By Ryan Decker
Tonight marks the beginning of postseason baseball in Major League Baseball.
The American League Wild Card game between the host Toronto Blue Jays (89-73) and visiting Baltimore Orioles (89-73) start things off of what could potentially be the most exciting playoffs the MLB has seen in some time.
The National League Wild Card game, which for only the second time in the Wild Card game’s five-year history will not include the Pittsburgh Pirates, will be played Wednesday night between the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets in Queens.
Division rivals have never met in the short history of the AL Wild Card game.
This will be the second time the Orioles have played in the contest, having defeated the Texas Rangers in Arlington in 2012.
Since its inception that year, home teams haven’t faired well in the Wild Card games in either league, with the combined record of visiting team’s sitting at 6-2 heading into tonight.
This should comfort some Orioles fans, despite the fact that the O’s have the second-worst road record amongst playoff teams, just one win better than the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Something else that should give Baltimore fans some hope is that it has arguably been the underdog to win the AL Wild Card game each of the last four years, and Baltimore will once again assume the role of the underdog.
As I mentioned, though, divisional opponents have never squared off in the AL Wild Card. (Twice it has happened in the National League.)
So, to some degree, the history of the Wild Card game gets thrown out the window. And it’s not just the history of the one-game playoff round that gets pushed aside, the tendencies of the two starting pitchers doesn’t seem to worry either manager.
Despite having a good season – 1-0, 3.63 ERA – against the Blue Jays this year, the team Tillman is facing Tuesday night hasn’t been so kind to him in his career, especially in Toronto. He is just 2-6 with a 7.01 ERA in 13 career starts in the Rogers Centre.
Stroman’s struggles against Baltimore are also well documented.
In his career, the 24-year-old right-hander is 2-3 with a 5.07 ERA against the O’s, including just 1-2 with an ERA also north of seven in three starts facing Baltimore this year.
Toronto’s starter has not won since August 14, and went 0-5 in September.
Although a lot of the talk around this game has surrounded the starting pitching, two other facets of the game will likely decide this game – offense and the bullpens.
Both Toronto and Baltimore were two of the highest scoring offenses in baseball.
Baltimore did a majority of its damage from the plate with the long ball, as the “Baltimore Power Company” belted 253 home runs this year, the fifth most home runs in MLB History.
What Toronto did better than every other American League team, though, was draw the free pass.
Toronto was issued 632 free passes this year (164 more than the Orioles). That was a big factor in the Jays also having one of the highest on-base percentages in the majors.
If the starters falter for either team, the bullpens could be called sooner rather than later.
That, at least on paper, would be an advantage for the Orioles.
Baltimore’s 3.40 bullpen ERA was the third-best in baseball, and Showalter and company have the pen to thank for keeping the O’s from completely at times faltering during the second half.
At the top of the list is AL Cy Young candidate Zach Britton, who had one of the best seasons a reliever has ever had.
The managers took a bit of a different approach in their meetings with the media Monday, Showalter saying, “Everybody gets a chance to play a big part in it if it’s a competitive game.” Meanwhile, Gibbons said that Stroman is the, “perfect guy,” for this game.
Showalter’s though process is likely a little more truthful. The Wild Card game is just that – one game. The winner moves on, the loser goes home and starts prepping for next year.