TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles are about as similar as two clubs can be entering the American League wild-card game.
Both teams had 89-73 records in the East Division standings. Both teams clinched playoff spots on the final weekend of the season. And both teams own power-heavy lineups that can feast at a homer-happy stadium like Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays had a 10-9 edge in the season series but Baltimore took two of three games last week in Toronto.
So who will blink first on Tuesday night?
The Toronto pitching staff led the American League in earned-run average while the Orioles led the major leagues in home runs.
Chris Tillman will get the starting assignment for Baltimore while fellow right-hander Marcus Stroman will be on the hill for Toronto.
“Some guys rise to the occasion. I’ve seen Stro do that many, many times,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Monday. “I think he’s the perfect guy.”
The winner of the one-game showdown will advance to the American League Division Series. The Texas Rangers will host Game 1 of that series on Thursday.
The Orioles and the Blue Jays have been in Game 7 mode for several days as they held off the Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners to get to this point. It seems rather fitting that they’ll open the post-season with an elimination game.
“There’s got to be something to be said for experiencing those kind of games,” Gibbons said. “You play enough of him, you get used to them.”
A raucous sellout crowd is a guarantee. The Blue Jays returned to the playoffs last year for the first time since 1993 and the spectators cheered like it. Home field could definitely be a big advantage if Toronto gets on the board early.
The Blue Jays have had to manufacture runs of late after the bats went rather cold in September. It worked on the weekend with a critical series win over the Boston Red Sox.
If sluggers like Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion can turn it on, then look out. But the Orioles also have the ability to blow things open with players like Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis and Manny Machado anchoring their offence.
“There are no pitches you can take off,” Stroman said. “Each pitch you have has to be executed. You make a mistake and they make you pay. So that’s the mentality going into it.”
Stroman was a key pitcher down the stretch for the Blue Jays last season. Toronto won the East title and beat Texas in the ALDS before falling to Kansas City in the AL Championship Series.
He struggled at times earlier this year and hasn’t won since Aug. 14 despite pitching well in recent weeks. He finished the season with a 9-10 record and 4.37 ERA.
“(I) definitely had an up-and-down year and battled a lot of adversity,” Stroman said. “I think I’ve done a pretty decent job at making adjustments throughout the year that were key for me and able to pay off down the stretch.
“I’m at a point now where I feel great, mechanics feel great, body feels great. I’m actually feeling at my strongest now. So I’m excited.”
Left-hander Francisco Liriano was also considered for the starting role. He’ll instead be available out of the bullpen along with regular starter Marco Estrada.
“I think Stro is the perfect guy,” Gibbons said. “Big game, we’ve seen him do it before. He did that a couple times for us last year. You know he’s going to come out throwing strikes. We’re glad he’s available.”
Tillman, meanwhile, had a 16-6 mark with a 3.77 ERA in the regular season.
“I have seen them a lot and they’ve seen me a lot,” he said. “There’s no secrets. I know what they’re going to do, they know what I’m going to do. Same thing goes the other way with (Stroman), we’ve seen him plenty.
“So I don’t think there are any secrets there … you do the same kind of things you always do.”
– The Canadian Press