508 OPS, 15 PA) in check.
Game 2: Wednesday, 7:05
J.A. Happ vs. Dylan Bundy
It’s important not to overreact to any one game, but when there’s only one game and all you have to react to is that, it’s hard to do. In this case, in facing Happ, we will find out whether the Orioles are going to look any better against lefty pitchers this season compared to last year. Expect a different look O’s lineup in this second game compared to the first one.
The one game sample will feel significant for Bundy too. Is he really going to take that leap this season? If he’s lights out against the Jays, it’s going to feel like the answer is a certain yes. If he bombs, well, you might be even more worried about the O’s rotation just two games into the season.
Bundy had a few appearances against the Jays last season, but no starts.
It’s too bad Pearce isn’t around to bat against Happ. He has five career home runs against the guy. Perhaps the O’s righty substitutes for Hyun Soo Kim and Smith can manage to head in that direction. Jones, Hardy, and Schoop have all struggled against Happ, as they tend to against most lefties. Machado is the one Oriole who has excelled, with a 1.089 OPS in 24 PA.
Every game is just one game, but every game does matter. The Orioles went 9-10 against the Blue Jays last season, which is why the Wild Card Game was in Toronto. If the O’s had won just one more game - against the Jays or any other team - then it would have been in Baltimore instead. It’s all important.
The Orioles were helped out by a 7-0 start last season. Can they duplicate that again this year? Probably not, but wouldn’t it be fun if they did?