Tuesday night, the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays will meet in the American League Wild Card Game. Here is how you can watch the winner-take-all contest:
Needless to say, two division rivals meeting in the Wild Card Game sure is compelling. Here is our live blog of the Wild Card Game followed by some other things to know about the game.
The Blue Jays are the home team because they hold the tiebreaker
The Blue Jays and Orioles finished the regular season with identical 89-73 records, though the Wild Card Game will be played in Rogers Centre because Toronto holds the tiebreaker. That tiebreaker? Head-to-head record. The Blue Jays went 10-9 against the Orioles in 2016, including 6-4 at home. They outscored Baltimore 97-81 in their 19 games.
Now, that said, the O’s took two of three from the Blue Jays in Toronto just last week. One of the wins came courtesy of Hyun Soo Kim ‘s dramatic pinch-hit go-ahead home run against Jays closer Roberto Osuna . Here’s the video:
Like most teams, the Blue Jays were better at home and the Orioles were worse on the road during the regular season. Here are the home and road records:
Blue Jays at home: 46-35 (.568), +38 run differential
Blue Jays on the road: 43-38 (.531), +55 run differential
Orioles at home: 50-31 (.617), +40 run differential
Orioles on the road: 39-42 (.481), -11 run differential
The records say the Blue Jays have the advantage in the Wild Card Game, but we’re talking about one game here. One little bounce can change everything. That’s what makes it so fun. And besides, the O’s just took two of three in Toronto a week ago.
By the way, the home team is 1-3 all-time in the AL Wild Card Game. (They’re 1-3 in the NL too.) As a wise man once said: You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn.
The Orioles have played in the Wild Card Game before
Five seasons ago the Orioles played in the very first AL Wild Card Game, in which they beat Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers to advance to the ALDS. Buck Showalter managed that team, and seven players who appeared in that game are still with the O’s: Chris Davis , Ryan Flaherty , J.J. Hardy , Adam Jones , Manny Machado , Darren O’Day and Matt Wieters . This is an experienced group.
Of course, the Blue Jays were in the postseason just last year, so they have a battle-hardened group of players too. And they played a winner-take-all game as well, Game 5 of the ALDS against the Rangers. That game was one of the best and most dramatic games we’ve seen in a long time. It had bat flips and benches clearing on top of all the drama usually associated with a Game 5.
Point is, both these clubs have had their backs up against the wall recently. Postseason jitters shouldn’t be an issue.
Toronto’s offense has been scuffling
A year ago the Blue Jays had the most dominant offense in baseball, scoring 127 more runs than any other team. Their offense was merely very good instead of elite this year — they were ninth in baseball with 759 runs scored — but lately they’ve had a hard time generating offense. Toronto averaged only 3.66 runs per game in September and October. Only once in their final five games did they score more than three runs.
On the other hand, no pitcher is going to feel comfortable against a lineup that features Josh Donaldson , Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista . Lately though, the Blue Jays have collectively struggling on offense, and they’ll need to snap out of it Tuesday to hang with the homer happy Orioles in the Wild Card Game.
The Orioles are coming in hot
The O’s spent much of the season in first place before falling into a wild-card spot in mid August. They very nearly fell out of the postseason picture entirely, but seven wins in their final nine games allowed them to clinch a wild card. Baltimore outscored its opponents 35-21 in those nine games.
Winning streaks at the end of the season don’t always carry over into the postseason. We see it year after year. Ask the players though, and they’ll tell you they would rather head into the playoffs on a roll and feeling confident, and that is what the Orioles are right now.
The Blue Jays had a pitching decision to make
As expected, right-hander Chris Tillman will start the Wild Card Game for the Orioles. He was their Opening Day starter and best pitcher all season, plus he lines up perfectly for this game. Kevin Gausman , who has been Baltimore’s best pitcher since the All-Star break, started Sunday and won’t be available. Ubaldo Jimenez was the other option and he has pitched well of late. It still would have been surprising if the O’s went with Ubaldo’s general unpredictability over Tillman.
As for the Blue Jays, ace Aaron Sanchez started Sunday’s series finale in Boston, so he won’t be available for the Wild Card Game. They were left to pick between Opening Day starter Marcus Stroman and trade deadline pickup Francisco Liriano . GM Ross Atkins announced the team’s decision Monday afternoon:
Stroman had a 4.37 ERA (97 ERA+) in 204 innings this year while Liriano had a 4.69 ERA (90 ERA+) in 163 total innings between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Blue Jays, though the decision was much more complicated than simply comparing ERAs.
Since arriving at the deadline, Liriano has a 2.92 ERA (147 ERA+) in 49 1/3 innings for Toronto, and last week he struck out 10 in 6 1/3 scoreless innings against the Orioles. Stroman allowed four runs in seven innings in a start in the same series. Also, look at the O’s righty/lefty platoon splits (MLB ranks in parenthesis):
|vs. RHP||vs. LHP|
|Batting Average||.263 (t-5th)||.234 (29th)|
|On-Base Percentage||.322 (t-14th)||.301 (28th)|
|Slugging Percentage||.461 (3rd)||.392 (25th)|
|OPS||.783 (3rd)||.693 (27th)|
|OPS+||110 (t-3rd)||88 (t-26th)|
In theory, you would rather throw a left-handed pitcher at the Orioles, and Liriano is indeed a lefty. Stroman’s a righty. Liriano’s performance since joining the Blue Jays — think reuniting with Russell Martin had anything to do with Liriano’s improvement? you bet it did — and the fact the O’s are so hopeless against southpaws makes it seem he would have been a better option.
That said, Liriano will be available in relief according to Atkins, which means manager John Gibbons figures to have a short leash if things get dicey. Joaquin Benoit is injured and Jason Grilli has struggled of late, so Stroman to Liriano to Osuna just might be the ideal setup for the Blue Jays and Gibbons.
The running game probably won’t be a factor
In the Blue jays and Orioles, the AL Wild Card Game will feature two of the least aggressive stolen base teams in baseball this season. Baltimore stole 19 bases as a team in 2016. That’s not a typo. Nineteen as a team. Their team leader, Joey Rickard , had four steals, and he has been out with a thumb injury for several weeks now. No other team stolen fewer than 35 bases this year.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, stole 54 bases as a team in 2016. That was the sixth fewest in baseball. Their team leader, Kevin Pillar , had 14 steals. No one else on the roster had more than seven. Martin did not have a particularly good year throwing out runners — he threw out 15 percent, well below the 29 percent MLB average — so maybe the O’s will step out of their comfort zone and try to exploit that. Wieters threw out 35 percent of baserunners.
At the end of the day, these are two home-run-hitting teams and that’s how they plan to win. Stealing bases and things like that are not in their nature. If the Wild Card Game comes down to a key stolen base or another aggressive baserunning play (first-to-third, etc.), it’ll come as a surprise.
Showalter is going to aggressive with his bullpen
Hitting home runs and the bullpen have been the Orioles’ strengths all season. Tillman had a fine year, but he’s not a Capital-A ace, so if he gets into a jam in the middle innings, expect Showalter to have a quick hook. Zach Britton is waiting at the end of the game, and in a winner-take-all situation, I absolutely expect Showalter to turn to his closer for two innings if necessary.
Brad Brach and the now healthy O’Day will be counted on to bridge the gap between Tillman and Britton, and with those two coming off back-to-back off-days — neither pitched in Sunday’s game — I expect Showalter to use both for more than a full inning as well. That’s his style. If Tillman gets into trouble in the fourth or fifth inning, don’t be surprised if Showalter goes right to his big relievers to try to shut things down.
The winner goes to Texas
The winner of the Wild Card Game will face the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, and gosh, the potential for a Blue Jays-Rangers rematch sure is compelling. The two clubs faced in the ALDS last year and the bad blood created by Bautista’s bat flip carried over into this season. Surely you remember all of this:
Of course, the Blue Jays have to beat the Orioles before they can face the Rangers. That won’t stop nonpartisan fans from hoping for a Blue Jays-Rangers ALDS matchup given their recent history.
CBS Sports predictions
When it comes to a one-game winner-take-all situation, predictions are nothing more than a guess with a 50-50 chance of being right, especially when dealing with two evenly matched teams like this. That won’t stop us from putting our necks on the line. Here are our official CBS Sports predictions for the AL Wild Card Game:
|R.J. Anderson||Mike Axisa||Jonah Keri||Dayn Perry||Matt Snyder|
|Al Wild Card Game Winner|
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